Meal Timing And Weight Loss
What time should you stop eating before bed? For many of us, having a little snack before bed is sort of a ritual. Some cake and ice cream, popcorn, chocolate, and cookies are among the things that most of us reach out for a late-night snack. Truthfully, a quick snack before bed beats the feeling of going to bed with a rumbling stomach, and more often than not, satisfies our sweet tooth.
However, the questions to ask are, how long should you stop eating before bed? Is it healthy? Does it affect your weight gain, loss, or sleep pattern?
Find out more in this article.
What time should you stop eating and drinking before bed?
When it comes to food, the general rule is that there should be a three-hour waiting period before your last meal and the time you get into bed (12). The main reason for this is to give your body ample time to digest the food, allowing it to move from your stomach to smaller intestines.
If you eat right before heading to bed, chances are that lying down will give you heartburn and may even cause insomnia. Why is this? When you lie down before your food transfers into the small intestines, there is a higher chance of it refluxing into the esophagus, leading to heartburn and other gastroesophageal reflux diseases (GERD) symptoms.
Concerning insomnia, this depends on what you eat. Prioritizing foods such as almonds, kiwi fruit, warm milk, tart cherries, and walnuts which contain elements such as melatonin, calcium, tryptophan, flavonoids, carotenoids, serotonin, and magnesium can help induce sleep (20).
However, timing maybe everything. Food intake prompts the body to produce insulin, which in turn may prompt your sleep-wake cycle, also known as circadian rhythm. It is your 24-hour internal clock that responds to light and darkness (daytime and night) (4). When you sleep, your circadian rhythm usually regulates and restrains the secretion of insulin (3). Thus, when you eat late at night, you prompt insulin secretion, which in turn, delays your sleep-wake cycle, which then leads to insomnia.
How long should you wait to go to bed after drinking?
Just like with food, it depends on what you are drinking. When it comes to alcohol, one serving of it takes about one hour to be metabolized, and thus, it is recommended that alcoholic drinks should not be consumed in the last four hours before sleeping (11).
If you have noticed that you get sleepy once you start drinking, this is because alcohol prompts the brain to release a chemical known as adenosine which initiates sleep (2). However, this effect does not last very long, and you will tend to feel more awake after some time.
When it comes to water, drinking some right before bed could wake you up more often at night to urinate, thus, interrupting your sleep. To prevent this, it is advisable to stay hydrated throughout the day to not feel too thirsty at night. If you have to drink water at night, try having your last glass an hour or two (13) before bedtime, preferably before dinner.
Being well hydrated will not only keep you from waking up in the middle of the night, but it also keeps your mouth and nasal passages from drying out, thus decreasing your chances of snoring. Snoring can pull you out of or prevent you from getting into deep, restorative sleep and may cause hoarseness of breath in the morning and leg cramps that can wake you up too (14). Be sure also to avoid tea, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks in the evenings and at night, as caffeine will interfere with how well you sleep, resulting in poor performance the next day (9).
What time should you stop eating sugar before bed?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the more sugar that you eat during the day, the more often you are going to wake up in the middle of the night. This does not always mean being fully awake in the middle of the night. Excess sugar in your system tends to pull you out of the deep restorative sleep that we need, making you feel exhausted the next day and thus affecting your performance (18).
While it is not specified what time should you stop eating sugar before bed, it is advisable to avoid processed foods such as sodas, ice cream, juices, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, and even spaghetti and barbecue sauces at night.
If possible, it is also a great idea to avoid these foods during the day. Consuming too much sugar during the day can lead to an energy crash which makes you feel sleepy and can lead to daytime naps. These naps eventually mess with your sleep pattern during the night.
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Side effects of consuming too much sugar
Some more side effects of consuming too much sugar include (10):
- Higher risk of heart failure, heart attacks, and strokes due to the extra insulin that inflames artery walls making them thicker and stiffer which stresses the heart.
- Rotting teeth because of bacterias causing e cavities, which love to eat the sugar left in your mouth after you eat something sweet.
