Is It Bad to Eat Before Going to Bed?

So – it’s late and you’re hungry.

Maybe you’re getting home late, and you haven’t even had time to eat dinner today.

Maybe you did eat some dinner, but it wasn’t enough and you’re hungry.

Maybe you’re just ready to dig into your favorite midnight snack!

Whatever your reasons, it’s well after dark and you’re 100% ready to stuff your face full of all your favorite goodies.

To be fair, if you’ve already got your heart set on this, there’s probably not much we could say to you to tear you away from that delicious tub of frosting.

But is that actually healthy, or does nighttime eating always have to be a guilty pleasure?

In this article, we take a hard look at what the science actually says.

Does Nighttime Eating Cause Weight Gain?

One of the longest-standing arguments against eating anything between dinner and bed is that it can lead to weight gain.

During the night, the argument goes, your metabolism slows down, causing undigested calories to get taken up by your body as fat.

The science, however, doesn’t really back this argument up.

Studies have found your basal metabolic rate is actually the same during the night as it is during the day, so physiologically, it’s no better or worse for most people to eat before bed than it is for them to eat during the day.

However, although nighttime eating may not directly lead to weight gain, some studies have found a link between late-night chow-downs and increased weight.

One reason for this might be because daytime eating produces a hormone that helps you to feel fuller for a longer stretch of time.

Meanwhile, not only has eating at night been linked to increases in body weight, but it also increases levels of insulin, glucose and cholesterol.

This hormonal soup can lead to increased appetite the following morning, so you might end up eating more than you’d like if you’re not careful.

Late-Night Snacks Can Lead to Overeating

Another reason that might account for weight gain among midnight snackers is the way they’re doing it.

When a lot of people are eating between dinner and bed, they’re often doing it alongside other activities. 

Nighttime is when you wind down, so there’s a good chance you’re eating that bowl of popcorn while watching TV or poking around on your laptop.

Distracted eating is bad news if you’re trying to watch your weight.

You’re not paying attention to how hungry your body actually is, so it’s all too easy to end up eating a lot more than you were planning to.

You might not actually need those extra calories you’re putting in your body, and we all know the perils that come with snacking in general.

Again, you totally can control this if you work at it – you’ve just got to be a little more careful than you’re probably used to.

Eating Too Much May Hurt Your SleepImage: restless man late at night

In addition to adding a little extra to your waistline, sleepy snacking may also lead to trouble sleeping if you’re not doing it right.

You see, the very act of eating can give you a boost of energy and increase your metabolism – which, depending on who you are and what you eat, may make it more difficult for you to get to sleep.

Now, you may be thinking about how sleepy you get after having a really big meal.

While that’s true that tucking into a big meal can indeed lead to feelings of drowsiness, eating too much can actually lead to indigestion while you’re sleeping, interrupting your slumber.

In addition to this, you’re also likely to drink a lot of fluids if you’ve just had a giant meal, which might leave you having to get up a couple times throughout the night to go use the bathroom.

Don’t Eat Before Going to Bed If You Have Acid Reflux

Finally, acid reflux can pose another major issue for a lot of folks.

This what happens when stomach acid splashes back into your esophagus – a condition more commonly known as “heartburn.”

Not only is this uncomfortable while you’re awake, but it can also lead to troubled sleep once you lie down.

Not everyone experiences acid reflux, so if you’ve never really had problems with this stuff before, there’s no reason to start worrying about it now.

But if you do have a history with heartburn, it’s generally recommended that you not sleep for at least three hours after eating if you don’t want to deal with any issues.

If you absolutely have to sleep, though, it’s generally recommended that you sleep on your left side instead of your right.

There are a couple different hypotheses for why this might be, but basically, it just gets your body in good alignment to keep those nasty juices where they belong.

Is It Better to Go to Bed Hungry or Full?
Image: hungry woman

By this point, you might be wanting to just swear off eating before bed forever.

Not so fast, though!

While nighttime overeating can lead to a whole bunch of issues, going to bed hungry is often even worse.

Hunger can lead to difficulty getting to sleep and staying asleep, which is just as bad as what you’d face if you’d just had a monster meal.

I know it’s a lot to keep in mind, but don’t just starve yourself and think everything will be all right.

The Best Foods to Eat Before Bed

If you’re super hungry and absolutely need to eat something before you can make yourself sleep, some foods are definitely going to be better for you than others.

The best foods to eat before going to bed include pretty much anything healthy, anything that calms you down, or anything that helps your body produce sleepy-time chemicals like melatonin.

Anything made with milk is often a good choice since this causes your brain to produce a bit more melatonin than usual.

Other great nighttime snacks include almonds and bananas, as well as just about any other kind of nut or fruit.

Anything made with whole grains is often another solid choice since these are not only fairly healthy but also cause your brain to produce serotonin and melatonin.

Getting a good amount of protein in your system is generally a good way to go, as well, although you might want to avoid anything fatty or greasy (like most meats).

What NOT to Eat Before Bed

There’s also a pretty lengthy no-no list when it comes to eating before bed, too.

Throw the wrong chemicals in your body, and it’s all too easy to throw your sleep network completely out of whack.

Alcohol

Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits, here.

While it may make you feel sleepy enough at the moment, a lot of us are all too familiar with the kind of problems you can have after a night of heavy drinking.

Lots of us find ourselves waking up multiple times throughout the night, and alcohol can also lead to trouble getting the kind of deep, restorative sleep your body needs most.

Acidic Foods

Another major culprit is any kind of acidic food. 

These are mostly an issue if you’re dealing with the ickiness that is acid reflux since these can upset your stomach juices and lead to some pretty terrible backflow up your esophagus.

So ease up on all the OJ and jalapeño milkshakes, and opt for some slightly blander choices.

Anything Unhealthy

Alright, we could keep going on with all the different foods various sites say not to eat, but bottom line, you should probably just steer clear of anything that would make your doctor frown.

Nothing fatty, nothing sugary, no sodas, junk food, etc.

Basically, if it’s bad for you during the day, it’s probably not going to do you too much better at night.

How to Get Better Sleep

So, by this point, you should probably have a pretty good idea of the kinds of the risks of eating before bed and the things you should and shouldn’t eat if you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep.

Let’s be real here, though – we all know eating the right kinds of things can only go so far when it comes to getting decent sleep.

There are just so many things that have to go right for you to really be getting the kind of rest you need!

Being too stressed, using too many electronics before bed, having an erratic sleep schedule… there are a thousand and one things that can mess up your night, and eating is just one of them.

One especially important factor in finding the right sleep environment is your mattress.

Choosing the right mattress is key to getting high-quality sleep, so if you’ve been tossing and turning lately trying to get comfortable, it might be time to start thinking about opting for a newer model.

Two products we especially recommend are the Saatva and Amerisleep AS3.

 If that’s something you’re interested in, you might also want to check out our complete mattress buying guide.

Your sleep is one of the most important things you could ever invest in.

Take care of yourself – and pleasant dreams!