It’s a problem most people face when they’re trying to eat healthy: You’re super right before bed, but you don’t want to eat something that will derail your diet. Turns out, going to bed hungry can actually hurt your weight-loss efforts. A rumbling tummy means an unrestful sleep, and a likelihood that you’ll wake up so hungry, you’ll make unhealthy breakfast choices.
Plus, sleeping is an essential key to slimming down; researchers have found that sleeping five or fewer hours a night increases your chances of gaining weight! Making matters worse, sleep deprivation stimulates the hormones that regulate hunger, meaning you crave high-calorie junk food the next day. It’s better to get a good night’s rest and go to bed on a satisfied stomach.
Here’s a full list of foods that help you sleep, build lean protein while you snooze, or keep you satisfied all night long to avoid those morning hunger pangs. And while you’re making healthier changes, here are the 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
Greek yogurt is like the MVP of yogurts, thanks to its high protein and low sugar content (in unsweetened varieties). The protein is filling and can help you build lean muscle while you snooze. A study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that eating protein right before you sleep stimulates overnight protein synthesis, which repairs and helps grow muscle. Since lean protein helps your body burn fat, getting enough of the macronutrient is key for weight loss.
Cherries not only satisfy your post-dinner sweet tooth; they can help you get better shut-eye, too. Cherries are a natural source of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. Have a bowl or a glass of tart cherry juice before bed; a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that adults who drank tart cherry juice noticed improvements in sleep quality and duration. Plus, cherries are chock-full of antioxidants, which can also help fight inflammation and move the scale.
Peanut butter toast is a delicious and filling snack any time of day, but especially before bed. This peanut butter contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps put you to sleep, and the B vitamins in whole grain bread will help you absorb it. Plus, there’s a reason peanut butter is one of our best fat-burning foods; it’s a great source of plant-based protein to help you build muscle, and healthy monounsaturated fats to keep you full and blast belly fat.
If you’re one of those people who prefers to hit the gym in the evening, recovering with a protein shake can help you build muscle while you catch your Zzzs. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that downing 40 grams of casein protein before bed increases muscle protein synthesis, and building lean muscle is key to getting rid of fat. Try adding a scoop of casein protein powder to make a protein shake.
Cottage cheese is almost the perfect bedtime snack. It’s rich in casein protein, a slow-releasing protein that keeps you full overnight and will help you repair muscles while you get your beauty rest. Plus, it contains the sleep-inducing tryptophan to help you fall asleep.
There’s a reason you want to take a nap after Thanksgiving dinner; the tryptophan in turkey makes you sleepy. So it makes for the perfect pre-bed snack, especially because the protein will help you build muscle overnight. Enjoy a couple slices on whole wheat bread or crackers; the fiber will keep you satisfied all night, and the B vitamins will help your body absorb the tryptophan.
Did you know bananas also have tryptophan? The amino acid will help put you to sleep quicker, and the fiber will keep you satisfied. At about 100 calories each, this sweet fruit will help squash any sugar cravings you might have after dinner. Try freezing a banana (unpeeled, of course), and mash it up with a fork to create a tasty ice cream-like treat.
Chocolate milk may seem like a sweet indulgence, but it’s actually an ideal weight-loss beverage. The calcium can help melt belly fat; a study in the journal Diabetes Care found that when diabetics supplemented their diet with dairy calcium, it helped them shed weight. And the old wives’ tale is true: a glass of milk makes people sleepy, thanks to the tryptophan. Just be sure to choose a brand that doesn’t have too much added sugar or use high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient.
The key to losing weight could be in your—literally. Kefir, a fermented milk product, is packed with probiotics to keep your gut bacteria happy and de-bloat your stomach. Since it’s dairy, it also has tryptophan to help you fall asleep and slimming calcium.
If you’re craving something salty, munch on some almonds. At 5 grams of protein a serving, they’ll help you repair muscle overnight, and the fiber will keep you satisfied. Plus, almonds are a fat-burning superfood: One study from International Journal of Obesity found that overweight adults who ate 1/4 cup of almonds, in tandem with a low-calorie diet, for 6 months had a 62% reduction in weight and BMI compared to those who ate a diet rich in complex carbs.
End your day the way it started: with a bowl of cereal. Carbs are good for sleep, and fiber-rich whole grain cereals will keep you fill while melting fat; studies have shown that fiber intake is associated with lower body weight, a study in Eating Behaviors found. Enjoy with a cup of low-fat milk for the extra dose of tryptophan, calcium, and vitamin D.
You wouldn’t think string cheese is one of the best foods that help you sleep, but one serving has a satiating combo of fat and protein at just around 80 calories a pop. Plus, it contains a decent dose of tryptophan; part-skim mozzarella, for example, has more than 600 milligrams of the drowsy-inducing amino acid.
RELATED: No-sugar-added recipes you’ll actually look forward to eating.