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How do late-night snacks and beverages affect sleep?

Prairie Fare: Recent evidence shows that having a small bedtime snack might be good for us


A light snack of the right kind at night may actually help you sleep better.

I glanced at my alarm clock one morning.

I was expecting the alarm would be going off any minute. I usually get up at 6 a.m.

The clock said 7:24 a.m.

I blinked hard and looked again. The time hadn’t changed. We had overslept.

I jumped out of bed and knocked on my school-age daughter’s door. She was still in bed and mumbled something about being tired. She was due at school in about 10 minutes. I let her know she needed to be ready to leave in five minutes, and then I went looking for my husband.

My husband usually gets up at 5 a.m., feeds our dogs and shovels the sidewalk when necessary. He never oversleeps. Now I was a little worried. Had he fallen into a pile of snow?

Fortunately, I found him sound asleep on the couch, all wrapped in a fuzzy blanket.

“It’s 7:25!” I announced.

“Is it Friday?” he asked grog­gily.

We were at the end of an exceptionally busy week. Despite oversleeping, somehow we got to where we needed to be on time.

Does eating and drinking before bed affect your sleep, or were we just exhausted? I had enjoyed a snack with some chamomile tea. I know that having a small cup of chamomile tea relaxes me, but oversleeping was not what I wanted to do.

Researchers have shown the merits of drinking chamomile tea. According to some studies, chamomile tea may promote better sleep quality, with fewer episodes of awakening.

Chamomile contains a natural antioxidant called apigenin that may help initiate sleep. In fact, a study with nursing home residents showed that consuming some chamomile extract improved their sleep.

However, you also probably do not want to drink a lot of fluid before bed for other reasons.

Food and beverages can affect your sleep, but the research on the timing of eating sometimes is conflicting.

Researchers have reported that eating the majority of calories late in the evening can influence our weight and health. People who sleep less than seven to nine hours at night tend to weigh more.

You might have heard that you never should eat past your evening meal; however, more recent evidence shows that having a small bedtime snack might be good for us. A recent study with men examined the effect of having 150 calories in a protein-rich snack before bed. The snack helped with muscle building, metabolism and satiety, at least among men who had exercised.

For example, a small bowl of whole grain cereal with milk will be enough to stave off hunger with its blend of protein and carbohydrate.

Remember these sleep hygiene tips to get the rest your body needs. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Keep your bedroom quiet and relaxing, and not too warm or too cold. Avoid interacting with electronic devices, including phones, and try to get physical activity during the day.

Finally, avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bed. Visit https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/nourishyourbody and click on “sleep” to learn more.

I slept well after having this tasty soup recipe for dinner at 6 p.m. I served it with “Golden Cornbread,” a recipe available in the bread section of our recipe database on the NDSU website.

I enjoyed a cup of chamomile tea with a couple of crackers and cheese before bed. I also adjusted the volume on my alarm clock.

Mexican Fiesta Chicken Soup

  • 2 tbsp. canola or sunflower oil (or favourite oil)
  • 2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 c. onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. garlic, minced
  • 3 (15-oz.) cans low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (10-oz.) cans diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (4-oz.) can green chili peppers
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 c. Monterey jack cheese, shredded
  • Optional: tortilla chips (broken into pieces)
  • Optional: sliced avocado

If diced tomatoes with cilantro and lime are not available, substitute fire-roasted diced tomatoes and add the juice of one lime and 1/2 cup chopped cilantro.

In a large pot, heat the oil and add chicken breast. Cook until the chicken is no longer pink. Add onion and garlic and continue to sauté until chicken is fully cooked. Add the chicken broth, tomatoes, green chilies and beans and simmer for 25 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. Ladle into bowls and top with cheese, tortilla chips and sliced avocado, if desired.

This tasty Mexican fiesta chicken soup makes an ideal evening meal. photo: NDSU

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 390 calories, 11 grams (g) fat, 42 g protein, 33 g carbohydrate, 10 g fibre and 520 milligrams sodium.

About the author

Columnist

Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences.

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