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Should You Eat Before Bed?

Malena Piper

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You’ve probably heard eating before bed can slow your metabolism and disrupt your sleep. Yet, there’s still much debate around the topic.

Some say eating at night is perfectly fine and even has some benefits for your sleep and health. Others say it can lead to weight gain, bad habits, and health problems. After a bit of research, we’ve found it’s not a simple, yes-or-no answer. There are some pros and cons to eating before bed—it depends on your body and your habits.

In our post, we will discuss both the pros and cons of eating before bed. Based on your body and health habits, you can decide which seems right for you.

Pros of Eating Before Bed

If you get hungry late at night, you might be unsure of what to do or eat. If you choose the right foods and portions, you might reap some of these benefits of eating at night.

1. (Potentially) Deeper Sleep

A satisfied stomach can prevent you from waking up in the night hungry for a late-night snack. Eating the right foods before bed can help your body digest and even sleep better. Here are some amino acids, minerals, and hormones found in foods that can guide your body into a deeper sleep.

  • Serotonin: Serotonin is often coined as the “happy hormone.” It’s an important neurotransmitter that affects our mood. We also need it to regulate our sleep. The amino acid tryptophan promotes the production of serotonin in our bodies, so it can be helpful to eat foods high in tryptophan at night.
  • Tryptophan: If you’ve heard “turkey makes you sleepy,” it’s because of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to niacin, serotonin, and melatonin, which impact your sleep. It’s found in poultry, meat, yogurt, eggs, cheese, and cottage cheese.
  • Magnesium: Magnesium boosts our bodies’ production of the amino acid GABA. GABA relaxes our bodies and promotes sleep. It can also help with Restless Legs Syndrome, reduce stress, and ease moodiness. It’s in a variety of foods such as nuts, legumes, spinach, seeds, oatmeal, and bananas.
  • Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that makes us tired. Our bodies begin to produce it when the sun goes down and it gets dark. Its production gets interrupted when exposed to light at night. This is why limiting screen time at night is important. Cherries are one of the few foods containing melatonin. Try eating cherries or drinking tart cherry juice at night to help you fall asleep.

2. Sustained Morning Blood Sugar

Going to bed hungry can make you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. If you go to bed on an empty stomach, your blood sugar will be low through the night and morning. Eating before bed can help prevent this. This is especially important for those with diabetes or who need to keep track of their blood sugar levels. Waking up with low levels can drain your energy needed to start the day.

Try eating fiber-filled snacks such as apples and peanut butter before bed. This can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and fuel you with more energy in the morning.

3. Controlled Appetite

Food refuels and replenishes us. When you’re hungry before bed, choose sleep-inducing foods and appropriate portion sizes. One study showed eating a light snack before bed can help you lose weight since it decreases your appetite in the morning—this is because you won’t wake up feeling famished from skipping out on necessary sustenance the night before.

When you don’t wake up feeling hungry, you’re more likely to eat a smaller, healthier breakfast than a big meal. Big meals can weigh you down and cause drowsiness. On top of that, starting the day with a small breakfast might help you eat fewer calories throughout the day.

4. Improved Muscle Growth

The right bedtime snack can be a great tool for muscle growth since our bodies repair themselves during sleep. Research shows eating a high-protein snack at night can promote faster muscle recovery because our bodies use the extra amino acids found in those protein-rich foods to restore and build muscle. If you’re trying to build muscle, some nighttime snacks to choose from could be hard-boiled eggs, cheese, nuts, or a protein shake.

Cons of Eating Before Bed

There are some drawbacks to eating at night. It especially depends on what foods you eat. Here are a few reasons why eating at night may impact your health:

1. Slows Your Metabolism

Our metabolisms slow down at night to help us wind down for bed, and this also relaxes our bodies’ functions, including digestion. Eating during this time prevents food from being processed and digested as quickly as it would if you were up and active. Delayed digestion can lead to extra calories being stored as fat as well as unpleasant morning nausea. Research shows making a habit of late-night snacking can slow our metabolisms and result in weight gain.

