Midnight Munchies

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Sep 162011
 
Authors: Kristin Hall

The late evening hours have been put on a dietary pedestal, labeled the golden hours that could make or break a healthy day. With all that pressure on a few hours, the question remains:

When it’s late and your stomach is rumbling and the all-night doughnut shop down the street is calling your name, should you eat?

Melissa Wdowik, Ph.D, a research associate for the Colorado State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, says although there is no magical time to stop eating, studies have shown a need to let food digest before falling asleep. Wdowik suggests eating one hour before bed and avoiding large meals or snacks high in fat.

Eating in smaller portions at night is important because too much food can leave you digesting for several hours after you go to bed. This could prevent you from falling asleep as quickly or cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.

The Mayo Clinic suggests eating snacks that fall into at least one of three categories.

Fruits and vegetables are always considered an acceptable before-bedtime snack. With very low fat and natural sugar content, they are an exceptional choice for those seeking weight loss.

Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, oatmeal or granola, will boost levels of serotonin, a chemical in your brain that produces a calming effect and will be especially useful when trying to fall asleep.

Foods rich in tryptophan, the chemical responsible for the Thanksgiving turkey coma, will also aid sleep by boosting the level of serotonin and melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. But if you’re not craving turkey, try other proteins such as chicken, tuna or soybeans.

Some things to avoid include caffeine and alcohol. Even if you need a quick lift while studying, keep in mind it takes at least six hours for the effects of caffeine to fully wear off.

And although that glass or two of wine before bed may make you feel sleepy initially, it will prevent you from sleeping deeply and cause you to wake up in the middle of the night, ultimately robbing you of quality sleep.

“A realistic approach is to tune in to hunger and fullness and eat mindfully so that when dinner is over, they are satisfied both physically and mentally,” Wdowik says. “It is the mindless nighttime eating when someone is not really hungry
that is problematic.”

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