Despite our best efforts for a good night’s sleep (i.e., hitting the hay at 10 p.m. sharp, taking an Instagram hiatus and keeping our phone away from our bedside table), there’s one crucial factor that all too frequently keeps us tossing and turning at night: We’re hungry. So instead of resigning ourselves to raiding the kitchen for whatever leftovers we can find and eating them by the light of the refrigerator (we see you, buffalo chicken wings), we did a deep dive. After consulting some expert sources, we’ve found the 23 best healthy midnight snacks that, honestly, we’d eat any time of day.
1. Hummus and Whole Grain Crackers or Veggies
We knew there was a reason we loved chickpeas. “They’re packed with protein—three grams for every two tablespoons,” Dr. Daryl Gioffre, a New York City-based nutritionist and author of Get Off Your Acid, tells us. “Chickpeas are high in lysine and tahini is a rich source of the amino acid methionine. Individually, [chickpeas and tahini] are incomplete proteins, but when you combine them to make hummus, they create a complete protein.” Why are complete proteins so important? Basically, they keep you full, which means no more tossing and turning with a rumbly stomach. “For a late night snack, you can use hummus as a dip for raw veggies or Ezekiel bread,” says Gioffre. Don’t mind if we do.
You probably associate oatmeal with the early morning hours, but it has plenty of nighttime benefits, too. For starters, oats are a complex carb that will break down slowly in your system, controlling blood sugar spikes that might mess with your sleep. And if you find a warm bowl of oatmeal cozy and soothing, you’re not alone. According to a Columbia University study, the carbs actually work with your brain to release the neurotransmitter serotonin, which soothes you into a tranquil state and helps your body produce melatonin for a restful night of sleep.
You’re trying to quell a craving, not put yourself into a full-on food coma. That’s where popcorn comes into play. The addictively crisp and salty snack is naturally low in calories—a whopping three-cup serving clocks in at about 100 calories—so you can chow down without feeling weighed down. Oh, and there’s also the complex carb factor again—a whole-grain bedtime snack will stick to your ribs much longer than a cookie or bowl of ice cream…as tempting as that sounds. If you want to be really healthy, you can invest in an air popper, which pops the corn kernels with—you guessed it—air (instead of oil or butter).
4. Low-Fat Greek Yogurt and Fruit
We already know that Greek yogurt is a great source of protein, but we had no idea that it could help us catch some z’s, too. The calcium in yogurt helps your brain use tryptophan and melatonin, and one University of Pennsylvania sleep study even suggests that it can help you stay asleep longer. Instead of loading up on a sugary sweetener (and potentially throwing your blood sugar out of whack), top your bowl with fresh fruit and crunchy chia seeds. (Oh, and if you’re prone to heartburn and indigestion, which can be caused by fatty foods, stick to a low-fat option.)
5. A Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Who knew our childhood favorite was actually a prime midnight snack? Here’s why: According to the National Sleep Foundation, peanut butter is a natural source of tryptophan (you know, that amino acid that induces sleepiness). And carbohydrates make tryptophan more available to the brain. That means the combination of protein-rich peanut butter and complex carbs is pure bedtime magic.
6. Pumpkin Seeds
What’s salty, crunchy and a surefire way to put you to sleep? Pumpkin seeds, of course. According to the American Sleep Association, these guys are a good source of the sleep-inducing mineral magnesium and amino acid tryptophan. They’re also packed with zinc, which can help the brain convert that tryptophan into serotonin. The fact that they’re satisfyingly crunchy and savory is beside the point.
7. Bananas and Peanut Butter
Remember how your high school track coach told you to eat bananas for leg cramps? That’s because bananas contain potassium, which aids in muscle relaxation. Combine that with peanut butter, which is not only delicious but is also full of healthy fats to keep you satisfied, notes the Cleveland Clinic. And while you could certainly slap some PB on a ripe banana and call it a day, why not make a healthy two-ingredient ice-cream treat out of the combo?
8. A Handful of Nuts
If you’re lazy like us, you don’t want to do more cooking and dishes just because you want a late-night snack. A small handful of nuts fits the bill, thanks to the high protein content and source of healthy fats. Gioffre says that nuts (specifically organic ones) “are nutritional powerhouses that can help regulate blood sugar level, fight inflammation, decrease hunger urges, help weight loss and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.” His go-tos? “Raw almonds, pistachios and macadamias. High in healthy fats, they suppress hunger, optimize brain function and help you burn fat.” Plus, according to the National Sleep Foundation, almonds and walnuts specifically contain the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin. Just make sure you stick to a handful and not the whole bag—that works out to about 200 calories per quarter cup, give or take.
