Bedtime Snacks and Blood Sugar - Ask A Nutritionist

May 2, 2024

Wondering if you should eat before bed? In this episode of Dishing Up Nutrition, Brandy Buro MS, RD, LD explains how choosing the right bedtime snack can prevent blood sugar spikes and drops, potentially improving your sleep and overall health. She provides insights on which snacks are best and why timing matters. Don't miss this episode!

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BRANDY: Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We're thrilled to be celebrating 20 years on air, discussing the connection between what you eat and how you feel while sharing practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition.

Thank you for your support and listenership over all of these years. Now let's get started with today's show. On today's show, we'll be answering a nutrition question that came from one of our listeners. Today's question is about whether or not it's recommended to eat a bedtime snack. So here's what they said:

“I am confused by all the opinions on controlling blood sugar. Many health gurus out there advise not eating a bedtime snack because fasting is good for blood sugar control. But I often hear on Dishing Up Nutrition that a bedtime snack can help. I don't know what to do.”

So this is a great question and I understand why there's confusion around this topic because there are a lot of opinions out there. Fasting is getting a lot of attention and even more people are interested in how to improve their blood sugar control. So I hope that I can shed some light on the nuance behind snacks and the role that they can play.

Blood sugar balance importance & how to achieve it

I do think that a snack can be beneficial for people for a variety of reasons, but like so many things related to nutrition, it kind of depends on the person. It depends on their lifestyle, their health history, and their routine in general. So snacks throughout the day, and in some cases a bedtime snack, can help stabilize blood sugar levels, meaning that you are avoiding overly high blood sugars, like blood sugar spikes, or low blood sugar levels. So we want to avoid either extreme.

And here at Nutritional Weight and Wellness, we do recommend that our clients plan a balanced meal or a snack every three to four hours. So I usually encourage a balanced snack between meals, and when I use the term balanced, I mean that that meal or snack contains some high quality protein, a serving of natural fat and real food carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit.

So this pattern of eating in regular intervals we have found is very effective in keeping blood sugar stable throughout the day. And it effectively prevents low blood sugar levels that very often trigger cravings for sugar and other processed carbohydrates like bread and crackers and chips and pasta, those kinds of foods, which are pretty counterproductive for overall health for many people.

Who might benefit from a balanced bedtime snack?

And for some clients, I may suggest a planned snack sometime after dinner, if they are prone to overeating or binge eating at night, or if they have a habit of a lot of snacking on some of those more processed carbs. And an evening snack, if timed appropriately, and if it contains the right balance of nutrients, can stabilize blood sugar better throughout the evening while you're sleeping, which can lower stress in the body and just result in a much better night's rest.

For example, have you ever tried going to bed on an empty stomach? You already feel hungry, only to end up laying in bed for an hour or more, tossing and turning? I know for me personally, if I even try to go to bed hungry, I will not be able to get to sleep, and I end up getting out of bed and having a snack anyway. So I don't really do that anymore.

And maybe you don't necessarily feel hungry when you go to bed, but you keep waking up in the middle of the night, and maybe sometimes you do start to feel hungry and you can't get back to sleep until you have a little snack. I've definitely experienced this where I'm waking up at three or four. I'm trying to get back to sleep, but I really can't. I feel so desperate. I have to have a snack before I can get to sleep.

So in those situations, it's very likely that you're experiencing a low blood sugar. Blood sugars that drop too low in the middle of the night could be something that actually wakes you up out of your sleep and makes it challenging to get back to sleep.

So in speaking with clients about whether or not a planned evening snack is right for them, I ask them if they're prone to cravings or binge eating in the evening, and if they're doing any blood sugar testing, if they know how good their blood sugar control is throughout the night, or perhaps if they're on blood lowering medications, because those are all things that can influence the decision about whether or not that bedtime snack is right for them.

For example, I may suggest that someone try to have that evening snack sometime after dinner if they are somebody that eats dinner relatively early in the night, say 5, 5:30 p. m., but they're usually going to bed a little later, say 10 or 11 p.m.

So this is a five or six hour gap between dinner and bedtime. So their blood sugar has likely fallen to a low point where they're naturally going to start feeling hungry again shortly before they go to bed. And again, I do not recommend that you go to bed hungry because it can be very difficult to get to sleep and usually results in restless sleep throughout the night.

So in scenarios like this where it's been more than three hours between dinner and their bedtime, and they're having a hard time sleeping, I do recommend that they experiment with a bedtime snack just to see if it helps their sleep quality. It is so important to prioritize getting enough sleep and getting quality sleep on a consistent basis.

Quality sleep is important to prioritize & why

It is very well documented in the research that just one night of poor sleep can actually reduce your body's ability to control your blood sugar the next day. So I say, if a real food snack actually improves your sleep, I think that bedtime snack is worth it. And then we know if you're getting good sleep, your blood sugar control is just going to be optimized the very next day.

Example of success with incorporating a bedtime snack for blood sugar regulation

Now another example of where a snack can be useful is for certain people that have known blood sugar regulation issues. Perhaps they are prediabetic or diabetic or they're on certain blood lowering medications where they really need to pay close attention to their blood sugar levels. And in some cases they even need to be tracking this while they sleep.

