Should You Eat Just Before Bed? – A Guide Through All The Risks

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Many people wonder if those late-night snacks and meals are actually a bad idea. Oftentimes, you may find yourself coming home hungry after an evening at the gym, or you want something to snack on while you watch your favorite television show or movie.

That raises the question, then, is it bad to eat before bed? The answer is yes. Eating food late at night can have negative consequences, including weight gain and consuming more unhealthy foods. We’ll outline why this is and show you how to establish better nighttime eating habits to optimize your health and well-being.

Why Is It Bad To Eat Before Bed?

Extra Calories

When you consume food late in the evening, you’re adding more calories to your daily caloric intake. In some cases, this could mean you’re consuming more calories than you need. You only gain weight if your caloric intake is higher than your caloric expenditure during the day. Therefore, if you eat excess calories before sleep, then you could gain weight. Research1 backs this up, finding links between eating proteins, fats, and carbohydrates within four hours of bed or after 8:00 p.m. and a higher BMI and total amount of calories.

Get More Info: Can You Control Your Weight With Sleep

Unhealthy Cravings

Usually, the foods we want to eat late at night aren’t always the healthiest, and there’s a biological reason for this. According to researchers2, our internal clock — or circadian rhythm — causes us to crave more sweet, starchy, and salty foods in the evening. While they acknowledge this was likely an energy preservation method for our ancestors, this isn’t needed in modern times and can end up doing more harm than good. As a result, you may be more inclined to reach for potato chips or cookies before bed rather than fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, regularly consuming high-fat foods can lead to chronic health problems3 down the road, including heart disease and cancer.

For More Info: Is It A Bad Thing To Go To Sleep Hungry?

How Long Before Bed Should You Stop Eating?

According to health experts, you should stop eating about three hours4 before going to bed. This gives your body enough time to properly digest the food.

If you are hungry later, rather than reach for that bag of chips, have a healthy late-night snack. Not only will this curb your hunger, but it won’t leave you too full, and you’re eating something better for your body and long-term health.

Illustration of a Man Thinking About Food While Lying Down on Couch

Downsides of Eating Late

When you eat late at night, you’re more likely to skip breakfast. Not only does breakfast5 help kickstart your metabolism, but you’re less likely to develop headaches, a drop in blood sugar, fainting, and difficulty concentrating.

Another downside is that those after-hours meals could trigger problems for those with chronic acid reflux issues. As mentioned, our body craves more fatty foods at night, which is bad news for anyone with acid reflux since these foods can increase acid production. Even those without acid reflux could experience indigestion that impacts their ability to fall asleep.

We also touched on the fact that regularly eating fatty foods can lead to long-term health problems. These unhealthy foods are associated with an increased risk of obesity, along with heart disease and cancer3.

Find Out More: Sleep and Digestion

Conclusion

Eating before bedtime can be unhealthy and harmful. Between craving fatty foods and potentially triggering indigestion and acid reflux, the risks aren’t worth it.

Although you can eat healthy, light snacks if you’re hungry, you should avoid eating a large meal at least three hours before sleeping. Additionally, you should make sure that your caloric intake doesn’t increase too much so that you don’t gain weight from late evening snacking. By monitoring your nightly food habits, you should feel much better in the morning and will set yourself up for an overall healthier lifestyle.

Sources:

  1. Glazer Baron, Kelly., Reid, Kathryn J., Van Horn, Linda., Zee, Phyllis C. “Contribution of evening macronutrient intake to total caloric intake and body mass index”. National Library of Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23036285/. 2013.
  2. “Study explains what triggers those late-night snack cravings”. Oregon Health and Science University. https://news.ohsu.edu/2013/04/29/study-explains-what-triggers-those-late-night-snack-cravings#:~:text=A%20study%20published%20in%20the,salty%20foods%20in%20the%20evenings. 2013.
  3. Woteki CE., Thomas PR., “Eat for Life: The Food and Nutrition Board's Guide to Reducing Your Risk of Chronic Disease.” Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Diet and Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235018/. 1992.
  4. “Is it Bad to Sleep After a Meal?”. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. https://share.upmc.com/2015/11/is-it-bad-to-sleep-after-a-meal/#:~:text=It%20is%20recommended%20that%20you,any%20other%20digestion%20related%20irritation. 2023.
  5. “Skipping Breakfast? The Truth About The “Most Important Meal Of The Day””. Henry Ford Health. https://www.henryford.com/blog/2021/07/skipping-breakfast#:~:text=Some%20people%20even%20experience%20headaches,(not%20pastries%20and%20donuts). 2021.

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