How Late-Night Meals Impact Sleep
For many people, the temptation of late-night eating is too tempting to resist. When a craving hits, it’s easy to give in and take comfort in a sweet or salty treat . The next time you’re about to reach for that bedtime snack, consider the potential consequences. Research indicates that eating too late in the evening disrupts sleep.
How Does Eating at Night Affect Sleep?
Going to sleep hungry can be detrimental to sleep, but overeating too late is worse. Your body and mind have an internal clock that signals when to sleep and wake. When you eat at night, the food acts like a signal that it’s daytime, confusing your internal clock. Your digestion kicks in, and your body starts working on processing the food.
Studies confirm that late-night eating will negatively impact your sleep. In a study of nighttime eating, researchers took several measurements of participants’ sleep: sleep efficiency, time to fall asleep, frequency of waking, and time spent in the different stages of sleep.
By comparing these measurements with what and when people in the study ate, researchers uncovered some interesting facts:
- Nighttime eating disrupted sleep patterns in all participants, but more so in women.
- Men who ate more fat at night had more disrupted sleep.
- Women who ate at night had disruptions to all measurements of sleep quality.
What you eat can also impact how you sleep. Research indicates that you can expect better sleep if you eat more vegetables and fish, follow a Mediterranean-style diet, and avoid too much sugar and caffeine. Specific foods that improve sleep include kiwi, almonds, and tart cherry juice.
Eat Right to Improve Your Sleep
How, when, and what you eat can all impact sleep quality. Plan your meals and snacks ahead of time for better sleep. Combine your sleep-friendly diet with other sleep tips, such as exercising, sticking with a routine for bedtime, and using meditations before bed.
When it comes to food, follow these general guidelines for overall health and better sleep throughout the night:
- Stop eating about 3 hours before bed. If you get hungry, stick with light snacks and avoid heavy meals or foods with a lot of fat or sugar. A kiwi or a handful of almonds can keep hunger pangs at bay without disrupting sleep.
- Avoid caffeine after midday. Any afternoon or evening caffeine can significantly disrupt your sleep, making it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Don’t use alcohol to fall asleep. It’s tempting to reach for a glass of wine to relax and get sleepy before bed, but it’s a false sleep aid. Alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, but it will wake you up more often and generally lower your sleep quality.
- Limit beverages before bed. Warm milk or a hot cup of herbal tea can be great for inducing sleepiness before bed. However, this can backfire, if you consume too much. You’ll wake up more frequently to use the bathroom. Stick with 1 cup of your favorite relaxing drink an hour or so before bedtime.
A nighttime snack is not necessarily a bad thing. Some people prefer to have a little something in their stomachs to fall asleep. Just be mindful to avoid heavy foods and stick with light snacks if you do eat before bed. By training yourself to eat dinner earlier, you should see improvements in all aspects of sleep.
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