Did you know that you could be sabotaging your chances of getting a good night’s sleep without even realising it? Having good sleep hygiene (opens in new tab) makes a world of difference to your health and wellbeing, and there are many things you can do throughout the day to improve how you sleep at night, from exercising to meditation and beyond.
But, something you might not have thought about is eating late at night. The time you have your evening meal could have a big impact on your sleep duration and quality. Despite the many pros and cons of eating before bed, when you should stop eating at night has been hotly debated by researchers, scientists and experts for a long time.
To help cut through the confusion, we looked into how eating late at night can help or hinder your sleep, as well as the overall effect it has on your body. Before we get into it, set yourself up for sleep success every night with the best mattress (opens in new tab).
What time should I eat before bed?
Many studies have looked into the influence of meal timings over how well we sleep at night and how quickly we get to sleep. Despite all of this research, there isn’t a definitive answer, but many researchers agree that eating should be kept in time with your circadian rhythm.
The circadian rhythm or body clock influences many aspects of our daily life, from sleep to hormones, hunger to metabolism. According to Healthline (opens in new tab), to match your circadian rhythm, the “recommended eating window is less than or equal to 8-12 hours a day, during daylight hours.” Eating outside of this window can cause weight gain and blood sugar concerns, and increase the risk of developing problems, like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
Other experts suggest that you should eat at least 2-3 hours before you plan to turn in for the night. This window gives your body time to digest food properly so you’re not up all night uncomfortable, and helps avoid problems like acid reflux or indigestion. It’s very similar to exercising before bed (opens in new tab), as doing a strenuous workout or eating a huge meal before you sleep goes against what your body is meant to be doing, i.e. resting and recuperating.
Of course, eating 2-3 hours before bed isn’t always achievable, especially if you work shifts, but fear not, as there are many pros and cons to eating late at night which could be to your benefit.
The pros & cons of eating late at night
Eating late at night has its positives and negatives. Eating closer to bedtime can help you curb late night eating as you’re full before going to bed and it’ll stop you waking up hungry in the night. The amount you eat will also help, as if you have a nutritious balanced meal at night, you’re less likely to want a midnight snack.
Another benefit is stabilising your blood sugar. The liver produces extra glucose in the morning which provides you with energy to start your day. Healthline (opens in new tab) states that “studies have suggested that a snack before bedtime may help prevent changes in blood sugar by providing an additional energy source to help you through the night.” This research is still debated and if you have any diabetic or other health concerns, you should speak to your doctor.
For the cons, eating late at night can disturb your circadian rhythm as you’re not in keeping with your body clock or sleep routine. If you eat the wrong foods before bed (see 8 foods to eat for a good night’s sleep & 4 to avoid (opens in new tab) for more), you can keep yourself up longer with stomach pains, acid reflux and heartburn.
Depending on your goals, a pro or a con for eating before bed is weight gain or loss. Many people avoid eating before bed as they believe it can have an effect on their weight. While this is true in some cases, many researchers have found opposing views that it can make you gain weight as well as lose weight. According to Woman & Home (opens in new tab), “it’s consistently eating late which can have negative impacts… it can trigger a set of processes that changes the way we want to eat and could lead us to eat more than we need to”. This mainly consists of late night cravings and changes in appetite which can cause you to over or under eat.
In general, having your last meal 2-3 hours before you hit the hay is most commonly recommended by experts, but it's always important to listen to your body and what it needs. Having trouble sleeping? Try these 7 teas to help you sleep and calm anxiety (opens in new tab).