While we’ve all been prone to a bit of midnight snacking every now and then before bed, there’s a growing amount of research out there that suggests nighttime eating might be worse for our bodies than most of us realize.
Eating anything at night tends to have pretty negative effects on our sleep and health – but a couple foods in particular stand out as major culprits.
Not only will most of these foods make it harder to get to sleep, but they also tend to do a number on your quality of sleep, as well!
Here’s everything you need to know.
The Problem With Midnight Snacks
To start off, there’s something you should probably be aware of if you’re prone to nabbing a snack or two before heading off to bed: it is seriously not good for your health.
Late-Night Snacking Is Tied to Weight Gain
Multiple studies, for instance, have linked habits of late-night noshing to things like weight gain and increased cholesterol.
Specially, this likely has more to do with the way people are eating their midnight snacks than the exact amount of calories they’re taking in.
When most people are eating at night, they’re not just sitting down for another meal.
They’re multitasking – watching TV, looking at their phone or laptop, reading, etc.
Simply not paying attention to what you’re putting into a body is a pretty serious issue, since when most of us go onto autopilot, we just keep eating and eating whether we’re hungry or not.
It’s easy to see how this can lead to weight issues if you’re not being careful!
It’s Also Bad for Your Gut
Now, you might be thinking that if you can just control your portion sizes enough to be sure you’re getting no more than the amount you need, you should be OK for an after-hours munch or two.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not quite that simple.
You see, your body simply is not designed to be eating for 16 hours every day.
You might have noticed that after a certain point in the night, for the most part you just stop being hungry.
There’s a reason for that, and it has to do with the way your gut is made.
Your gut – along with just about every other organ in your body – is influenced by a tiny bundle of nerves in your brain’s pineal gland.
These nerves – technically called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus,” if you’re looking for a good tongue twister – are what control the circadian rhythms of your brain’s master clock.
You might have heard of circadian rhythms in the context of your sleep, and it’s true – the sleep/wake cycle is one of the most important daily rhythms undertaken by your body.
Another, slightly less well-known circadian rhythm, however, is the one associated with your gut.
Your stomach, it turns out, is really only designed to be digesting things for about 8 to 10 hours every day.
This is what your body is expecting of you – and if you’re like most Americans and start straying outside of these natural boundaries, you’re going to start seeing some pretty negative results.
Your sleep cycle, for instance, is likely to get pretty confused if you start shoveling food into your body at 1 o’clock in the morning.
Your gut has basically just been “woken up” during the part of the day it’s supposed to be resting, which can kickstart your metabolism and leave you tossing and turning for hours to come!
Avoid Fatty Foods at Night
These issues with your gut clock are the reason for our first big no-no of things you might be eating before bed: fatty foods.
Not only are most fatty foods bad for your health in general, but fat is also pretty difficult for your stomach to break down.
The molecules are more complex than, say, carbohydrates, and your body has to go through a couple extra steps in order to turn them into something it can use for energy.
Specifically, your liver is going to have to squirt out some bile into your digestive tract before the fatty molecules can become useful.
This takes substantially longer than the normal digestive process – so if you eat a cheeseburger just before heading off to bed, not only are you forcing your gut to work at a time it’s really supposed to be sleeping, but you’re also going to be keeping it at work for a long, long time.
And since digestion isn’t something you’re really supposed to be doing while you sleep, all the extra work your stomach is going through might end up keeping you awake as well.
Not only that, but all that bile secreted by your liver is going to be sloshing around your stomach until you’ve finished digesting all that fat.
When you lie down for sleep, some of those acids might just end up spilling into your esophagus – resulting in painful heartburn that’s highly disruptive to sleep!
Avoid Anything With Caffeine
It might seem pretty obvious to point out, but you also really shouldn’t be drinking or eating anything with caffeine in it in the hours before sleep.
While most people know enough to steer away from things like coffee or heavily caffeinated soda or tea at night unless they’ve built up a pretty serious caffeine immunity, you might not always realize just how much caffeine you’re taking into your body on any given day.
One particularly common source of caffeine is chocolate – especially dark chocolate.
The cocoa used to make your Hershey’s contains some pretty surprising levels of caffeine, and it’s all going straight to your bloodstream.
Not only that, but once you’ve taken caffeine into your system, it takes a surprisingly long time for it to finally get flushed out.
Caffeine can have a half-life of up to five hours in your body – meaning that if you have 100mg of caffeine in a cup of coffee at 5 in the afternoon, 50 of those milligrams will still be in your bloodstream come 10 o’clock.
Now, it’s true that everyone’s metabolism works differently, and some may be able to get rid of caffeine a bit faster than that.
But the lingering effects of that magical substance can stay in your body a long, long time – long after you actually needed that extra boost of energy.
Avoid Any Kind of Alcohol
Another major culprit when it comes to restless sleep is alcohol.
While it’s true that alcohol tends to make you feel more tired in the moment while you’re still under its effects, after you’ve headed off to bed it can start to have some less pleasant effects on your sleep.
You see, in addition to all those loopy effects alcohol has on your brain’s higher functions, it can also do a number on the functioning of your biological clock.
This throws off your sleep/wake cycle, resulting in disrupted sleep throughout the night.
While your body is still metabolizing the alcohol, for instance, studies have found that people spend less time in REM sleep, which is where most dreaming occurs as well as many of sleep’s other positive effects.
Then, after your body has finished breaking down all those drinks, you’re likely to experience some major rebound effects because of what the alcohol has done to your poor brain.
Most drinkers experience lighter sleep as it gets towards morning, often punctuated with periods of wakefulness.
Ultimately, you might find yourself waking up much earlier than you need to – tired, but unable to get back to sleep.
All in all, alcohol is typically a pretty poor choice if you’re trying to get yourself any kind of high-quality sleep.
Avoid Spicy and Acidic Foods
Finally, our last two problem children when it comes to getting decent sleep are acidic and spicy foods.
Much like fatty foods, these kinds of products can result in acid reflux – a condition that affects some 20% of Americans.
This backsplash of stomach acids during the night frequently results in interrupted, low-quality sleep.
In general, the blander you go, the better it’s going to be for your sleep.
If you do insist on going to that sketchy all-you-can eat Indian place on the corner for a 9 o’clock dinner, you’ll probably want to take something to settle your stomach before bed, and also consider opting for a more acid reflux-adapted sleeping position.
Sleeping on your left side, it turns out, aligns your intestinal tract in such a way that your stomach acids are much less likely to leak out into your esophagus and go around waking you up at inconvenient times.
Even then, though, your best bet with heartburn is to just not eat acidic or spicy foods at all.
Now that you know the foods to avoid when you reach a certain point in the night, you’ll be getting better sleep in no time!
Always remember just how important a solid night’s sleep is to a good day.
Improving your sleep is one of the simplest steps to building up your quality of life, so it just pays to make it a priority.
Hope that’s helpful!
Thanks for the read, y’all – and pleasant dreams.