This Is What It Really Means When You Crave Ice Cream Before Bed

You've got your jammies on, your pillows fluffed, and you know there's a big day awaiting you tomorrow. So why can't you tuck yourself into bed without first spooning yourself some creamy, dreamy ice cream first? The answer isn't simply that you love ice cream — who doesn't enjoy an occasional (or even daily) scoop of rocky road, or a smooth and sweet vanilla bean? If you depend upon ice cream before bedtime, though, health experts say it may be because you're getting poor-quality sleep.

High-fat dairy products like ice cream contain tryptophan, the same nutrient that makes us need to take a nap after eating Thanksgiving turkey, according to registered dietitian Jamie Hickey (per MyFitnessPal blog). We crave tryptophan-rich foods when we're low on sleep. Dr. Andrew Varga, a sleep expert at New York City's Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, agreed. "We're biologically hardwired to stock up on energy when we get tired, like a bear," he told USA Today. "It's the perfect storm of people reaching for the most unhealthy stuff of the day." 

So you really, really want ice cream at night — is it that big of a deal to indulge? Varga said we should unlearn that behavior. "Eating food, period, sends a signal to the body that it's time to be awake," he explained.

What to do instead of eating ice cream before bed

Instead of filling your body with sugar and fat, which will rev up your energy when you're supposed to be settling into a slumber, snack on healthier options before bed, such as almonds or bananas or some lean turkey, or drink some tart cherry juice, which is known to promote sleepiness (via Healthline). Certain teas, including chamomile and passionflower, also may help. Try to adopt healthier sleep habits, too, like going to bed earlier, and avoiding screen time.

If you really can't imagine falling asleep without a scoop or two, there is an ice cream brand called Nightfood that claims it was formulated by sleep experts to promote better sleep. Available in seven flavors ranging from your basic vanilla and chocolate to "Bed and Breakfast," which has waffles and maple syrup mixed in, this ice cream is lower in sugar and fat than traditional ice cream and has more protein.

Raj Dasgupta, assistant professor of clinical medicine specializing in sleep at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, said it's still better to improve your sleep habits, though, instead of eating a healthier kind of ice cream before bed. However, not everyone is going to necessarily heed this guidance. "They know no one is going to listen to this advice, so, might as well cater to them," Dasgupta told the Oregonian. "If they're going to eat it anyway, I'd rather they grab the nutritious one rather than the Twinkie or the cupcake."