It's not a good idea to eat right before bed. Is this really the case, and if so, why? How long before bedtime is ideal for the last snack?
Eating too close to bedtime can cause digestive distress and prevent you from getting quality rest. In his book Sleeping Like a Primal Man, sleep expert and author Merijn van de Laar advises his readers to avoid eating large meals right before bed. The sleep researcher continues by stating that young individuals are more likely to wake up between meals if they eat less than three hours before bed.
He also talks about a recent study in Turkey in which people ate either kebab or a sweet dessert an hour before bed. The results showed that those who consumed kebabs had a harder time nodding off.
According to Van de Laar, cookies and candy do not qualify as sweet desserts because they lack starch and carbs. High-glycemic-load sugars take longer to digest, but they have a greater potential to stimulate activity. It's ok to eat some slow-acting fiber and a modest amount of carbohydrates in the evening.
Upset after a heavy meal
MSc nutritionist Manon Wouters agrees that fatty foods in particular are harder to digest. This does not mean that you will gain extra weight if you eat that bag of potato chips at night.
Manon Wouters, nutritionist
There is a link between eating at night and obesity, but it is mainly because you are more likely to make unhealthy choices at night, Wouters explains. Because of all the choices made during the day, the cognitive brain is tired. As a result, people are more likely to make the wrong choices, the nutritionist observes.
Digestion is at a slower pace at night. Even though you won't gain more weight than usual from an evening snack, the slower digestion means you may suffer if you eat a heavy meal.
Fatty foods are heavy on the stomach
The food can remain undigested in the body, which can make it heavy on the stomach and even cause gastrointestinal distress. You see that people who eat a lot of food before bed are more likely to wake up and stay awake longer. Fatty foods are especially heavy on the stomach, which can reduce sleep quality, Van de Laar adds.
Many people mistake metabolism for digesting. It's important to distinguish between digestion and metabolism. Wouters adds that while resting metabolism slows down at night, active metabolism does not stop altogether. It's still possible to overeat and gain weight even if digestion takes longer.
Drowsiness or sluggishness
The digestive system, which comprises the mouth, stomach, and intestines, is responsible for digestion. The digestive process facilitates the absorption of nutrients. Wouters explains that metabolism continues 24 hours a day in all of the body's cells. Your energy balance is balanced when your body expends the same amount of energy in a 24-hour period as it absorbs. The time of day you consume food has no bearing on this.
If you've been eating a lot, you might feel tired or sleepy. If you think this will help you sleep better, you would be wrong. The after-dinner dip happens because your body is busy digesting the food you just ate. Even if you feel tired, that doesn't mean you will sleep well. Wouters and Van de Laar say that this is like drinking: you may fall asleep quickly, but your sleep won't be as restful.
Going to bed hungry
But the experts warn that going to bed hungry doesn't help you sleep quality and can make it harder to fall asleep. The rule of thumb is to eat your last big meal about two to three hours before bed. If you want to snack, the best time to do it is an hour before bed. Have a snack that is easy to break down, like yogurt, cottage cheese, or fruit.
Merijn van de Laar is a Dutch PhD, sleep scientist and author of ‘Sleeping like a primal human'/ Deputy Head of General Practice Maastricht University/Sleep expert AH