There’s nothing like a big, homemade meal, a late-night chip chow down or a warm cookie before bed after a long day. After all, you work hard! Treat yo’self. But is eating after bed bad for you? Can it effect weight loss (or lack thereof)? What about its impact on your sleep? The answers to those questions range across the board, from nutritionists to trainers to sleep experts, and many experts disagree on whether or not you should eat food before bed.
Those who argue for the pros to eating before bed say that a big meal can help you fall to sleep and stay asleep, while many who argue the cons say that eating a lot before you go to bed can lead to weight gain. At Leesa, sleep is kind of our thing. We are breaking down the pros and cons of snacking before bed and sharing some helpful tricks and best practices for your nighttime meals.
Pros of Eating Before Bed
Some experts argue that eating before bed has more pros than cons and can actually be beneficial to your health.
Weight Loss vs. Gain
Instead of causing weight gain like many people believe, many experts say that eating before bed can actually promote weight loss. It might sound crazy, but your body needs energy when you sleep—after all, sleep is how your body recharges so that you wake up rested and ready to conquer the day. In fact, many studies show that your metabolic rate is almost the same while you’re asleep as it is when you’re awake, so your body needs sustenance while you’re snoozing. A protein-rich snack will help your body continue to burn fat while you’re asleep and can keep your blood sugar stable, letting you get more restful sleep.
That being said, a major factor when it comes to whether late-night eating causes weight gain has to do with what kind of meal or snack you have. As we mentioned, a snack that is high in protein and carbs will give your body the fuel it needs to function properly while you sleep and help promote weight loss, not gain. If you need to snack at night (or want to sip on something before bed), try to choose something healthy. A great nighttime snack is cottage cheese or turkey (both are sources of protein), which are both high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is sleep-inducing. You can also try decaffeinated tea, some of which are even made specifically for bedtime. Cherries are a great source of melatonin, a hormone in your body that makes you sleepy.
Fall Asleep Faster and Sleep Better
We all have our go-to comfort foods—mac’n’cheese, warm soup, grilled cheese—we’re hungry just thinking about it. After you indulge in your favorite meal, nothing’s better than curling up on the sofa under a blanket—the ultimate couch-potato. The coma-like state related to eating your favorite comfort foods also applies to having a big dinner or bedtime snack before bed. Some experts correlate eating at night with better sleep. They argue that if you eat something before you go to sleep, your stomach feels full and you may fall asleep faster and sleep longer Plus, you won’t wake up hungry in the middle of the night.
Wait, wait, wait—so, are we saying you can stuff yourself full of your favorite foods and it’s actually good for you? Sorry, not quite. We’re not encouraging you to eat a whole gallon of ice cream or a third (or fourth) serving of chicken and dumplings every night before bed. Your nighttime meal or snack should have some nutritional value. Try an apple with peanut or almond butter or a piece of avocado toast as a tasty, healthy late-night snack.
For people who are comforted by food, specifically by a bedtime snack, having a small, planned snack about an hour and a half after dinner can help curb unplanned snacking later in the night. Plus, if you eat a little more at night, you won’t wake up as hungry in the morning and therefore, you’ll eat less during the day, decreasing your daily calorie intake.
Cons of Eating Before Bed
Probably more often than not, you hear from nutritionists, fitness trainers and sleep experts that it’s bad to eat before bed. But why?
Your Metabolism Works Slower at Night
Many argue that your body’s metabolism slows slightly while you’re asleep, so anything you eat before bed is burned off more slowly (although many experts argue that your metabolism is just as active while you sleep). This is especially true of carbs. While you’re asleep, your body won’t burn off carbs like it does when you’re active and awake. Foods like pasta and pizza, as delicious as they are, are not the best choices for right before bed.
Indigestion and Heartburn
If you eat a big meal before bed, you may experience indigestion or heartburn. Even if you don’t deal with indigestion during the day normally, if you eat a lot and then immediately get in bed, laying horizontally could cause acid reflux, symptoms of which include heartburn, trouble swallowing and nighttime asthma. Experts recommend spacing meals or snacking and bedtime so that your body has time to digest before you crawl under your sheets.
Meal Sizes at Dinner
The evening is the time of day when many people are the hungriest, so they get in the habit of eating their biggest meal in the evening. This can start the cycle of eating too much at night (and over eating in general). Think about it—if you’re stuffed when you go to bed, you won’t be as hungry for breakfast, so you’ll eat less breakfast and a smaller lunch. By the time dinner rolls around again, you’re really hungry and you’ll end up eating more calories than you should (you may even want another small meal or snack after dinner, too). If you can train your body to consume the most calories earlier in the day, your body has more time to digest and metabolize them. Plus, you’ll be less hungry at dinnertime, when you should be having a lower calorie meal.
Making Unhealthy Choices
Another con to nighttime meals or snacks is food choice. Many people reach for something unhealthy as a late-night snack, like chips, a slice of pizza or cookies, instead of something healthy. Not to mention that a popular nighttime snacking activity sitting in front of the TV. If you’re reaching into a bag of chips repeatedly while binge-watching your favorite show, you’re more likely to over eat. (Guilty!) This can tip your daily calorie scale, too.
Tips for Nighttime Snacking
Make Healthy Choices
If you’re going to have a bedtime snack or late dinner before bed, try and steer clear of sweets and junk food. Foods that are high in sugar and unhealthy fat aren’t great before bed—they are usually high in calories and can trigger cravings for more. For example, when you swear you’re just going to have one Oreo but end up eating a whole row. Hey, sometimes it happens, but it’s not a good habit to get into.
Some good nighttime snacks include complex carbs like whole grains, fruits or veggies or a protein or small portion of fat. This snack will give you a little energy going into bedtime, keep you full all night and keep your blood sugar stable while you sleep.
How Long Before Bed Should you Stop Eating?
So, what’s the rule here? Should you wait 30 minutes before going to bed after eating just like your mom always made you wait at the pool? Nope, you should actually allow more time. Experts recommend waiting at least three hours after you’ve eaten to go to bed. This allows your body time to digest your food so you’re not up at night with an upset stomach, indigestion or heartburn.
That being said, don’t forego a meal to follow this rule. Life happens. If you don’t get home until 8:30 p.m. and want to be in bed by 10 p.m., you shouldn’t skip dinner just because you won’t have three hours between eating and bedtime. The three-hour rule isn’t a “must,” it’s just a guideline to follow when you can (much like the 30-minute rule at the pool).
Many dietitians and nutritionists suggest a fasting period at night to increase weight loss and healthy metabolism. Some popular options are 12- or 15-hour fasting schedules. For example, if you’re on a 12-hour fasting schedule, you would only eat for 12 hours of the day. So, you eat from the first thing you eat for breakfast to last thing you eat, whether that’s dinner, dessert or a snack, let’s say from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Then, from 8 p.m. to the next morning at 8 a.m., you fast. Not only can fasting help with weight loss, but it can also help you improve your sleep. If you don’t eat past 8 p.m., you aren’t stuffed from a huge meal right before you crawl into bed. Your body has already started to break down your last meal, so you don’t have heartburn or indigestion when it’s time for bed either.
You may still be a little confused whether or not eating before bed is good or bad and that’s probably because there isn’t a definitive answer. You have to find the eating schedule that’s right for your lifestyle and body—everyone’s different. What works for your partner might not work for you. You may be on a different eating schedule than your best friend. But whether you thrive on late-night snack or prefer to stick to the three-hour rule, try and make healthy choices and listen to your body so that you stay healthy and get your best, most restful sleep.