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Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?

Brunette in Pajamas Standing in Front of an Open FridgeMany people think it’s a
bad idea to eat before bed.

This often comes from the belief that eating before you go to
sleep leads to weight gain.

However, some claim that a bedtime snack can actually support a
weight loss diet.

So what should you believe?

The truth is, the answer isn’t the same for everyone. It
depends a lot on the individual.

Eating Before Bed Is Controversial

Whether or not you should eat before bed — defined as between
dinner and bedtime — has become a hot topic in nutrition.

Conventional wisdom says that eating before bed causes weight
gain because your metabolism slows down when you fall asleep.
This causes any undigested calories to be stored as fat.

Yet many health experts say that eating before bed is perfectly
fine and may even improve sleep or
weight loss
.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that many people are confused.

Part of the problem is that the evidence on the matter actually
appears to support both sides.

Although many people believe that a slower metabolism during
sleep leads to weight gain, your nighttime basal metabolic rate
averages the same as during the day. Your body still needs
plenty of energy while you sleep (1, 2).

There is also no evidence supporting the idea that calories
count more before bedtime than they do at any other time of the
day.

Yet despite the fact that there seems to be no physiological
reason why, several studies have linked eating before bed with
weight gain (3, 4, 5).

So what is going on here? The reason is probably not what you
expect.



Bottom Line: Eating before bed is
controversial. Even though there seems to be no physiological
reason why eating before bed would cause weight gain, several
studies have found evidence that it might.

Eating Before Bed May Lead to Unhealthy Habits

Man Eating Pizza in Front of His Laptop

The current evidence shows no physiological reason why eating
before bed should cause weight gain. However, several studies
show that people who eat before bed are more likely to gain
weight (3, 4, 5).

The reason for this is much simpler than you might expect.

It turns out that people who eat before bed are more likely to
gain weight simply because a bedtime snack is an extra meal
and, therefore, extra calories.

Not only that, but evening is the time of day when many people
tend to feel the hungriest. This makes it even more likely that
a bedtime snack will end up pushing your calorie intake over
your daily
calorie needs
(5, 6).

Add the fact that most people like to snack at night while
watching TV or working on their laptops, and it’s no surprise
that these habits might lead to weight gain.

Some people also become extremely hungry before bed because
they don’t eat enough during the day.

This extreme hunger can cause a cycle of eating too much before
bed, then being too full to eat much the next morning, and
again becoming overly hungry before bed the next evening
(7).

This cycle, which can easily lead to overeating and weight
gain, highlights the importance of making sure you eat enough
during the daytime.

For most people, the problem with eating at night is
not that your metabolism switches to storing calories
as fat at night. Instead, weight gain is caused by the
unhealthy habits that often accompany bedtime snacking.

Bottom Line: In most cases, eating before
bed only causes weight gain because of habits such as eating
while watching TV or eating too many extra calories before
bed.

Eating Before Bed Is Bad If You Have Reflux

Silver Alarm Clock on a Plate

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a
common condition that affects as much as 20–48% of Western
populations. It happens when stomach acid splashes back into
your throat (8, 9).

Symptoms include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, a lump in
the throat or worsening nighttime asthma (3, 10).

If you have any of these symptoms, you may want to avoid
snacking before bed.

Eating before bed can make symptoms worse because having a full
stomach when you lie down makes it much easier for stomach acid
to splash back up into your throat (9).

Therefore, if you have reflux, it’s a good idea to avoid eating
anything for at least 3 hours before lying down in bed
(11, 12).

Additionally, you might want to avoid drinking or eating
anything containing caffeine, alcohol, tea, chocolate or hot
spices. All of these foods can aggravate symptoms.

Bottom Line: People who have reflux should
not eat anything for at least 3 hours before bedtime. They
may also want to avoid trigger foods, which can cause
symptoms to worsen.

Eating Before Bed May Have Some Benefits

While eating before bed may not be the best idea for some
people, it can be beneficial for others.

It May Curb Nighttime Eating and Aid Weight Loss

Some evidence suggests that, rather than causing weight gain,
eating a bedtime snack may actually help some people lose
weight.

If you’re a person who tends to eat a big portion of your
calories during the night (usually after going to
bed), having a snack after dinner can help control your desire
for nighttime snacking (13, 14).

In one 4-week study of adults who were night-snackers,
participants who began eating one bowl of cereal and milk 90
minutes after dinner ate an average of 397 fewer calories per
day (14).

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In the end, they lost an average of 1.85 pounds (0.84
kilograms) from this change alone (14).

This study suggests that adding a small after-dinner snack may
help night-snackers feel satisfied enough to eat less than they
would otherwise. Over time, it may also have the possible
benefit of weight loss.

It May Help You Sleep Better

Young Woman Wondering Whether to Eat Food Before Going to Bed

Not much research has been done on this topic, but many people
report that eating something before bed helps them sleep better
or prevents them from waking up hungry during the night.

This makes sense, as a snack before bed may help you feel full
and satisfied during the night (6, 15, 16).

Getting enough sleep is extremely important, and sleep
deprivation itself has been linked to overeating and weight
gain (5, 16, 17).

There is no evidence that a small, healthy snack before bed
leads to weight gain.

Therefore, if you feel that eating something before bed helps
you fall asleep or stay asleep, then you should feel good about
doing so.

It May Stabilize Morning Blood Sugar

In the morning, your liver starts to produce extra glucose
(blood sugar) to provide you with the energy you need to get up
and start the day.

This process causes scarcely any change in blood sugar for
people without diabetes. However, some people with diabetes
can’t produce enough
insulin
to remove the extra glucose from the blood.

For this reason, diabetics commonly wake up in the morning with
high blood sugar, even if they haven’t eaten anything since the
night before. This is called the Dawn Phenomenon (18, 19).

Other people may experience nocturnal hypoglycemia, or low
blood sugar during the night, which can disturb
sleep
(20).

If you experience either of these phenomena, you might need to
talk to your doctor about having your medication adjusted.

In addition, a few studies have suggested that a snack before
bedtime may help prevent these changes in blood sugar by
providing an extra source of energy to help get you through the
night (20, 21, 22).

However, the research is mixed, so this can’t be recommended
for everyone.

If you experience high or low blood sugar in the morning, talk
with your doctor or dietitian to see if a bedtime snack is a
good idea for you.

Bottom Line: Having a bedtime snack may have
some benefits such as causing you to eat less at night or
sleep better. It might also help keep your blood sugar
stable.

What Should You Eat Before Bed?

Plate With Peanut Butter and Apple Slices

For most people, it’s perfectly okay to have a snack before
bed.

There is no recipe for the perfect bedtime snack, but there are
some things you should keep in mind.

Avoid Desserts and Junk Foods

While eating before bed is not necessarily a bad thing, loading
up on traditional dessert foods or junk
foods
such as ice cream, pie or chips isn’t a good idea.

These foods, which are high in unhealthy fats and added sugars,
trigger cravings and overeating. They make it very easy to
exceed your daily calorie needs.

Eating before bed doesn’t necessarily make you gain weight, but
filling up on these calorie-dense foods before bed certainly
can, and you should really avoid them.

If you have a sweet tooth, try some berries or a few squares of
dark chocolate (unless the caffeine bothers you). Or, if salty
snacks are what you prefer, have a handful of nuts instead.

Combine Carbs With Protein or Fat

No food is necessarily the “best” for snacking before bed.
However, a pairing of complex carbs and protein, or a little
fat, is probably a good way to go (20, 22).

Complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables
provide you with a steady source of energy as you fall asleep.

Pairing that with protein or a small amount of fat can help
keep you full through the night and keep your blood
sugar
stable.

However, these combinations may have other benefits as well.

Some evidence suggests that eating a carb-rich meal with a high
glycemic index before bed can help you fall asleep (23, 24, 25).

This is because carbs can improve the transport of the amino
acid tryptophan, which can be converted into
neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep (23).

The same effect may be true for foods rich in tryptophan
itself, such as dairy, fish, poultry or red meat (23, 24, 25).

Some evidence also indicates that a meal rich in fat can
improve sleep quality (25).

Some snack ideas include an apple with peanut butter, whole
grain crackers and a slice of turkey, or cheese and grapes.

Bottom Line: Eating a snack before bed is
fine for most people, but you should try to avoid junk food
and desserts. A combination of carbs and protein or fat is a
good rule to follow.

Should You Eat Before Bed?

The answer to whether or not it’s a bad idea to eat before bed
really depends on you and your habits.

It’s not a good idea to make a habit of snacking on unhealthy
foods before bed. It’s also unwise to eat a large portion of
your calories during the night.

However, it’s perfectly fine for most people to have a
healthy snack
before bed.

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