The Best Cheeses For Midnight Snacking

When the midnight hunger pangs hit, you have two choices: roll over and go back to sleep, or jump out of bed and skip to the fridge, knowing you're headed straight for the cheese drawer. As if cheese lovers needed another excuse to munch on their favorite dairy product, it turns out that some cheeses can actually help you get a better night's sleep. These include cottage cheese, mozzarella, cheddar, and parmesan, and what makes them good for eating before you head back to dream land is the high amount of tryptophan they contain. 


Tryptophan is the same chemical found in turkey and is what gives the protein the reputation for making people sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner. Most cheeses that many people keep on hand also contain the chemical, like Brie, Gouda, and Colby, and they're perfectly fine to eat late at night, too, but for maximum effect, try the aforementioned ones.

How does tryptophan work to make you sleepy?

Tryptophan isn't naturally produced in the human body, so it has to be ingested. Once consumed, it contributes to the production of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones which are known to promote relaxation and restful sleep. But it's more than just tryptophan in cheese that works to give you a good night's sleep; the protein and calcium play parts, too. According to a research review published in Advances in Nutrition, optimal protein consumption may promote a better quality of sleep, and a study written up in Perspectives in Psychiatric Care found that low calcium levels have led to insomnia.


With the tryptophan, protein, and calcium they contain, the right kinds of cheese may be among the best things you can snack on when you get hungry in the middle of the night. With that said, people with a lactose intolerance or sensitivity might want to either avoid cheese completely or choose varieties that are lower in lactose, like Swiss, parmesan, and cheddar ... which all happen to be high in tryptophan, anyway. And, if you do plan on going right back to bed after your nosh, keep your serving on the small side. A snack veering on the point of being a meal, such as a monster grilled cheese sandwich, takes some time to digest, which can interfere with sleep.

Other foods to get your zzz's

If you're out of tryptophan-heavy cheese, don't eat cheese, or are just in the mood for something else in the hours before the sun rises, there are several other good snacking choices which won't keep you awake. Other foods that contain tryptophan include slices of turkey, boiled eggs, bananas, and two other dairy favorites: milk and yogurt (make sure the latter isn't full of sugar). Tart cherry juice, pistachios, and almonds are good sources of melatonin, and kiwis have a good amount of serotonin. And if you'd rather sip your way back to a dream state, chamomile tea is a good choice. Not only is the warmth of hot tea soothing to the body, but chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant which promotes sleep.


Between cheese and all these fruits and nuts, you could potentially have a legit (miniature) charcuterie board in the middle of the night and then go right back to sleep. Treat the tart cherry juice like a glass of red wine, but remember to keep your serving on the lighter side.