So sometimes the right evening snack that's timed well can optimize blood sugar control throughout the night. I can share a client example with you. I had a client that had the opportunity to try a continuous glucose monitor for a few weeks. So that's a glucose monitor that's tracking your blood sugar 24/7.

So while they were using this, they discovered that their blood sugar was actually crashing pretty consistently in the middle of the night to levels that were dangerously low, actually. So to remedy that, we experimented with a snack shortly before bed that contained a good amount of healthy fat and just a little bit of real food carbohydrate, like a little bit of vegetable or a little bit of fruit.

And that seemed to help stabilize blood sugar a little bit better throughout the night. She wasn't experiencing those crashes anymore and she was getting better sleep. So that's another example of where a bedtime snack is actually better for blood sugar control. And I just want to comment on the idea of fasting.

Overviewing fasting: how long is recommended overnight?

Fasting or not eating for a certain amount of time can be beneficial for overall health, but we all experience a brief state of fasting when we sleep. And this does allow our body the opportunity to rest and digest and repair itself. So giving your body a break from food can help your body carry out this natural process.

And luckily, the time that you spend sleeping is a built in way to achieve this. So, while some amount of time of fasting or giving your body a break from food is beneficial for health, I would not say that everyone benefits from more extended fasts.

For example, the patterns you've probably come to know as intermittent fasting or time restricted eating, where you may only have an hour of four to six hours throughout the day where you can eat, and that fasting window is much longer, for example, maybe 18 hours. So I do not think that's sustainable for everybody, and not recommended in many cases, but I do think that a 12-hour window of fasting can be beneficial and realistic for most people.

That 12-hour window of fasting gives our body that time to rest and digest and repair itself. So an example of what this might look like would be enjoying your last meal or maybe a snack at around 8 or 8:30 p. m. You wind down, you get ready for bed and maybe it's about 10 p.m. by the time you're in bed and starting to fall asleep.

You give yourself a solid eight or nine hours to rest. Hopefully you're sleeping most of that time. And then you get up at 7 a.m. Then you can plan your first meal or breakfast at eight or 8:30 a.m. So that schedule allows your body that 12-hour window without food to rest, but it's also structured in a way that meals can be enjoyed at typical times of the day without risking very low blood sugars or intense hunger, or those cravings.

Hopefully these examples and this information gives you a sense of whether or not a bedtime snack is right for you. Well, it's time for a quick break, but when I return, I'll share with you some of my favorite evening snacks.


​Bedtime snack ideas

Welcome back! Before break, we were discussing bedtime snacks and whether or not they can help balance your blood sugar. So I just want to share a few of my favorite bedtime snacks with you. When you're planning an evening snack, you want to include a serving of natural fat and a small portion of carbohydrate, like a cup of vegetables or a half of a cup of fruit or a starchy vegetable.

Now, protein is typically in a balanced meal and snack, but for a bedtime snack, it is not necessary. Protein can actually be quite energizing. And for some people, if they have protein too late in the evening, it may actually end up disturbing their sleep. So we really just need a little bit of fat and real food carbohydrate.

So with that formula in mind, here are some suggestions. One of my favorites is very simple and classic, just a half a banana or half of an apple with two tablespoons of nut butter. It could be almond butter or peanut butter, whatever kind of nut butter you like. Or you could do the other classic combo, half a cup or three quarters of a cup of berries with two tablespoons of heavy whipping cream.

Or if you want to go the dairy free route, you could do a third of a cup of canned coconut milk. Simple, delicious, it almost tastes like ice cream. If you want to go more of the savory route, you could try a cup of vegetables, maybe celery or cucumber or carrots, and then top that with some cream cheese. I like to sprinkle some everything bagel seasoning on that.

For like a dairy free route, you could easily substitute the cream cheese with some avocado, half of an avocado with a little salt: delicious. One of my other favorite evening snacks is a half a cup of roasted sweet potato topped with a little bit of butter, about a tablespoon of butter, maybe a little cinnamon.

It's so warm and comforting and it's the perfect thing to have before bed. So hopefully these ideas work for you. And I'm hoping that this information has given you a sense of whether or not snacks before bed are the right call for you.


So just to recap, an evening snack sometime after dinner could be helpful for some people. And a few scenarios where I recommend it is if perhaps you enjoy an early dinner. But you're not going to bed until much later. A little snack, you know, an hour or two before bed can help with better sleep. Or maybe you're somebody that's prone to binge eating or you have strong cravings for sweets or carbs in the evening. A planned snack can help mediate that.

Or if you are somebody that has restless sleep or you have a hard time getting to sleep, experiment with a balanced snack in the evening to see if that helps. If you are somebody that experiences low blood sugars in the middle of the night, a snack with some fat and a little bit of real food carb can help stabilize blood sugars and mediate that issue as well.

So thank you so much for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition's “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you found this episode helpful, be sure to leave us a review or a rating on your favorite podcast app, so that we can help even more people discover the connection between what they eat and how they feel.

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