2. Causes Indigestion and Heartburn

Eating late at night can increase your chance of heartburn and/or indigestion. This can result in a night full of tossing and turning. Even if you aren’t prone to heartburn, eating bigger meals high in fat or acids right before bed can trigger discomfort. Our bodies aren’t used to lying down after eating, and we need gravity to aid in the flow of digestion.

To avoid interrupted sleep, avoid acidic foods such as tomato sauce and orange juice at night and fatty options like cheeseburgers and fast food right before bedtime.

3. Leads to Unhealthy Choices

We often turn to junk food as our midnight snacks because chips, ice cream, and frozen pizza are easy. If it’s been a long day or it’s late at night, we often don’t have the energy to assemble a healthy snack or meal.

Even more, eating junk food in front of the TV at night can damage our health. We tend to mindlessly eat while we binge-watch. This is one of the main issues with nighttime eating because it can lead to bad habits.

4. Puts You at Higher Risk for Certain Health Conditions

Eating late at night can lead to serious health risks such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

A BMI (body mass index) of 30.0 or higher signifies obesity. One study found that those who regularly eat at night have a higher BMI than those who don’t. If late-night snacks or meals turn into a habit of extra calorie consumption, it can cause weight gain.

Diabetes causes unhealthy blood sugar levels, which nighttime eating affects. You can better control this by eating smaller, balanced meals throughout the day. Also, opt for more high-protein and low-carb snacks.

Regular consumption of unhealthy, fatty foods can lead to heart disease. Eating before bed can increase this risk since we tend to choose these foods at night.

What to Eat Before Bed

If you get hit with late-night cravings, eating the right foods can make all the difference. Opt for small snacks with complex carbs, lots of protein, and healthy fats.

Here are some ideas:

Apples with Peanut Butter

Apples are a healthy source of fiber, and fiber breaks down slowly and regulates blood sugar. Peanut butter contains protein, tryptophan, and magnesium. Not to mention, peanut butter pairs nicely with apples. The protein in peanut butter can improve muscle growth while tryptophan and magnesium can prepare our bodies for sleep. Combine the apples with peanut butter, and you have a quick and healthy nighttime snack.

Cheese and Grapes

Cheese contains protein and healthy fats, and it is also a good source of tryptophan. Tryptophan increases serotonin production to encourage a good night’s sleep.

Grapes pair nicely with cheese, and they also add a bit of sweetness and fiber to the mix. Both cheese and grapes are simple and don’t need much prep, making them great late-night snack options.

Nuts/Nut Butters and Bananas

Nuts and nut butter have many benefits on our sleep. They contain protein, healthy fats, tryptophan, and magnesium. They can also help promote sleep and sustain blood sugar. Bananas are another great way to increase magnesium intake, and they pair well with nut butter. Again, this snack needs little to no prep and has lots of nutrients.

Yogurt with Cherries

Yogurt improves our digestion, and is another snack high in tryptophan. Opt for Greek yogurt if you’re looking for a higher protein option to sustain your blood sugar. If you want to add fruit, cherries are a natural source of melatonin. Mix them into yogurt for a healthy, nighttime snack.

Foods to Avoid Before Bed

Acidic Foods

Tomato sauce, orange juice, and sugary foods have high pH levels, and eating foods like this can cause heartburn and indigestion. Acid reflux and heartburn tend to worsen as we lie down, so it’s best to avoid these foods at night.

Caffeinated Foods and Drinks

Chocolate, coffee, and some sodas contain caffeine. Caffeine makes us more alert and awake, so consuming before bed can disrupt or delay our sleep. Try to limit your caffeine consumption in the evenings for a deeper sleep.

High-Carb Foods

Candy, chips, sugar, and white bread are high in carbs. Carb-filled foods can spike our blood sugar levels and don’t keep us full for long. Limit these options before bed to maintain your blood sugar and sleep. If this is difficult, try adding fiber and/or protein to the snack to help stabilize your blood sugar.

