Late-night eating can actually impact your health in several important ways. Find out more in our educational guide on this topic.
You worked later than usual tonight, and that pushed dinner later into the evening. You grabbed a full meal and then some dessert afterward. Then you had a snack right before bed two hours later.
You can't go to bed hungry, right? Otherwise, your stomach might wake you up in the middle of the night with a loud grumble, complaining it needs food. You might be tempted to grab some late-night eats, but you should reconsider how you go about that. We'll go over the effects of late-night eating and how to handle hunger right before bedtime.
What Do We Know About Late-Night Eating?
Research by Harvard Medical School published in October 2022 offered, for the first time, specific reasons why the effects of eating late at night can harm our bodies. Previous research showed that late-night eating could lead to obesity, higher body fat, and difficulty losing weight. The Harvard study set out whether or not the time someone eats matters regarding health difficulties.
The study followed 16 people who were overweight or obese. Scientists took vital signs and small samples throughout the day to measure levels of certain hormones associated with eating. They were the first to measure how the body responds physiologically to eating later a night.
One group ate three meals daily at 8 a.m., noon, and 4 p.m. A second group ate meals at noon, 4 p.m., and 8 p.m. The researchers found that people in the group that ate four hours later decreased levels of leptin in the body, even as soon as 24 hours afterward. Leptin signals to the brain that your stomach is full and you should stop eating. Decreased levels of leptin can lead to overeating. Participants who ate later burned calories at a slower rate, which can increase the risk for obesity. The people who ate later were twice as hungry as those who didn't eat later in the day.
Fortune magazine notes that eating two hours before bedtime increases someone's odds of being obese by a factor of five. What you eat for dinner, regardless of the time, can also affect your health. High-calorie dinners can lead to higher glucose levels overnight versus high-calorie breakfasts. One study revealed melatonin, the hormone that helps you fall asleep, can increase your body's glucose levels, exacerbating metabolic issues when understanding why the effects of eating late at night can be harmful.
What Can You Do to Fall Asleep Hungry Without Eating Late at Night?
Luckily, you can do several things to avoid eating later at night.
Get Regular Sleep at Night
Maintain the same schedule every day, even on weekends. Go to sleep at the same time, wake up at the same time, and eat at the same time every day to get your body into a regular circadian rhythm.
Eat a High-Calorie Breakfast, Lower-Calorie Dinner
Eat your heaviest meal at breakfast. That way, your body can work off any extra calories throughout the day when you're awake. If your body is busy digesting a big meal as you're trying to sleep, your brain will expend less energy on your natural healing and more on your digesting, which can rob you of your body's healing mechanism that occurs when you're sleeping.
Consume Regular Snacks in Between Meals
Eat regular snacks, according to Select Health. Regular snacking in between meals (when done right) can prevent eating a bigger meal at dinner. Consider a handful of nuts or chickpeas around three or four in the afternoon to stave off a famished feeling at dinner time.
Snack Right to Lessen the Effects of Eating Late at Night
Medical News Today has some suggestions if you need to eat a snack late at night before bed. Low-calorie foods rich in protein or fiber can help you feel full as you get ready for bed without putting too much strain on your digestion.
Eating in moderation is best when trying to mitigate the effects of late-night eating.
• A turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread gives your body protein, whole grains, and fiber. This low-calorie snack can satiate your hunger ahead of your bedtime.
• A small study says tart cherries can help you get more sleep. Cherries, like turkey, contain tryptophan, which can help you fall asleep more easily. Tart cherries also contain melatonin, which encourages your body to sleep.
• Bananas increase your body's melatonin production. Combine a banana with a single serving of plain yogurt, and you've got protein with fiber to help you sleep well while satisfying your hunger.
• Oatmeal helps your body produce melatonin, and its fiber helps you feel full. Nuts also contain fiber and protein. Both of these foods also have melatonin.
One thing to keep in mind is to not eat more than 200 to 250 calories for a snack before bed. It takes one hour for your body to process that many calories, so try to limit your caloric intake ahead of bedtime so you can fall asleep peacefully and understand the effects of eating late at night.
We hope these tips are helpful as you seek a better path to wellness. Here's to your good health!