The dinner dishes are done, the kids are tucked in, you take a deep breath for what feels like the first time all day, and then it hits: a craving for something sweet. You deserve it after all, you’ve been hard at work since your feet hit the floor this morning. So you nose around for the last of the cookies or that remaining scoop of ice cream.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Nighttime cravings are common. The question is why do they hit and what to do about them.

I reached out to a group of nutrition experts to ask exactly that. Below you’ll find tips and insight from 20 different registered dietitians on how to manage an after hours itch for something sweet. 

Consider Why you Crave

“When addressing nighttime sugar cravings, I always look at the food intake earlier in the day,” says registered dietitian Geneviève Masson. “If not enough energy is consumed throughout the day, it is normal that your body asks for food.”

“I see this all the time,” says registered dietitian Noaa Bajanover. “People eat small meals throughout the day (not enough food really), then from the moment they start dinner, they don’t stop until they go to bed. So my recommendation would be to eat more during the day/afternoon.”

And it’s not just a matter of total calories, but where those calories come from. Maria Zmarripa suggests adding more healthy fats during the day, such as avocado, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish to help stabilize blood sugar and keep you satisfied longer. Ditto for protein says Elizabeth Ward, who recommends 20 grams at mealtime (this translates to about 1 cup of Greek yogurt, 4 ounces of chicken, or a cheese omelet).

Sparkling Water on Ice with Lime

See if the Craving Sticks

Before you reach for the cookie jar, you might want to see, first and foremost, if something else might satisfy. “Stay hydrated,” suggests Sherry Coleman Collins. “When I’m thirsty, I’m more apt to snack.” She also advises you go to bed on time.“The later I’m up, the more time passes since dinner and the more likely I am to get hungry/eat again,” she says. 

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews has a different approach, “I suggest that my clients brush their teeth when a craving strikes to signal ‘the kitchen is closed’. This is especially helpful in the afternoon or after dinner when boredom strikes and people are more likely seeking snacks.”

Jean LaMantia recommends that you first take a deep breath and ”ask yourself, where do I feel this? If it is stomach hunger then eat something, if it’s a craving, then ask, how am I feeling right now? Tired/bored/stressed, etc? Then treat the trigger with what your body really needs and that can help reduce the craving.”

Cowboy Cookies

Let Go of Guilt

Plenty of nutrition pros routinely reach for an evening sweet themselves and say there’s no place for guilt in the matter. “Honestly, my favorite thing to do is allow for a sweet at some point during the day. It’s okay to want sugar,” says Breanna Dale. “You can be easily satisfied with a smaller amount when you allow yourself those treats.”

Registered Dietitian Adina Pearson also sees nothing wrong with a nighttime sweet ritual, but offers this advice, “If it is starting to feel like auto-pilot, you’re not hungry, or if you feel better without a bedtime snack, I would really consider whether you truly want that dessert or are just on auto-pilot? Are you hungry? Bored? Undernourished? Stressed-out? Trying to stay awake? Then deal with that thing,” she says.  “Think of the craving as a little red flag that something needs attention–you just need to be attentive and responsive to what it is. But also consider what is making you feel guilty about a sweet in the evening? Is it feeling bad about your body? If so, working with a professional might be the best place to start,” she says. 

Peanut Butter Chocolate Smoothie

Find your Fix

It’s also a matter of how much, how often, and how your sweet fix makes you feel late at night. Does chocolate cake do the trick or does it keep you up past your bedtime from the caffeine and sugar? If it’s the latter, you may want to seek a different way to quench your craving.

Here are 10 RD-Approved Ideas:

  1. A bowl of yogurt with dark chocolate chips and fruit or a turmeric milk/hot chocolate with added cinnamon. Spices can enhance the sweet flavors of foods naturally. —Jessica Spiro
  2. A mini yogurt parfait satisfies my sweet tooth. I make it with plain Greek yogurt (I prefer full fat), fresh fruit (berries; sliced banana; orange sections), and my favorite granola (w/ nuts included). Natural sweetness from the fruit coupled with the satisfaction of fat and protein does the trick. Liz Weiss
  3. I love a cup of Sweet Cinnamon Spice hot tea when I get the sweet munchies at night.Jill Castle
  4. High protein snacks: low fat cheese stick, 1 oz almonds, greek yogurt, small fruit, mini dark chocolates. Also Quest Protein bars are my personal favorite and they have chocolate chip, oatmeal cookie flavors, that are delicious and taste like a cookie, 190 kcals, 24g protein and 14 grams of fiber. –Dahlia Gomez
  5. Flavored sugar free gum or fruity teas can help curb cravings. Try different flavors to switch it up. Janet Brancato
  6. A heaping tablespoon of peanut butter with chocolate chips sprinkled on top, a glass of Fairlife chocolate milk, or homemade hot chocolate in the frother. — Stacey Mattinson
  7. I normally go for something with a bit of peanut or almond butter (1/2 banana, some apple slices or sometimes even a graham cracker) and include a few semi sweet choc chips. Jessica Gust
  8. I freeze containers of Greek yogurt and when the craving hits, I eat one of those. It has protein and it’s a little sweet.  I (also) take 3/4 c plain Greek yogurt and add 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and a couple of mini chocolate chips (optional) and it tastes like cookie dough!” — Ginger Gantenbein Sandifer
  9. Lily chocolate chips in plain yogurt. Jen Barr  
  10. Enjoy a piece of naturally sweet, whole fruit, such as an apple, pear, or berries, which will give you natural sweetness and fiber for satiety. Sharon Palmer