If you're a smart sleeper, you've established a pre-bed routine to get your mind and body ready for slumber. Maybe you take a bath, cuddle with your cat, read a book or do all the above. But if you have diabetes, you might wonder if you should add a snack to that routine.
Pictured Recipe: Avocado Toast with Burrata
As you might suspect, some individuals with diabetes may benefit from a snack, others not so much. So how do you know? And what snacks are best for you? See what the nutrition experts have to say.
Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes, there may be a good reason to have a snack before slumbering. "It can help prevent low blood sugar throughout the night and/or high blood sugar in the morning, says Elysia Cartlidge, RD, a registered dietitian in Ontario, Canada, and founder of Haute & Healthy Living. Of course, low and high blood sugar levels can have detrimental effects on the body, not just in the short term but long term, too, so it's wise to prevent this from happening.
That bedtime snack could also aid your sleep. A small, balanced snack can help keep you from waking up during the night because of hunger, which could lead to poor sleep and even more consequences. "Lack of sleep can disrupt the production of your appetite hormones so that when you're awake, you tend to eat more," Cartlidge says. That can lead to issues with weight management and blood sugar.
Plus, sleep deficiency increases your stress hormones which can, in turn, cause your blood sugar levels to rise. It turns into a vicious cycle because when your blood sugar levels are high, "the kidneys overcompensate by causing you to urinate more often, and frequent trips to the bathroom during the night can lead to even more disrupted sleep," Cartlidge says. And because high blood sugar can cause headaches, increased thirst and tiredness, you might even have trouble falling asleep.
Not everybody who has diabetes needs a snack before bed. So how do you know? Let your blood sugar readings guide you. Monitor and log your blood sugar levels at various points throughout the day, including just before bed, between 2 and 3 a.m. and when waking up, Cartlidge says. Once you have those readings, you can talk with your health care provider to determine whether you need an evening snack.
There is, though, a condition that should be taken into account. This condition is known as the dawn phenomenon, where in the morning, your blood sugar levels surge as part of the process of waking up. "Because you'll have high blood sugar levels in the morning, it may be recommended that you avoid eating a carbohydrate-rich snack before bed, as it could cause blood sugar levels to rise," Cartlidge says. If that continues, the effects of the dawn phenomenon could be exacerbated.
If you and your health care provider have decided that a bedtime snack is a good idea, there are a few things to consider. Start with the timing of your snack, which, for digestion purposes, should be about 30 minutes before crawling under the covers, says Amanda Sauceda, M.S., RD, a registered dietitian in Long Beach, California. Of course, you may need to adjust this based on your blood sugar.
Then make sure you're not eating what Sauceda calls a "naked" carb, essentially a carbohydrate by itself. Ideally, you want to pair that carb—make sure it's a complex carb, which means one with fiber —with a protein and healthy fat. "This nutrient combo will prevent a big blood sugar spike by stabilizing blood sugars," Sauceda says.
Related: These Are the Fastest Ways to Stabilize Your Blood Sugar If You Have Diabetes
Finally, remember that this is a snack, not a meal. Pay attention to portion sizes and overall caloric intake. "If you eat too large of a snack, it could cause elevated blood sugar and long-term weight gain," Cartlidge says.
Here are six snacks that meet with our dietitians' approval:
Love avo toast? Then this snack's for you, as avocado is a fruit that's naturally high in fiber and full of healthy fats that are good for your heart and your blood sugar, Sauceda says. And even better if you mash it over a piece of whole-wheat bread (or your favorite high-fiber bread). Whole grains have a positive effect on blood sugar, according to a 2022 study published in Nutrients.
Here's another snack idea with whole-grain bread, either toasted or as is. Just make sure you're using 100% whole-grain bread—look for "whole grain" to be the first ingredient on the list—that has at least 2 grams of fiber per slice, Cartlidge says. Keep calories down by sticking with only one slice but slap on some natural peanut butter with no added salt or sugar. "Peanut butter is rich in healthy fats and protein so when paired with the whole-grain bread, it can help slow the digestion of carbohydrates and keep nighttime hunger at bay," Cartlidge adds. Among the many nutrients, peanut butter contains is magnesium, which helps regulate blood sugar.
The next time you're making energy bites, use a nut-butter base. Nuts contain protein, fat and fiber, and they've been linked in numerous studies to decreased fasting blood sugar and blood sugar control, Sauceda says. If you want to boost the protein content of your energy bites, use a scoop of protein powder or nuts with higher protein content, like peanuts or almonds. Add some chia seeds or ground flax for some plant-based omega-3s. "They're also anti-inflammatory, and addressing inflammation is being studied as a potential way to help with diabetes and metabolic syndrome," she says.
Greek yogurt gets a thumbs-up from Cartlidge, who says that it's a wise choice for people with diabetes, as it can contain up to twice the protein yet only half the carbohydrates as regular yogurt. Plus, yogurt provides many health benefits, including better digestive and heart health. Just make sure you're sticking with plain yogurt, as flavored versions are often high in added sugar, which could spike your blood sugar. If you need or want to swap to plant-based or Greek yogurt, no problem. To sweeten that yogurt, add berries like blackberries or blueberries. "Because they're lower on the glycemic index than other types of fruit, they won't cause as much of a spike in blood sugar," Cartlidge says. Berries aren't only high in fiber, they also contain a high amount of anthocyanins, antioxidants that may inhibit certain digestive enzymes that help slow down digestion, per a 2021 study published in International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research.
Related: Best Antioxidant-Rich Foods
Hummus is made from chickpeas, a plant-based protein, and legumes like chickpeas offer a unique benefit to people with diabetes. "Research shows that legumes like chickpeas could help with improving insulin sensitivity," Sauceda says, pointing to a 2018 study published in Nutrients. Pair it with vegetables (think carrots and celery) to get additional fiber.
As a reminder, whole grains contain beneficial amounts of fiber, which helps prevent large spikes in blood sugar. Why cheese, though? It does contain protein, some fat and little to no carbohydrates, but even more importantly, "the protein and fat can also help you feel full for longer, thus reducing cravings for less-healthy foods," Cartlidge says. And a note for people who follow a vegan diet or are lactose-intolerant: You can swap in plant-based cheese, although it will have a slightly lower protein content, about 1 to 2 grams of protein in a slice of vegan cheese versus about 4 grams of protein in a slice of regular cheese, Cartlidge adds.


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