Hungry at 2 a.m.? Nutritionists suggest these 11 quick and easy snacks

If you’ve ever lain awake at 2 a.m. with your stomach rumbling, staring at the ceiling wondering what to eat, then this is for you. “If you are hungry, you should eat something, regardless of the time of day,” says Aimee Takamura, registered dietitian and director of wellness and sustainability at Restaurant Associates. “The act of eating late at night does not affect metabolism or lead to many of the adverse effects you may have heard of. The quantity and quality of food is what you should be more concerned about.”

In fact, if you happen to be a night owl or someone who stays up late on a regular basis, it’s perfectly normal to have late-night cravings.

“We need to get rid of this idea that our stomachs close at 6 p.m.,” says Dalina Soto, a registered dietitian and founder of Your Latina Nutritionist. “You are still alive and your body needs energy.”

In those instances, you’ll want to reach for foods that are high in protein and fiber to keep you full. “I recommend snacking on a combination of foods that contain fiber, lean protein, and some heart-healthy fats,” says Takamura. “These nutrients provide a more stable release of energy versus a sugary snack that can cause a ‘rush’ after consumption.”

Some quick and easy snacks include:

  • Greek yogurt
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • crackers
  • popcorn
  • hummus
  • toast
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • low-fat cheese sticks
  • peanut butter
  • cereal and milk

You may even want to consider a pre-bedtime snack to stave off late-night cravings.

“If you have dinner well before bedtime, try incorporating a snack a couple of hours before you go to sleep. Smoothies may be a great option because you can blend in anything from fruits and vegetables to oats, flax, yogurt, avocado, and more,” suggests Takamura. “It’s easier to drink your food than chew it and also easier to digest, so something liquid in the later hours of the evening may be ideal. Again, aim to get a mix of protein, fat, and fiber.”

But if you’re someone who has indigestion, heartburn, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you’ll want to limit foods that can trigger a response, such as high-fat, spicy, and acidic foods, suggests Takamura. And if you find yourself reaching for a midnight snack more often than not, it may be time to talk with your doctor for a referral to a health care specialist such as a registered dietitian, behavioral therapist, physiologist, or psychiatrist who may be able to provide individualized care.

“For individuals with diabetes, it is wise to test blood glucose to see if hunger is related to blood glucose level, which will help determine the type of snack selected,” advises Julie Grim, national director of nutrition for the American Diabetes Association.

However, if you’re consistently being awakened by hunger, you want to ensure you’re eating enough throughout the day. 

“I see a lot of people filling up on volume and fiber but not calories and then wondering why they are starving at night,” Soto continues. “We should not be afraid of calories; they are our body’s energy. Check in with yourself and try not to go more than three to four hours without a meal or snack.” 

Just as important as eating enough calories is staying hydrated, which for the average person means drinking two to three liters of water per day.

“Water is crucial, but hydration is beyond drinking water. Your diet can keep you hydrated too. Any foods and liquids that have fluid content are hydrating for the body,” explains integrative nutritionist Selena Ayala. “In addition, foods like fresh fruits and vegetables tend to hold a high water content and have fiber, which provides other nutrients to your body and your diet.”

Some examples of foods high in water content are cucumbers, tomatoes, apples, oranges, watermelon, and peaches. Savory foods such as olives, pickles, celery, bone broths, and cottage cheese are also high in water.

Most important, experts recommend listening to your body’s needs.

“I believe in listening to the body’s signals and honoring the cravings,” says Ayala. “To treat the night waking, it’s important first to address the root of the problem, whether that’s caffeine intake, dehydration, or stress hormones. The principles are to balance the cravings, keep it simple with snacking, maybe prep food for late-night snacking, and watch the portion size. Then find the right-size fit for snacks.”