Five ideas for sleep-friendly midnight snacks

Baked oatmeal with fruit is rich in carbs, low in fat and free of caffeine. (Shutterstock)
Baked oatmeal with fruit is rich in carbs, low in fat and free of caffeine. (Shutterstock)
Published May 16 2018

When the clock strikes midnight, I reach for the cookie jar. Okay, maybe it’s not an actual jar — maybe I’m even lazier, and I reach for the cardboard box of chocolate chip cookies I bought from the store. The point is, my late-night snack habits aren’t always ideal. To better understand the benefits of healthy pre-bedtime snacks, I reached out to Melody Chavez-Robben, a registered dietitian in the Tampa Bay area. If we want to fall asleep on time, what should we be eating?

"The best foods to eat for a midnight snack are those that contain a complex carbohydrate and a protein," Chavez-Robben explains. Why? Protein-rich foods contain a sleep-inducing amino acid called tryptophan. Meanwhile, complex carbohydrates "help drive tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier," which then makes us feel drowsy faster.

Chavez-Robben also suggests meals that are easy to digest, without too much fat, caffeine or sugar (which rules out my chocolate chip cookies). Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for a late-night snack that’s not too big or too small, but just right.

With this advice in mind, we’ve selected five recipes to help you drift into sleep.

Emily Young, Times correspondent

Baked Oatmeal With Berries and Almonds

A bowl of oatmeal is ideal for a late-night snack because it’s rich in carbs, low in fat and caffeine-free. Plus, it "helps lower cholesterol, has fiber and helps you feel full to help promote weight loss," Chavez-Robben says. If you aren’t a fan of porridge, try this recipe for baked oatmeal — basically a dessert in sleep-friendly form. To begin, melt 4 tablespoons butter. Use some of the butter to liberally coat a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, then reserve the rest. Next, you’ll need 3 cups of your favorite fruit. The recipe calls for blueberries, raspberries and/or strawberries, but you can also use more tropical flavors like chopped pineapple or cubed mango. In an even layer, spread your chosen fruit in the bottom of the baking dish. Pour the following ingredients into a bowl: 2 cups oatmeal (not instant), 1 cup toasted, unsalted almonds (coarsely chopped), 1 teaspoon baking powder and ¾ teaspoon fine sea salt. Whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining melted butter, 2 cups milk, 2 large eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg and ½ cup dark brown sugar. Add in the oat mixture, whisking to combine. Pour it over the layer of fruit in the baking dish, making sure the liquid and oats are evenly distributed. Bake in an oven heated to 350 degrees. After about 35 to 45 minutes, the baked oats should be pale golden. Test to see if it feels firm, and if so, remove from oven. You can eat it immediately, or save a slice for a late-night snack. It can be enjoyed cold or reheated. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.

Iced Chamomile Tea

This iced tea combines relaxing chamomile with melatonin-boosting pineapple — two powerhouse ingredients to propel you into slumber. Boil 1 ½ cups water. Remove from heat and steep 4 chamomile tea bags for 2 to 3 minutes. Wait for the tea to cool completely. Next, pour the cooled tea into a blender, along with 1 cup crushed ice, ½ cup frozen pineapple chunks and honey, to taste. Blend. When the mixture is smooth, stir in 2 tablespoons chopped basil. Let the tea sit for 1 to 2 minutes. If you plan to drink it immediately, serve in a glass over crushed ice. To save it for a late-night drink, place it in a pitcher in the fridge. Recipe adapted from Chocolate for Basil.

Miso Peanut Spread

If you want an easy late-night snack, Chavez-Robben suggests whole-grain toast (a carb) and peanut butter (a protein). Want something slightly fancier? This recipe for miso peanut spread is an upgraded, more exotic version of peanut butter. Best of all, it only takes 10 minutes to make. Start by scooping a heaping ¼ cup roasted peanuts into a plastic bag. Place on your countertop and use a rolling pin to crush them. Keep rolling over them until you feel they are crushed enough to mix into your spread. Pour crushed peanuts into a large bowl. Add 3 ½ tablespoons unsalted smooth peanut butter, 2 tablespoons white or yellow miso, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon mirin and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest. Stir until it becomes smooth. Keep refrigerated. It will last for several weeks, making it a perfect late-night spread on a slice of whole wheat toast. If the spread gets too thick, you can add water or orange juice. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.e_SClBWhole Wheat Sesame Rings

This whole wheat snack boasts sesame seeds, which can boost the amount of tryptophan in your body. "All seeds contain tryptophan," says Chavez-Robben, adding that they’re also "a good source of fiber, vitamins and antioxidants." To make the sesame rings, begin by dissolving ¾ teaspoon instant yeast in 1 ½ cups lukewarm water. While the yeast dissolves, pour the following ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer: ½ cup semolina flour, ¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour, 2 ? cups whole wheat flour and 1 ¼ teaspoons salt. Using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed. Add 1 tablespoon honey and stir. Continuing to stir at low speed, add the yeast and water to the flour. Mix for 1 minute. Let the dough sit for 5 minutes, then knead it by hand for 5 minutes. When it feels stiff and slightly sticky, stop kneading and let it rest for 5 minutes. Use vegetable oil to lightly coat your countertop. Place dough onto the counter and shape into a ball. Lightly oil mixing bowl and place the dough in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter to rise for 3 hours. Lightly oil your countertop again and place the dough onto it. Divide and shape into 8 to 10 small balls. Cover those loosely with plastic and let rest for 20 minutes. Then roll each ball into a rope about 12 to 14 inches long. Gently twist the rope, then form it into a ring. Overlap the ends by about an inch and pinch together. Make a protective coating of egg wash: Beat an egg with 2 tablespoons water. Pour 1 cup toasted sesame seeds into a separate, large bowl. Coat both sides of the ring with the egg mixture. Next, dip each ring into the sesame seeds until completely covered. Place the sesame-coated rings on two baking sheets, lined with lightly oiled parchment. Allow 1 inch of space between each ring. Cover loosely with plastic and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place the first baking sheet on the middle rack of your oven. Put the other baking sheet in the fridge until you are ready to bake the next batch. The rings should take 30 to 35 minutes to bake. Halfway through baking, flip the rings over so they brown equally. When the rings are finished baking, they should look like dark brown, dense bagels with large holes. Tap the bottoms — if they sound hollow, they should be ready. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.

Herbed Goat Cheese

Chavez-Robben says cheese and whole wheat crackers are a great sleep-friendly snack, which validates my habit of consuming large quantities of cheddar while watching Netflix. Start working on your "night cheese" with this fancy recipe for herb-coated goat cheese and whole wheat crostini. To save time, feel free to use store-bought crackers. If you’d like to make your own crostini, start with a whole wheat baguette loaf. Cut it into 36 slices, about ½ inch thick each, and place them on two heavy baking sheets with rimmed edges. Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil over the slices. Bake in an oven heated to 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. When it’s ready, the crostini should be pale golden and crisp. While you wait for the crostini to bake, place a log of fresh goat cheese, about 11 ounces, on your counter. This will help it soften so it’s easier to mold. Wash and finely chop the following herbs: 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves, 2 ½ teaspoons fresh thyme leaves and 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves. Grind 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Combine the herbs and lemon zest in a bowl, along with 1 teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon salt. Take 2 teaspoons of softened goat cheese and roll into a ball, about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the ball in the herb mixture until it is completely coated. Repeat with the rest of the goat cheese. Keep the crostini in an airtight container at room temperature and refrigerate the goat cheese until ready to eat. You can prepare it one day ahead. Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis.