Scared of eating before bed?
Eating before bed is one of the more common questions that I see on message boards. Although I never pay attention to the timing of my meals it does make me wonder about the physiological aspects of a large meal at bedtime… Does your metabolism slow down while you are sleeping causing that food to turn to body fat?
Eating before bed bad?
Likewise, I don’t know about you but I dream some crazy crap sometimes. Are these dreams related to food choices at night? Like Ebenezer Scrooge said visited by the Marley ghosts, “You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
Yeah…I’m man enough to quote A Christmas Carol, but does food cause vivid dreams? Let’s take a look at what happens when you eat right before bed.
Does Eating Before Bed Cause Weight Gain?
All Christmas notions aside, when it comes to eating before bed there is no conclusive scientific evidence that indicates eating before bed can induce weight gain in normal weight individuals (Andersen et al 2004).
It all boils down to the total amount of calories consumed throughout the entire day! Any small snack consumed to as close as 30 minutes before bed will easily be digested and not cause massive weight gain like so many fear.
Registered dietitian Sarah Remmer in a Huffington Post article had this to say regarding night eating causing weight gain, “This is a myth. What matters when it comes to your weight, is the total calories consumed on any given day, not the timing of these calories. So as long as someone stays within their recommended daily allowance of calories, weight gain or storage of fat will not occur.”
In fact, eating a healthy snack before bed is better than going to bed hungry which can lead to stomach pains and resulting in a bad night of sleep (more on that later).
The problem with late-night snacking or the always tasty “midnight snack” is that they usually aren’t the best food choice….hence is why they are so tasty. Most of the time when you eat at night you usually have certain food cravings, and I highly doubt those cravings are for a bowl of steamed broccoli.
Most of our bad food choices can come into play around this time of night because those types of foods are comforting and we think it helps us sleep better.
The psychology of feeling better aside, these bad food choices can add to a large calorie load (going way over our daily calorie limits) that can induce weight gain.
The Negative Consequences
While smashing a salad around bedtime doesn’t pose any real weight gain issues, eating large meals before bed can cause a number of other health issues.
For instance, night-time eating can lead to bloating, insomnia, and heartburn which all decrease the quality and length of your sleep which can decrease your overall quality of life (Lundgren et al 2008)!
If your night-time eating is causing increased sleep disturbances that have you sleeping less than 6.5 hours of sleep a night, this has been shown to be correlated with a higher body fat percentage (Bailey et al 2013)!
This may be attributed to sleeping too little causing increased quantities of an appetite-stimulating substance in our bodies which can cause overeating the next day (Endocrine Society 2013).
Lastly, it seems Ebenezer Scrooge was right. Eating spicy foods or consuming food that upsets your stomach before bed can induce restlessness which can lead to incredibly vivid dreams.
This is because restless sleep gives you a greater chance of waking up and actually remembering your dream.
As Dr. Ware, Chief of the Division of Sleep Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School explained, “The rule of thumb is that you need to wake up within five minutes of having a dream to recall it.”
When you sleep soundly you may have incredibly crazy dreams but you don’t remember them; food-induced sleep disturbances allow you to vividly remember your death-defying assault of Fort Apache…or whatever else you dream!
In short, the food in general might not make the dreams more vivid but it makes more likely that you will remember those dreams!
More research is needed on this topic.
Foods to Avoid
Sure a bottle of wine will help anyone fall asleep but it doesn’t keep you there. Alcohol has a tendency to wake people up 3-4 hours after they have fallen asleep and cause them to toss and turn. Likewise, it reduces your amount of REM sleep which is where some of the deepest most refreshing sleep occurs.
Chocolate and Caffeine
This is pretty much a no-brainer. Caffeine in chocolate or other foods can cause sleep disruption. The caffeine in a candy bar (30mg) is enough to have some sleep-disrupting effects.
This goes back to the negative heartburn aspect of eating before bed which can greatly disrupt your sleep. It’s best to eat a heavily spiced meal at least 3-4 hours before snoozing.
While there is no scientific evidence that eating before bed can cause weight gain in normal individuals, I would still suggest not eating a large meal 2 hours before bed.
I say this just to make sure you don’t experience any of the negative sleep-disturbing attributes that can be associated with night eating; a small healthy snack is fine.
Likewise, as always make good food choices; don’t eat crap before bed. When you eat crap food no matter the time of day it can lead to weight gain!
Crap food is crap food whether it’s 10 am or 10 pm. So instead of cake, eat an apple before bed instead, it won’t go to your hips!
More Sleeping Resources
Andersen GS, Stunkard AJ, Sorensen TIA, Petersen L, Heitmann L (2004) Night eating and weight change in middle-aged men and women. International Journal of Obesity 28: 1338-1343.
Bailey BW, Allen MD, LeCheminant JD, Tucker LA, Errico WK, Christensen WF, Hill MD (2013) Objectively measured sleep patterns in young adult women and the relationship to adiposity. American Journal of Health Promotion: 131107080257006 DOI: 10.4278/ajhp.121012-QUAN-500.
Endocrine Society. “Too little sleep may trigger the ‘munchies’ by raising levels of an appetite-controlling molecule.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 June 2013.
Lundgren JD, Allison KC, O’Reardon JP, Stunkard AJ (2008) A descriptive study of non-obese persons with night eating syndrome and a weight-matched comparison group. Eating Behaviors 9: 343-351.
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