“I’m hungry,” I said to my husband. He sighed then asked what I needed to eat. We had just crawled into bed when my stomach grumbled. He was used to this because it happens to me often. I need to learn to be proactive about my bedtime snacking, though, and eat something before we go to bed.
Late-night snacking has pros and cons for people with diabetes, depending on the type of diabetes and the type of snack. We’ll look at who should be having a snack and what kinds of snacks are good for different types of problems.
How You Can Tell What Kind of Bedtime Snack Is Okay?
So, how can you tell if it’s okay to snack at all and, if so, how many carbs that snack should have? One of your clues is your fasting morning blood glucose levels. See what happens to your numbers the morning after snacking and on mornings after you don’t snack. How do they compare?
Unfortunately, it’s not often that simple. Your fasting blood glucose reading is only the start. To get a better sense of your overall patterns, try testing before you go to bed at night, and again around 3 a.m., in addition to your morning test. Do this for several days in a row and you will begin to see your body’s typical nighttime blood sugar cycle. A continuous glucose monitor makes it even easier.
Armed with this information, you may want to consult with your doctor, nutritionist, and/or diabetes educator about how best to work with whatever pattern you discovered. However, we give some tips and ideas below to help you figure out what kinds of snacks you can indulge in, depending on the particular diabetes challenge you’re dealing with.
Bedtime Snacks Can Add Weight, Not Good for People with Diabetes
Snacking at night can lead to weight gain because we don’t always choose carefully when we have the post-dinner munchies. And we sit in front of the television or hang out with friends and don’t pay attention to how much we’re eating. We wind up packing on the calories, which often means we’re also packing on extra carbs.
Issue: Weight Control – If you’re still hungry after dinner, grab a “free food,” which is mostly free of carbohydrates and calories. “Free foods” include:
Cauliflower or broccoli florets
Bell pepper strips
One sugar-free frozen cream pop
One cup of light popcorn
If you don’t have any of those options on hand, the following snacks are also low enough in carbs that they may not pose an issue. But always check to see how your body handles different snacks.
Small box of raisins
Small handful of goldfish style crackers
Six saltine crackers
Eight plain animal crackers
Three gingersnap cookies
Five vanilla wafers
Nighttime Snacking Can Help Dawn Phenomenon
Many individuals with diabetes battle the dreaded “dawn effect,” also known as the “dawn phenomenon.” If your blood sugar is higher when you wake up in the morning than when you went to bed, you may be experiencing this effect. Our bodies naturally release certain hormones to stimulate the body prior to waking up (beginning around 4:00 am) in order to prepare for the day. These hormones cause our blood sugar to rise and our cells to be slightly more insulin resistant, so we often get surprisingly high readings in the morning.
Issue: Dawn Effect – If your issue is high blood sugars in the morning because of the dawn phenomenon, having a snack that consists primarily of healthy fat and protein is best. Some examples include:
Small handful of nuts
Spoonful of nut butter
Meat and cheese roll-up
Handful of seeds
The Somogyi Effect May Require a Carby Bedtime Snack
Some people, usually those who are on insulin therapy, find that their blood sugars bottom out at night.
The Somogyi Effect (also called reactive hyperglycemia) is when a low blood sugar in the middle of the night (usually 2:00 to 3:00 am) prompts the liver to release glucagon. Glucagon converts your sugar stores into glucose to counter the hypoglycemia. However, sometimes the liver pumps out too much and your sugars rise higher than they should in response.
Issue: Somogyi Effect – If you’re seeing high sugars in the morning after a low blood sugar in the wee hours, try having a bedtime snack that has around 15-20 grams of carbs combined with some protein and/or fiber, such as:
Cheese and crackers
Peanut butter on a slice of whole-wheat toast
Cottage cheese with pineapple
Greek yogurt with fresh strawberries
Hard-boiled egg and one medium banana
Whole wheat crackers with tuna
Bonus Tips on Nighttime Snacking
Nighttime snacking options can differ depending on your specific situation. However, the following three bonus tips are good for anyone to follow:
Exercise Portion, Carb & Calorie Control – Know how much you need and understand what a serving size actually looks like. Then you can choose a smart snack and an appropriate portion of the snack.
Choose Healthy Snacks – Again, this requires you to know what’s right for you and your particular body’s needs. But there are some snacks that are just plain unhealthy, no matter what. Stay away from things that are pure sugar, contain high fructose corn syrup, or have more carbs in one serving than most people with diabetes should have in an entire day.
Eat Mindfully – When you snack, focus on the food you’re indulging in. Savor every bite and chew slowly allowing yourself to fully experience all the flavors. Turn off or away from external distractions and bring your attention completely to the eating experience. Cultivating mindfulness in this way will naturally help you feel more satisfied with your snack and can help prevent mindless overeating.