9. Almond Butter
Speaking of nuts, almond butter is an equally convenient grab-and-go (er, snooze) option. And considering that a quarter cup of almonds contains 24 percent of your daily recommended magnesium intake, plus tryptophan and potassium, they’re a no-brainer for late-night hunger pangs.
10. A Turkey Sandwich
You’ll never forget when your Uncle Bill fell asleep right in the middle of the Thanksgiving feast. It was probably thanks to the turkey, which is known for being rich in tryptophan, and that’s exactly what makes it a smart choice for a midnight snack. Pair it with whole-grain bread to sneak in some complex carbs, or keep it low-cal and whip some slices in a lettuce wrap.
11. Low-Fat Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese got a bad rap for being a bland, boring weight-loss staple back in the day, but it’s a hidden gem for insomniacs (not to mention tasty to boot). The lean protein (which comes from slow-digesting casein) helps boost that aforementioned serotonin, and according to a recent study from Cambridge University, can actually help you hit your weight-loss goals while you sleep. Want to boost the snooze-factor? Top a half-cup serving with raspberries for a 100-calorie midnight snack with an added touch of melatonin.
12. Cooked Edamame
Memorize this equation: Protein plus fiber equals the best night’s sleep of your life. Edamame (aka soybeans in their pods) have both going for them, so it’s a natural choice when you need a quick bite. And specific compounds in soy (called soy isoflavones) have been found to potentially increase the duration of sleep, according to this Japanese study.
By now, you can probably guess why eggs are a healthy midnight snack: They’re protein-rich and full of tryptophan. The American Sleep Association says they might make you sleepy for that reason, but we also love that they’re portioned and packaged for easy eating. Plus, you definitely already have a stash of jammy eggs in your fridge for topping salads and toast, right?
14. Cheese and Crackers
When it comes to sleep, cheese is a surprisingly sound choice. That’s because it’s high in calcium, which has been tied to better sleep. It’s also loaded with protein, with some tryptophan and melatonin for good measure. Pair a few slices of cheese with some whole-grain crackers, sprouted bread or apple slices for the ultimate protein-carb combination.
15. Avocado Toast
Good news for millennials who worship at the avo toast altar: Dr. Gioffre calls the fruit (yep, it’s a fruit) “God’s butter.” That’s because it has “a nice balance of healthy fats, more potassium than bananas and plenty of fiber to keep your digestive in check.” Want to bring it up a notch? Dr. Gioffre suggests making your toast with sprouted bread, tomato, extra-virgin olive oil, cumin, sea salt, crushed black pepper and jalapeño for a little extra kick. Part midnight snack, part gourmet meal.
16. Spring Crudités with Romesco Sauce
You can’t go wrong with raw veggies, right? The trick is making them exciting enough that you actually want to eat them. This roasted red pepper sauce will do just that, but you can also lean on whatever dressing you have stowed away in the fridge.
18. Green Smoothie with Avocado and Apple
Why should mornings get to have all the fun? Avocado and chia seeds will keep you full while a banana and Granny Smith apple make it sweet enough to satisfy your late-night craving.
19. Easy Zucchini Chips
Our kryptonite: Potato chips. We can eat a million of ’em without even blinking, but sleeping so soon after all that salt and oil leaves us feeling bloated and greasy. Luckily, these zucchini alternatives are just as crisp and tasty—minus the frying.
20. Baked Sweet Potato Fries
We’ve never met a French fry we didn’t like. But since these are baked instead of fried, they have way less fat—and are less messy to prepare. They’re also made with sweet potatoes, which have a ton of fiber and vitamins, plus a bit of protein to hold you over before bedtime.
21. Beef Jerky
Protein is the way to go when you feel a late-night craving coming on. And making your own is way better than leaning on store-bought processed jerky. Jerky is a great source of lean protein and iron; just note that it can also be high in sodium (it’s typically cured in a salt solution). So, while it’s healthy and filling, you shouldn’t nosh on it 24/7, especially if you have high blood pressure.
22. Roasted Chickpeas
You love hummus—why not celebrate these tiny gems in their purest, crispiest form? Chickpeas boast protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, making them a popular healthy choice. Odds are you’ve seen crispy chickpeas at the grocery store by now, but making your own is as simple as seasoning them to your liking and baking them until dry and crunchy.
23. One-Ingredient Watermelon Sorbet
For those nights when your heart cries "ice cream," but your brain says "we can do better than that." The secret? Twice-frozen watermelon. And nothing else.