From skipping breakfast to only eating a couple of big meals throughout the day, there are many dietary faux pas that people now know to avoid. One of the biggest taboos, however, is eating before bed.
Conventional wisdom holds that late-night meals and snacks can make you gain weight. Others claim that snacking before bed can make it more difficult to fall asleep. But is there any truth to those types of claims, or are they nothing more than another nutritional misconception?
Let’s find out.
Eating and your circadian rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that tells you when to be active and when it’s time to sleep. If you have a standard sleep schedule, your body’s circadian rhythm is the reason you feel tired at night and awake in the morning.
Animal studies seem to support the idea that the ideal time to eat is during the day. One study found that mice gained more weight when they ate at night, while mice that ate during the day gained less weight, regardless of how much food the two groups had (1).
However, human studies tell a different story. One study that looked at over 1,600 children found no correlation between eating a late dinner and weight gain (2). However, another study found that adults who ate later tended to consume more calories. Researchers concluded that this, in turn, could lead to weight gain over time (3).
High-calorie late-night food
So if people eating food late at night end up consuming more calories than those who don’t, what’s the explanation?
Experts think that food choices have a lot to do with it. Even if someone tries to make healthy choices during the day, evenings are often when people slip up. Instead of grabbing a piece of fruit or a bowl of yogurt, they go for the ice cream. Instead of eating a balanced portion of vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein, they grab a bag of potato chips and watch TV.
Many of the foods we tend to eat in the evening are high in calories. Because of that, people who eat them regularly have a higher chance of gaining weight.
How eating before bed impacts your sleep
With regards to how food impacts your sleep, reports are conflicting. Some studies seem to show that eating before bed can make it difficult to fall asleep. This may be especially true if someone eats a large meal before trying to go to sleep.
On the other hand, other studies seem to show that a small, healthy snack can make it easier to drift off to sleep. This may be because it’s difficult to fall asleep when you’re hungry.
If you’re someone who suffers from acid reflux, however, then the evidence is clear: eating before bed can cause you to have a poor night’s sleep (4). Experts recommend avoiding eating for at least three hours before bed.
Be aware of what you’re eating
There’s not much evidence that shows that eating before bed will cause you to gain weight. However, people tend to make poor food choices in the evening, so be aware of what you eat to ensure it doesn’t lead to weight gain or sleep loss.
And remember, if you suffer from a condition like acid reflux, eating before bed is never a good idea!