Tips for Eating Before Bed

It might not be realistic for you to completely avoid eating before bed. That’s okay. If done right, it can be beneficial for your sleep and health.

Listen to Your Body

If you’re hungry at night, don’t ignore your hunger just because you’re going to bed soon. Honor the signal your body is sending you, even if it’s late. If you’re bored, already full, or social eating, try skipping the late-night snack. Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.

Eat 3 Hours Before Bed

Try to schedule your last meal or snack at least three hours before going to bed. This gives your body enough time to properly begin breaking down food. Plus, you don’t have to go to bed on an empty stomach. Give your body this time to stabilize your sleep, metabolism, and blood sugar.

Plan Ahead

If you prefer to eat late at night, try eating smaller meals throughout the day. This can help you more evenly distribute the calories. Otherwise, plan your meals to be more balanced, protein-rich, and timely to avoid getting hungry at bedtime.

Planning ahead can help you establish healthier habits and grant you a good night’s rest.

Frequently Asked Questions

How late can I eat before going to bed?

It’s recommended the average person stops eating about three hours before going to sleep. This can allow your body time to better break down food and prevents you from going to bed hungry.

If you are hungry in the few hours leading up to bedtime, that’s okay—eat a small, protein-filled snack to curb your hunger. A small snack can also help to stabilize your blood sugar and energize your body in the morning.

Will I gain weight if I eat at night?

Studies show those who eat before bed increase their chances of gaining weight. Yet, this isn’t necessarily due to what time you eat; instead, it’s how much you eat.

Eating at night is often associated with easy-to-grab junk food and overeating, and this is especially true for snackers passively watching TV and not paying attention to how much they’re consuming. Over time, this can lead to unhealthy habits and weight gain. If you want to eat at night, try redistributing your calories throughout the day. Then, eat a small portion at night to better control your appetite and blood sugar.

Why is meal timing important?

It’s very important to time your meals right because our bodies’ needs, hormones, and functions fluctuate throughout the day. It’s especially important to time your meals right in the evening. Our bodies’ metabolisms and needs slow down before bed to help prepare us for sleep. If we eat a big meal at night, we give our bodies too much energy all at once, which can delay and interrupt our sleep.

Ending your last meal earlier can help you eat a more balanced amount of calories and decrease your chance of indigestion and heartburn. It’s important to listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re satisfied.

What happens if I eat too much before going to bed?

Eating a big meal before bed can lead to heartburn or indigestion and keep us up at night. Lying down right after eating increases the chance of acid reflux, as well, and disrupt our ability to fall and stay asleep.

As mentioned earlier, our metabolisms slow down, and we tend to eat more at night. This can lead to weight gain and potentially damaging health habits. If we’ve eaten a regular amount in the day and add another meal or snack late at night, we may eat more calories than our bodies need.

How do I avoid heartburn at night?

If you can, try waiting 3 hours after eating before lying down and going to bed. If that’s not an option, try sleeping with your head elevated to prevent stomach acid from creeping up the esophagus. You can sleep with an angled head by propping more pillows behind you, using a wedge pillow, or switching to an adjustable base. All three methods can help you avoid acid reflux.

Try eating smaller meals during the day, and avoid eating a large meal and acidic foods at night.

Conclusion

In the end, we’ve found the decision to eat before bed comes down to healthy vs. unhealthy habits. It’s not as much about what time you eat, as it is what you eat and how much—some foods can even help your body sleep better at night.

Eating the right foods and portion sizes at night can sustain your blood sugar, control your appetite, and replenish your muscles. Eating too much can slow your metabolism and cause heartburn and indigestion. Even more, it can lead to unhealthy habits and serious health problems. It all depends on your body and health habits.

The best practice is to listen to your body and plan ahead so you can get that good night’s rest.

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