On some days, eating before bed is inevitable. Maybe you’ve been running around all day, flitting from chore to chore, unable to squeeze in enough time to have a decent meal.
Or maybe you don’t really have an excuse for digging into a pint of cookie dough ice cream other than the simple desire to fulfill a midnight craving. Either way, we’re all guilty of eating before bed to appease our hunger, cravings, or both.
Despite the satisfaction gained, why does it always feel like such a sin to indulge in a midnight treat? The prevailing belief is that late-night snacking is a one-way ticket to weight gain. On the flip side, some nutritionists claim that it doesn’t matter when you eat; it’s all about what you eat. Who should you believe?
Here, we take a closer look at the effects of eating before bed to help you understand whether it’s a habit you need to kick.
Nighttime snacking gets a bad rep, but it’s not as bad for you as conventional wisdom tells us it is, especially if you’re making mindful choices. Here are some of the surprising benefits of indulging in a late-night snack.
After a big Thanksgiving dinner, you probably only want to do one thing — curl up on the most comfortable mattress and go to sleep. That sluggish feeling that settles after eating a large meal ordinarily won’t do you any favors if you’re trying to be productive, but eating a healthy snack might help you sleep better.
However, it’s important to note that making the right food choices is instrumental for improving the quality of your sleep, which means it’s best to steer clear of your favorite pizza joint right before bed.
Instead, opt for foods that contain essential nutrients, such as tryptophan and melatonin, to aid sleep. Some foods that can help you sleep include cherries, turkey, chicken, salmon, nuts, bananas, oatmeal, and milk.
Poor metabolism is often linked to weight gain, which means if you’re trying to shed some pounds, it’s important to eat enough. One of the main purposes of your metabolism is to convert food into energy. However, eating too few calories can slow down your metabolism and cause your body to store more fat.
A 2015 study published in the journal Nutrients found that participants who ate bedtime snacks that were around 150 calories showed increased metabolic activity. The study also found that the bedtime snack kicked participants’ metabolism into gear in the morning, making it easier for their bodies to convert breakfast into energy.
So, the next time your stomach lets out a loud growl in the middle of the night, have a snack because your metabolism will thank you for it the next day.
Many people steer clear of midnight snacks because they’re terrified of gaining weight, but it could actually help you gain more muscle, allowing you to strengthen and tone your whole body.
The same 2015 Nutrients study found that participants who had a high-protein bedtime snack containing 150 calories saw an increase in muscle synthesis, which helped them build lean muscle mass.
You might not have time to squeeze in an early dinner every single day, but eating before bed can quickly become a regular habit, which is when you need to be careful. Here are some of the consequences of eating before bed.
One risk associated with eating before bed is that it can cause you to snack mindlessly on foods that may not be the best for you.
Though eating a low-calorie late-night snack won’t do any harm, the truth is that you might find yourself craving more satisfying foods when it’s late at night, such as a burger, pizza, chips, or ice cream.
The main reason why you should avoid eating a large meal too close to bedtime is that it can cause several digestive issues, including acid reflux, heartburn, and indigestion. Heartburn and acid reflux, in particular, can become worse when you’re lying down.
When you’re lying on your back, stomach acid can easily enter the esophagus, triggering acid reflux. This can often lead to heartburn, a burning feeling in your chest that often arises from eating a large meal or something too spicy.
On the other hand, indigestion happens when you go to bed without giving your body sufficient time to digest the food, especially if it’s something you’re intolerant to, such as dairy. When this happens, you’re likely to experience stomach pains or general discomfort that makes it challenging to go to sleep.
Weight gain is considered to be one of the most significant disadvantages of eating before bed. In fact, intermittent fasting, a popular eating pattern, involves consuming calories only within a certain time frame, such as from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., restricting you from eating late at night.
Though late-night snacking is widely associated with weight gain, there isn’t too much concrete evidence to support it. The main reason eating before bed is believed to lead to weight gain is that people make unhealthy food choices and are more susceptible to binging when they eat late at night.
Another reason for weight gain is that your metabolism tends to slow down at night to prepare you for sleep. This can pose a problem if your nighttime meal ends up being a heavy one. When you consume a large meal, especially one that’s high in carbs, your body’s metabolism slows down as it tries to digest the food.
Interestingly, studies have also found a link between meal timings and circadian rhythms. Though more research is required to substantiate the connection, this suggests that our bodies are designed to digest food easily during the daytime when we’re more active. Since we spend most of our time asleep at night, our bodies are meant to be in a state of fasting and are less equipped to perform essential functions, such as digestion.
Even though some late-night snacks might help you sleep better, that’s certainly not true of all foods.
Indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux can all interfere with a good night’s sleep, but eating a carb-heavy meal before you go to bed could also trigger night sweats. This happens because your body generates more heat as it digests food. So, if you’re someone who tends to overheat during the night, you might want to think twice before you dig into that double cheeseburger.
Additionally, some foods may also cause vivid nightmares. The research isn’t extensive, but if you find yourself having nightmares regularly, eating before bed could be the trigger. Some foods that are commonly associated with nightmares when it’s consumed too late at night include alcohol, cheese, spicy foods, and foods high in sugar or carbs.
Ideally, you should stop eating at least 3 to 4 hours before you plan to go to bed. Most nutritionists recommend eating as early as possible so that your body has sufficient time to digest the food.
Research shows that your body needs 4 hours to fully digest a meal. But everyone’s lifestyle is different, and on some days, it just might not be possible to eat dinner that far in advance. If that’s the case, you can even eat up to 1 to 2 hours before bed, but just be sure to choose a meal that’s easier to digest.
Additionally, if your stomach starts rumbling while you’re in bed, don’t ignore your hunger cues just because eating before bed is considered bad. Instead of staying up all night and braving a growling stomach, reach for a light snack that’ll satiate your hunger and help you sleep soundly.
Mealtimes are certainly an important consideration, but if you’re trying to decide whether you should nix the habit of eating before bed, the main thing you need to take into account is what you eat and how much you eat. Eating a banana before bed certainly won’t cause you to pack on pounds overnight, no matter what time you eat it.
But if you’re prone to feeling hungry late at night, it’s essential to evaluate whether you’re eating enough during the day. More often than not, late-night hunger pangs are a sign that you’re not consuming the calories your body needs.
Ultimately, it’s essential to listen to your body and give it what it needs. Just be mindful about your late-night snack choices to ensure you don’t face any of the unpleasant consequences associated with eating before bed.
Do you eat before going to bed? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.