- Liver damage due to sugary food items that contain high amounts of fructose or fructose corn syrup in them. Once consumed, fructose is broken down in the liver and turned into fat. This, in turn, brings about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis due to excess fat build-up in the liver and scarring of the liver, respectively. Patients may eventually end up needing a liver transplant.
- Risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Take note that even if you do not eventually get rheumatoid arthritis, sugar also causes joint pain due to inflammation.
- It damages the collagen and elastin in your skin making you age faster.
- Sugar can cause kidney damage, especially among diabetes patients.
- It damages the pancreas. If you consume too much sugar, your body stops responding appropriately to insulin, making the pancreas push out more and more insulin. An overworked pancreas will eventually break down, causing your blood sugar levels to rise, and this will put you at a very high risk of getting Type 2 diabetes.
- Impotence in men.
What time should you stop eating before bed to lose weight?
You have heard it time and time again; eating before bed and weight loss do not go hand in hand. Some diets demand that you should not eat past six, seven, or eight P.M. But how true is this? Will not eating late at night boost your weight loss?
The first thing we need to realize is that most of the foods that we tend to eat late at night are neither dinner nor anything healthy. For many of us, late-night meals and snacks usually involve things like pizza, chips, cookies, candy, and a scoop of ice cream, among others.
These types of foods are usually quite high in empty calories, saturated fats, and sugar, all things that are not good for weight loss. When trying to shed a couple of pounds, it is always a good idea to monitor your food intake. While you might be quite conscious of what you eat during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, most of us tend to forget to take into account our late-night or midnight snacks (7).
If you still want a specific time to stop eating before bed to lose weight, try having your last meal before ten o’clock. Any snack or meal you had after ten o’clock, could delay the body’s ability to break down unused macronutrients. Instead of your body breaking down this food to use as energy, it will instead store it as fat, making you gain weight (8). Therefore, instead of skipping breakfast and having a hefty meal at dinner, opt to have a heavier meal in the morning and have a smaller meal at night, preferably between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. at the latest.
The Bottom Line
The question of, “what time should you stop eating before bed?” is a controversial one. While some believe that it does not matter, others are convinced that meal timing makes all the difference, especially when it comes to weight loss. As we have seen above, late-night eating and snacking have more disadvantages than advantages to overall health and sleep.
To avoid insomnia, sleep deprivation, the risks of cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes try to have your last meal or snack three hours before your bedtime. You should have your last alcoholic drink four hours before sleeping, and caffeine should be avoided at all costs. To remain hydrated through the night and not wake up to urinate, drink most of your water during the day and have your last glass at least an hour or two before sleeping.
If you are having trouble sleeping, try the recommended foods as they may help lull you to sleep. If you are still unable to sleep, make an appointment with your doctor to find out the root cause of this.
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1. What happens to your body when you eat late at night?
Here are some things that you might experience when you happen to eat and snack before bed:
If you are wondering, “does eating late at night cause weight gain?” the answer to this is debatable. Some people believe that it is what and how much you eat, not when you eat (especially at night) that causes weight gain (5). It is believed that consuming more calorie-dense foods at night is the main reason behind weight gain.
Changes in appetite
This is thanks to the hormones ghrelin and leptin. The former (ghrelin) lets you know when it is time to eat as it stimulates appetite. If you are used to eating during the day, then you are bound to get hungry earlier in the day. However, if you start eating more and more at night, this hormone’s patterns change, and it could make you want to eat at night.
As for leptin, also called satiety hormone, our body releases it to let us know that we are full. For those who eat earlier in the day, this hormone peaks earlier too, which prevents overeating. However, if you eat later in the day or at night, this hormone will not work the same and this increases your chances of overeating (19).
Higher chances of snacking
If you eat most of your daily required calories during the day, chances are that by night time, you will be feeling quite full and will not have the desire to snack. However, if you restrict your food intake a lot during the day, you will feel hungrier at night. This leads to snacking, which mostly consists of unhealthy foods and will most probably negatively affect your calorie intake (16).
Higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes
Late-night eating could increase your blood sugar levels by up to 18% and decreases the amount of fat burned at night by 10% (17). As it is discussed above, increased blood sugar levels are dangerous and may lead to kidney disease, liver damage, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
2. Are there any benefits of eating before bed and for weight loss?
Surprisingly, yes, there are. While we have concentrated on what time you should stop eating before bed and why this is considered to be bad for you, there are some advantages to eating before bed. They include:
Melatonin is a hormone that exists in the body that regulates your sleep cycle. Its levels go up at night and come down in the morning. However, sometimes we can have trouble sleeping due to demanding jobs, stress, and depression. Having a small snack that has melatonin in it can help you fall asleep. Such foods include grapes, strawberries, nuts like almonds, cherries, cow’s milk, oats, cranberries, and lentils.
May improve your appetite in the morning
Eating late at night means that you will wake up feeling full and therefore, you will not indulge at breakfast. This, in turn, means less appetite, which further points to eating fewer calories. While this sounds like a good thing, please note that more research is still needed on this subject (1).
May improve your metabolism
When it comes to weight loss, your metabolism plays a big role as it dictates how fast your body burns calories. A high or fast metabolism means that you will burn more calories at rest and during activity (6). With this in mind, having a snack before bed causes the metabolism to kick into gear in the morning, and your body will be quick to turn your breakfast into energy.
Improves muscle synthesis
Most people workout to lose weight, build up muscle mass and improve their day to day lifestyle. While eating late at night has been demonized for its role in weight gain, if you have a small healthy snack before bed, it can actually help you look better.
If you feel like you want something to eat before bed, opt for a small protein-filled snack which will support you for a longer period of time.
3. How can I stop eating before bed?
Some things that you can do to kick this unhealthy habit include:
Remove your trigger foods
Take note of the types of foods you tend to gravitate towards at night. Once you realize what these foods and snacks are, try to prevent yourself from purchasing them or making them. Instead, stock your fridge or pantry with healthier options that will not spike your blood sugar levels too much if you snack on them before bed.
Step away from the TV
How many times have you watched Netflix late into the night with some pizza or a packet of chips? Stop watching TV late at night, and if you have to, choose to watch it as you keep your hands busy. Fold some laundry or do some light chores that will keep you from turning to food.
You could also stop watching TV entirely and replace this by reading a magazine, a novel, journaling, playing a board game with your family members, or taking a bath (15).
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any medical conditions. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 4 Surprising Benefits of Eating at Night (2019, livestrong.com)
- Adenosine and Sleep (2020, verywellhealth.com)
- An emerging connection between circadian rhythm disruption and type 2 diabetes mellitus (2018, mayoclinic.org)
- Circadian Rhythm Disorders (2019, webmd.com)
- Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain? (2010, acefitness.org)
- Does Metabolism Matter in Weight Loss? (2015, health.harvard.edu)
- Diet Truth or Myth: Eating at Night Causes Weight Gain (2009, webmd.com)
- Eating before bed delays fat burning (2020, medicalnewstoday.com)
- Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning (2018, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- How Does Too Much Sugar Affect Your Body? (2017, webmd.com)
- How Long to Wait Between Drinking Alcohol and Bedtime (2020, verywellhealth.com)
- How Long to Wait Before Sleeping After Eating (2020, verywellhealth.com)
- How to Stop a Full Bladder From Killing Your Sleep (2015, health.cleavelandclinic.org)
- How What You Eat Affects Your Sleep (2017, nbcnews.com)
- Kicking the Late Night Eating Habit Can Help You to Lose Weight (2020, verywellfit.com)
- New Research Reveals Negative Health Effects of Late Night Eating (2020, verywellfit,com)
- People who eat a late dinner may gain weight (2020, sciencedaily.com)
- Sweet Dreams: How Sugar Impacts Your Sleep (n.d, sleep.org)
- The Effects of Eating Late at Night (2019, livestrong.com)
- Which foods can help you sleep? (2019, medicalnewstoday.com)