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!
Eating Late At Night: Why Is It Bad?
It Makes It Harder To Lose Weight
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.
It Is Detrimental For Metabolic Health
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 Affects Your Memory and Concentration Levels
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.
It Can Cause Disturbed Dreams
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.
It Increases Risk For Acid Reflux
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.
It Is Linked To Eating Disorders
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.
So, How To Stop Eating Late At Night?
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.
- Don’t try to control your calories too severely during dinner time. It’s a good idea to eat a balanced dinner comprising of healthy proteins, carbohydrates and fats by 7:00-7:30 p.m. A balanced dinner will keep satiated and give you better control over cravings until you fall asleep.
- Simply don’t buy junk food. While eating a few slices of an apple before bed may not interfere with your sleep, a bag of chips sure will. Many of us indulge in mid-night snacking not because we are hungry, but because we are bored or lonely or upset. If you don’t have junk food lying around, you won’t go looking for it.
- If you aren’t going to bed well past 10:00 p.m. and are eating your dinner early, include some healthy snacks into your eating routine, preferably still an hour or so before bed time. A couple of slices of apples or a few almonds will keep your stomach from rumbling when you’re trying to fall asleep.
- Sometimes the body mistakes thirst for hunger and this could be another reason you crave a late-night snack despite having a balanced dinner earlier. Drink a tall glass of water and wait a few minutes before you give in to that craving. Chances are — you were just thirsty!
- Feeling stressed before bed-time will worsen your cravings for comfort food. It’s a good idea to stick to a relaxing, calming bedtime routine every day that minimizes stress and allows your mind to drift off without any lingering thoughts. If your cravings are a result of emotional upheaval before bed (that damn email reminding you of a deadline early morning, or an argument with your partner), try some deep breathing techniques instead of reaching for a snack. A few drops of lavender oil on your pillow will also help you relax without succumbing to comfort foods.
Foods To Eat 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:
- Half an apple
- A piece of grilled chicken
- Couple of crackers with a tablespoon of hummus
- Half a banana with a teaspoon or peanut butter
- Handful of nuts
- A hard-boiled egg
- Mashed up avocado on crisp bread
- Small bowl of chopped up fruit like papaya or melon with cottage cheese
Now, don’t forget to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth thoroughly before you go to bed!