There are a lot of conflicting opinions when it comes to nighttime snacking, and whether it’s healthier for you or not. Our take is that depending on the foods you consume, nighttime snacking may enhance sleep quality and improve weight loss.
Pros to eating before bed include weight loss, sleeping better, and maintaining blood sugar levels.
Even in sleep, your body needs energy to function, as it’s recovering from the previous day. When you go to bed hungry, your body lacks the calories it needs to recharge; this results in your body holding onto carbs and fats instead of using it as fuel. Choosing sleep-inducing snacks high in tryptophan and melatonin are not only good for you, but they’ll also satiate hunger pangs and give your body the energy it needs to recover at night.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that increases serotonin and melatonin levels in the body. We can’t produce tryptophan naturally—instead, we consume foods that contain tryptophan to induce sleep.
Tryptophan-rich foods include milk, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish, and beans.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates sleep by influencing the body’s sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production relies on the body’s exposure to light—less light produces more melatonin.
Good sources of melatonin include cherries, walnuts, bananas, oats, and tomatoes.
A full stomach makes a person feel sleepy, but foods with nutritional value can make all the difference between a good night’s sleep and indigestion. Healthy snacks like apples and peanut butter or avocado toast contain excellent nutrients.
Maintain Blood Sugar
Foods like fruits, nuts, oatmeal, and whole wheat bread regulate blood sugar levels. Low levels result in less energy and feeling groggy the next morning. High levels cause boosts of energy, increasing sleep disruptions.
Cons to eating before bed include poor sleep, slower metabolism, eating more, unhealthy choices, acid reflux, indigestion, and heartburn, and health risks.
Depending on what you eat and at what time of day, the foods you consume can disrupt your sleep patterns. Foods containing caffeine like chocolate and coffee may seem like a good idea before bed, but the caffeine boosts your energy and may cause you to wake up several times in the middle of the night.
Eating before bed can cause the body’s metabolism to slow. The body slows down its functions at night to prepare for sleep, but consuming foods, especially those high in carbs, can make it harder to digest and result in weight gain.
People tend to be hungriest at night, leading to consuming larger meals. Instead of eating late at night and leaving less time for digestion, try to train yourself to eat larger meals during the day. The phrase, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” is sound advice to follow, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
One of the main issues with late-night snacking is the choices we make—we’re more likely to give in to those cravings for high-fat, sugary junk food like chips, pizza, cookies, and ice cream. When we snack on these types of foods, especially in front of the TV, we’re more likely to binge-eat, or mindlessly eat our way through more food.
Acid Reflux, Indigestion, and Heartburn
Another risk of eating large meals right before bed is acid reflux, indigestion, and heartburn. Giving the body time to digest before bed can reduce the risk of developing these problems.
After eating and climbing into bed, the body rests at a horizontal angle, resulting in stomach acid easily entering the esophagus and causing acid reflux.
Indigestion is when you suffer stomach pains and discomfort after eating a large meal.
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest caused by overeating and consuming spicy foods. Heartburn can worsen when lying down.
Health risks of regularly eating late at night include obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
One cause of obesity is eating more calories than what we use as energy causing the body to store more fat. These high-calorie foods include fast food, fried foods, fatty meats, and sugary junk food.
Diabetes is when you have high blood sugar and your body is unable to produce, or struggles to produce, insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
Heart disease includes any condition which affects the heart, including heart defects, high blood pressure, and arrhythmia. Regularly eating junk food, especially late at night, can narrow and clog arteries with cholesterol and fatty deposits (a.k.a. plaque).
Don’t Go to Bed Hungry
While we encourage you to avoid late-night snacking, we also discourage you from going to bed hungry. Your body constantly needs energy to function, even during sleep. Skipping meals or going to bed hungry means your body has less energy to rejuvenate and repair itself. Plus, with less energy, the body holds onto existing fat for energy, making it harder to lose weight and easier to gain weight.
Healthy Snacking for Better Sleep
If you’re still feeling hungry after dinner, avoid reaching for that pint of ice cream or bag of chips. Sweets, junk food, and spicy foods are high in calories and can trigger cravings for more food. These types of foods can also hamper the body’s ability to fall asleep at night—acid reflux and indigestion, and consuming peppers heat the body and hamper the body’s natural cooling process at night.
Instead, have a bedtime snack containing complex carbs and small amounts of high protein—fruits, veggies, and other nighttimes snacks include:
- Cheese and crackers
- Apples and peanut butter
- Low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk
- Avocado toast
Best Time to Eat
The best time to eat dinner is 3 hours before bedtime, allowing the stomach to properly digest and focus on preparing for sleep when bedtime rolls around the corner. Eating small amounts of foods like complex carbs, fruits, veggies, or a small amount of protein will satiate hunger pains and help you fall asleep faster.