How bad is it to eat right before you go to sleep? Is it that bad? Is it actually good? Is it not even worth worrying about? Common wisdom has often been that you shouldn’t eat anything after 7pm. It’s unclear where exactly this statement came from but logically speaking it makes very little sense when observed on an individual basis since not everyone goes to bed at the same time.
Why would people end up eating later in the day?
There are a multitude of reasons to eat food close to your normal bed time. These can range from work schedules, family time, travel, unforeseen delays like traffic, etc. There are also purposeful reasons to eat much later in the day.One of the common health and fitness related reasons would be if you practice intermittent fasting. The abridged definition of IF is to have certain windows of time where you eat and others where you fast. Obviously, some people might have eating windows that are close in proximity to their bedtime. The second possibility would be for intentional weight gain. Athletes might choose to eat an extra snack or meal later in the day to avoid digestive discomfort or simply out of convenience.
So is it bad to eat before bed?
According to some studies: no, not really.
Recent research shows that eating close to bedtime doesn’t have much of an effect on digestion. The real concern is the type and quality of food you’re eating around that time. If you are making healthy choices in moderate portion sizes and living an active lifestyle then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
So why do we think that eating before bed is bad? Prior research focused on examining people with what could be defined as irregular sleep habits; those people we talked about earlier working nights and doubles. What we can gather from those earlier studies is that a weird sleep schedule paired with large meals before bed can contribute to weight gain.
On the flip side, eating before bed can sometimes be a good thing if you exercise regularly. Eating or drinking something with some protein in it can aid in muscle protein synthesis, fullness, and metabolism. However, this doesn’t mean you need to sprint full speed into a lifestyle of nightly Greek yogurt and protein shakes. There are some questions as to whether or not these came down more to the timing of the protein or the fact that participants were eating an extra low calorie, high protein snack.
So what does this mean for us?
For starters, if you get off work late at night you don’t have to worry about magically gaining weight as long as the dinner you have when you get home is a healthy and balanced meal. Although these studies may be directly observing eating before bed, they indirectly (although sometimes directly) advocate for having a consistent routine that allows you to get enough sleep every day. Realistically, the most important thing you can try and do with the timing of your meals is to stay consistent.
Kerksick, C. M., Arent, S., Schoenfeld, B. J., Stout, J. R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C. D., Taylor, L., Kalman, D., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Kreider, R. B., Willoughby, D., Arciero, P. J., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Ormsbee, M. J., Wildman, R., Greenwood, M., Ziegenfuss, T. N., Aragon, A. A., & Antonio, J. (2017, August 29). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5596471/
Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648–2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7042648
Maw SS, Haga C (2019). Effect of a 2-hour interval between dinner and bedtime on glycated haemoglobin levels in middle-aged and elderly Japanese people: a longitudinal analysis of 3-year health check-up data BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2019;2:doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2018-000011
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Author Travis Robe is a Personal Trainer at Hyatt Training with a CSCS and BA in Kinesiology. In addition to his experience with strength training, he is also a lifelong martial artist. He believes in using fitness as a way to build discipline and confidence to overcome any challenge life may present you. Learn more about Travis, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.
Hyatt Training is a team of certified, enthusiastic and innovative personal trainers in Portland, Oregon. To read more fitness related posts like this one, follow this link.