Eating Late at Night - Is it Bad to Eat Before Bed?
There are a number of reasons you might crave a snack just before bed or in the middle of the night. Maybe it's boredom, maybe it's insomnia, or maybe you just want something to snack on while you watch TV. Of course, there's also the possibility that you're actually hungry and your growling stomach is causing you to raid the fridge at a late hour. Whatever the reason may be, however, it's better to avoid late-night snacking when you can. Read this guide to learn more about why eating late at night is generally bad for you and some healthy alternatives for when you really need something to eat to keep hunger at bay before bed.
Why You Shouldn't Eat Late at Night
One of the most important reasons to avoid late-night snacking is that is can disrupt your circadian rhythms. This is like your body's internal clock that, among other things, tells you when it's time to be awake and when it's time to go to sleep. It aids in that process by telling your body when to release the hormones that regulate sleep patterns. When you eat late at night, it throws off this internal clock and can keep you up later. In addition, it throws off your metabolism and can affect the hormones that regulate your appetite and stress levels. Essentially, it keeps your body from staying in its healthy natural cycle.
There are other negative side effects beyond messing with your circadian rhythm, too. For one, eating late at night can make it harder to sleep well because your muscles are still digesting and metabolizing food when they should be resting instead. All that activity inside your body prevents you from being well-rested. You might think you fall asleep better with a full stomach, but you may not be getting the deep, slow-wave sleep you need.
Another negative side effect of late-night snacking is that it creates an unhealthy eating cycle that's hard to break. If you eat before bed, you're not likely to be very hungry when you wake up. That pushes back your eating schedule for the whole day, causing you to end up hungry again right before bed. It's better for you to have a normal eating cycle, including a healthy breakfast each morning.
Finally, eating at night can be counteractive to losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight. The calories you consume late at night are more likely to be stored as fat and cause weight gain. This contrasts sharply with calories consumed during the day, which are more likely to be burned as energy.
When Should I Stop Eating?
For most adults, the best time to having your last meal of the day is about 7:00 pm. Try not to snack once this meal is over; it should be the last time you eat before going to bed. This is part of a larger normal healthy eating cycle that looks something like this:
- Breakfast around 7:00 am
- Mid-morning snack around 10:00 am
- Lunch around 12:00 pm
- Mid-day snack around 3:30 pm
- Dinner around 7:00 pm
You can adjust these times slightly to fit your schedule, but sticking to this general pattern is best for producing a healthy eating cycle and allowing your circadian rhythms to function naturally.
Make sure you avoid having high-sugar or high-fat foods, especially as part of your dinner. These foods tend to only increase your appetite since you experience a slump shortly after eating them. If you have a healthy, filling dinner, you're less likely to crave more food later on.
Best Food to Eat Before Bed
Sometimes, you simply need to eat before bed to keep your growling stomach from keeping you awake all night. In those cases, it's best to reach for healthy bedtime snacks. These are foods that are lower in calories (to avoid excess weight gain) and relatively easy for your body to digest (so the digestion process won't keep your body from achieving deep sleep). Here are a few options to consider on the nights when you need a little something to hold you over until breakfast:
- A small protein shake
- One cup of fruit
- One handful of whole-grain pretzels or crackers
- A small bowl of shirataki noodles
- A small bowl of air-popped popcorn
- A cup of Greek yogurt
- One piece of dark chocolate
- A cup of high-fiber cereal with or without milk
- String cheese
- A handful of nuts
Things to avoid include any heavy foods or ones that are spicy, sugary, fatty or caffeinated. That means no chicken wings, waffles, sugary candy or other indulgences.
If you have a bad habit of eating before bed, start by getting on a regular food schedule and cutting back on how much you eat late at night. Slowly, you should be able to cut out late-night snacks completely and reserve it for only an occasional treat from the list above when you're truly hungry before bed.