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We have all done it at some point or the other. Walk up to the fridge in the middle of the night and devour a slice of cold pizza, or reach for a bag of chips. Succumbing to late-night cravings happens to even the best of us every once in a while, and is particularly common when sleep routine is disrupted. But are you regularly eating very late? And if so, is eating late at night bad for you?
We have all heard this one – eating a late night dinner will interfere with a good night’s sleep. When you eat a heavy meal right before bedtime, you will find yourself tossing and turning in bed. Instead of winding down for the night, now your body is tasked with the mammoth job of digesting and metabolizing the food you just ate, which disrupts your sleep pattern. However, that’s not the end of the story. Turns out, eating late at night is bad for you in more ways than one!
Here’s something to discourage you from eating a late night dinner — it will make you gain weight. Research now shows that eating late may influence the success of weight-loss therapy. Surprisingly, your ability to gain or lose weight doesn’t just depend on caloric intake and macronutrient distribution— but also the timing of food. So when it comes to eating late at night, the concept of “A calorie is just a calorie” may be redundant. Because these calories you are ingesting at late hours will more likely be stored as fat in your body.
If you are naturally lean and don’t care much about gaining weight, here is something that should keep you from raiding the fridge at midnight. Research now shows that eating late is associated with decreased resting-energy expenditure, decreased rate at which carbohydrates are metabolised, decreased glucose tolerance, and blunted daily profile in free cortisol concentrations. Simply put – eating a late meal is detrimental to your metabolic health. And that means it increases your risk to insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, diabetes Type 2 and heart disease.
It’s not just your waistline that suffers when you indulge in late night cravings too often. It turns out that eating late at night is bad for your brain health too. Believe it or not, scientists have found that timing of meals have far-reaching effects on brain physiology and learned behaviour. Irregular eating patterns affect the circadian system, which in turn affects the brain’s ability of learning, concentration and memorizing.
While eating late at night can keep you from falling asleep, it can also have a negative effect on sleep quality. Some researchers now say this is because eating patterns can directly be linked to bizarre, disturbing dreams. Spicy food and dairy are often the worst offenders.
Eating before bedtime can increase the risk for night-time acid reflux. When your stomach is struggling to digest food while you lie in bed, the pressure of food metabolizing can result in the loosening of LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter), allowing undigested food and stomach acids to travel back up the esophagus. If you suffer from reflux, its best to create a 2-hour gap between eating and sleeping to prevent night-time reflux.
If you find yourself craving for bedtime snacks night after night, there could be a deeper problem. For any one engaging in repetitive night-time eating without even being hungry, you could be dealing with NES or Night Eating Syndrome. Studies have now linked this Night Eating Syndrome (NES) with eating disorders like binge eating.
Now that you know the many ways late-night eating is detrimental to your health, you may be interested in knowing how to prevent it. Here are some helpful tips on how to stop eating late at night.
Sometimes despite all the calming and relaxing, you still crave a snack. This is very common when your circadian rhythm is thrown off. Like when you’re pulling late night hours at work or have spent long hours traveling and commuting back home. When your stomach is rumbling from real hunger, it can feel impossible to fall off to sleep. And you should always eat something when you are actually hungry…regardless of the time. But, what foods should you eat late at night when hungry? It’s very important to go for a light snack that’s no more than 100-200 calories. Refrain from eating anything spicy, sugary or caffeinated. Some good examples are:
Now, don’t forget to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth thoroughly before you go to bed!
Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3756673/
Meal timing affects glucose tolerance, substrate oxidation and circadian-related variables: A randomized, crossover trial – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25311083
Misaligned feeding impairs memories – https://elifesciences.org/articles/09460#F2
Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: food and diet as instigators of bizarre and disturbing dreams – https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00047/full
Gastroesophageal reflux disease and sleep disturbances – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00535-012-0601-4
Night eating patterns and chronotypes: A correlation with binge eating behaviors – http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165178112003563
Prevalence and Clinical Significance of Night Eating Syndrome in University Students – http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(13)00770-2/abstract