Is it bad to eat right before you go to bed?
Whether you’ve been working late or enjoyed a meal out, for many of us, eating after 7pm is a common occurrence, despite most of us being familiar with the old adage that eating late at night can cause a variety of health problems, from a bigger waistline to high blood sugar levels to a poor night’s sleep. Yet is eating right before you climb into bed really such a problem? Well, I’m going to address some of the main concerns surrounding this tricky subject!
Eating late at night upsets your digestive system
Sleep not only allows your mind to rest, it’s also an important restorative process for your whole body. During the day, your digestive system in particular is bombarded so it’s only natural that at night, it gets an opportunity to rest!
However, if you go and eat a big meal before bed, it rouses your digestive system which will be sluggish and not all that efficient. This can mean you experience a few uncomfortable symptoms such as bloating, constipation and acid reflux. Acid reflux in particular is a big problem if you’re fond of dairy or spicy foods – when you lie down on a full stomach, it makes it easier for your digestive juices to flow back up the oesophagus.1
What you can learn: A glass of warm milk might have been your Grandmother’s favourite cure for insomnia but if you have a sensitive tummy it’s not going to do much good. In general, if you are troubled by digestive issues, I’d avoid dairy products, processed carbs and spicy foods after 7pm. If you do find yourself suffering during the night, adjust your sleeping position by propping yourself up on a few pillows and keep our Digestisan remedy close – this tincture is excellent for combatting the symptoms of indigestion and can help to ease acid reflux!
You might feel hungrier the next day!
You might think that if you eat at night, surely you’ll feel less hungry the next day? Well, as it turns out this is definitely not the case! If you’re tucking into a bowl of ice cream or nibbling on a slice of cake before bed, it’s going to have an impact on your blood glucose levels. If your blood glucose levels rise during the night, your pancreas will release more insulin which can cause the dreaded ‘sugar crash.’
This sudden drop in your blood sugar levels can stimulate the appetite centres in your brain, causing you to feel hungrier when you wake up. Eating during the day, on the other hand, is thought to have a different effect. In one study, participants were split into two groups and it was found that the test group that ate regularly during the day produced a hormone that helped them to feel fuller for longer compared to the other control group.2
What you can learn: In my blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’ I talk a little bit about the vicious cycle of sleeping and overeating. Essentially, eating at night makes you hungrier, which then makes you overeat the following day which only goes on to perpetuate a cycle of eating and sleep deprivation. When it comes to this type of cycle, stress and sugar play a huge role – stress can trigger the release of cortisol, which in turn enhances your appetite, making you crave foods that will comfort you – chocolate, crisps, ice cream etc. If stress is a factor when it comes to your cravings, I’d recommend facing it head on. You can find more advice about this over at A.Vogel Talks Stress – in the meantime, you could try our gentle sleep remedy Dormeasan, which has been specifically formulated for anxious sleepers who have trouble switching off before bedtime!
It may upset your blood pressure!
One of the biggest problems attributed to eating late at is that it could potentially increase your blood pressure levels. Since high blood pressure levels are often a major precursor of heart disease, this is obviously a concern for many. One study in particular looked at 700 adults with high blood pressure to see if their eating times had any impact on their health. It found that those eating a late dinner had the most elevated blood pressure levels during the night and deemed that eating within two hours of bed time did more damage than a high salt diet!3
What you can learn: If you are at risk of high blood pressure, eating in the hours leading up to bedtime might not be such a good idea, especially if you’re fond of salty or sugary snacks. Instead, try to give your digestive system time to rest and concentrate on trying to lower your blood pressure naturally. Our Circulation Advisor, Helen, has plenty of information about high blood pressure and how you can tackle it by implementing simple diet and lifestyle tips!
Your sleep phases may be interrupted
In my blog, ‘What are the 5 stages of sleep?’ I talk a little bit about the different sleep phases you will typically experience when you fall asleep. To put it simply, you can loosely divide your sleep into deep NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep) sleep. During REM sleep your brain is remarkably active so it’s hardly surprising that this is the phase of sleep during which you dream.
However, if you’re stocking up on sugary foods right before bedtime it can pull you out of deep restorative NREM sleep and place you in a lighter REM sleep pattern. Not only does this affect your overall quality of sleep, it means you’re more vulnerable to waking up during the night and it could even affect your dreams! Heavier, fatty foods on the other hand are thought to have the opposite effect – one study found that, after consuming high fat foods, participants spent less time in REM sleep and took longer to reach that stage4, which has its own drawbacks as I discuss in my blog, ‘The dangers of dream deprivation.’
What you can learn: Too little of either NREM or REM sleep will definitely have an impact, affecting everything from your cognitive abilities to your immune system. Sugar, processed carbs and fats are once again in the spotlight here so it really is important that you consider carefully not only what you’re eating before bed but also what you’re drinking too! Alcohol and caffeine, as I’m sure you’re aware, can be disastrous for your sleep patterns but carbonated fizzy drinks can be just as bad!
Eating at night can make you put on weight
Despite the big four health risks I’ve already looked at, this is the main problem often associated with eating late at night – that it will inevitably affect your waistline. Of course, as I’ve mentioned, if you’re sleeping poorly (as many who eat late at night often do) then you’re going to feel hungrier the next day which can cause you to binge on empty calories, as I’ve discussed in my blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep making you overeat?’
What you can learn: Whether or not eating late at night directly increases your waistline is a tricky topic. Some experts seem to think that it doesn’t matter what time of night you eat at, what matters more is what you’re eating and how much exercise you are getting during the day. Others cite that studies, such as the one published in the International Journal of Obesity, indicate that those eating late at night are more at risk of overeating and likely to gain weight.5
So what’s the real answer? I personally think it lies somewhere in the middle – yes, eating food late at night may make you put on weight but what really counts is the type of foods you’re eating at that time of night!
What can I eat late at night?
If there’s one thing to take away from this article it’s that it’s not always so much when you eat as what you’re eating. The obvious culprits are foods such as sugar, fats and processed carbs – these are the sorts of foods that you’re probably aware aren’t that good for you and should be making efforts to cut out. However, it isn’t always the obvious foods you need to watch out for, as I discuss in my blog, ‘6 surprising foods you should avoid before bedtime.’
But what if you still get hungry later on in the day? Are there any foods that can actually help you to get to sleep at night? The answer, I’m pleased to say, is a resounding yes. There are definitely foods that won’t impact your sleep patterns as much and, in some cases, they may even enhance your quality of sleep! However, these foods really deserve a spotlight all of their own, which is why I’m going to explore them a lot further in next week’s blog!