Eating This Type Of Food Before Bed Can Make Sleep More Efficient, According To New Research On Nurses
The statistics don't lie: So many of us struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep, and between 10% and 30%1 of adults in the U.S. have insomnia. Even if you don't have a diagnosed sleep disorder, it wouldn't hurt to know more tips and tricks for optimizing your sleep since it's so closely tied to energy levels and productivity. That's why a new study2 on the value of eating protein before bed is worth knowing about.
The protein-sleep connection.
Performed by researchers in South Korea, this study investigated the effects of different bedtime meals on the sleep quality of 128 nurses working the nighttime shift.
The researchers measured sleep quality via self-reported sleep scores (using a tool called the Verran and Snyder-Halpern Sleep Scale) and objective data collected by an accelerometer. Participants also reported exactly what they ate and when on the nights they were working.
So, what did the results show? Eating closer to bedtime was actually associated with longer total sleep time and improved sleep quality in this cohort. Other results showed that higher-calorie meals were also associated with better subjective sleep quality and that the more protein the meal contained, the more efficiently the participant slept, according to the accelerometer.
Should we eat before bed?
If you're scratching your head reading the results above, you're not alone! This goes against what many of us have been taught—that we shouldn't eat right before bed. We've seen a lot of past research that late-night eating is bad for our metabolism and that we should avoid certain foods before bed. For example, this study published in 2017 showed us that timing meals later in the night can cause weight gain and impair fat metabolism.
So…what gives? It may be that late-night eating is harmful to metabolic health in some ways but benefits sleep in others. This is also an extremely preliminary study done on night shift workers, so it's possible the results don't apply to everyone. In other words, the results of this study shouldn't spark us to start eating a giant meal before bed every night.
That said, we can apply some of the lessons from this study to our daily life by incorporating plenty of protein into our last meal of the day—whenever we consume it.
Healthy, protein-rich meals to support sleep.
- A protein-rich smoothie: If you find yourself hungry before bed or want to incorporate protein into your late-night routine, a smoothie can be the perfect medium. Smoothies are easy to digest and delicious. By adding collagen to yours, you can get around 20 grams of protein without feeling overly full or uncomfortable. Try incorporating one of these collagen powders into your smoothie; here's a mint chocolate chip collagen smoothie recipe to get you started.
- Fish: A 3.5-ounce3 serving of salmon (With the skin on!) packs more than 60 grams of protein. If you're looking for a high-protein dinner, try incorporating fish (here are some of the healthiest ones to eat) into your meal.
- Eggs: Eggs are another nutritious protein option at dinnertime. Try this 5-ingredient caramelized onion frittata (15 grams of protein per serving) or this sweet potato and sausage frittata (37.5 grams of protein per serving).
- Edamame: If you're feeling snacky late at night and want a food that's high in protein but low in carbohydrates and sugar, look no further than edamame. Edamame provides4 18.4 grams of protein per cup and is a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that's known for its sleep-supporting benefits.
A new study shows that eating a high-protein meal before bed improved sleep quality in nurses working a night shift. And while we shouldn't take these results as an excuse to late-night snack all we want, we can incorporate more protein into our evenings in honor of our ZZZ's.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.