Myth Busted? Should You Not Eat Before Bed?

I'd eat Ryan Sheckler before bed. Or in bed, for that matter.

You’ve probably heard that eating before bed is bad – that the food sits in your stomach and turns to fat. But is it true – or can we put this old adage to bed (pun intended)?

There has been a lot of research on the subject. For the most part, studies have concluded that meal frequency or timing doesn’t really matter. If you get a good and balanced diet, it doesn’t matter if you eat five times a day or three times a day, and it doesn’t matter if that last meal is at 5PM or 10PM.

In 1997, researchers sought to compile the findings of numerous studies regarding meal timing. The conclusion was that obesity rates are not connected to the times of day at which people eat. Instead, obesity rates are connected to the types of foods (and quantities thereof) that people are consuming. If you eat 2,000 calories in a day and burn 2,000 calories, you’ll maintain your weight. It doesn’t really matter when you get those calories – and so the old saying of “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper” can finally be put to rest.

But a word of caution: The findings of these studies don’t serve as a green light to eat whatever we want late at night. It doesn’t mean that the bag of Oreo cookies becomes a good late-night option. When eating late at night, there is a tendency to snack mindlessly on unhealthy foods while watching TV – that’s not what these studies support. But eating your healthy and balanced dinner a bit later is perfectly fine.

The bottom line: Focus your efforts on the quality and quantity of what you eat more then when you eat it.

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Comments

  1. That’s where the misconception comes from. Most people eat unhealthy snacks before bed, not something nutritious. It’s not about that you eat, but what you eat.

    • That reminds me of a joke I heard: “A 40 year old man in peak physical condition made the claim that he could withstand the winds from a hurricane. So he planned to tie himself to a tree in Florida during a hurricane. And personally I think he’s an idiot because it’s not ‘that’ the wind is blowing, it’s ‘what’ the wind is blowing. If you have a yield sign in your spleen, it doesn’t matter how many sit-ups you did that morning.”

  2. Anatomicsd says:

    As a physician I agree with the above with one caveat. Eating a large/moderate amount of any food shortly before bed-time increases the risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

    • christopher says:

      in the past-few yrs ago-i had this reflux-you shall know it in the middle of the night.late night food-no no no.just dont do it.

  3. Charley says:

    There are good reasons not to eat a lot just before bedtime. Food doesn’t digest well during sleep, for one. But no, it doesn’t make you any fatter than eating any other time. Calories in/calories out. Simple as that.

  4. glycemic control, i.e. blood sugar levels, is the key element it weight management. a high-carbohydrate meal will lead to elevated blood-sugar and subsequent release of insulin, which is highly lipogenic (i.e. turns sugars into fats). Similarly, eating before sleep, when the body does most of its synthesis (anabolic), was thought to be lipogenic.

    These concept was the driving force behind the frequent snacks vs. large meals concept. however, that concept may fail to take into account metabolic rates, which vary both with age and from person to person.

    However I think the idea that you shouldn’t go for too long without eating is sound. Sooner or later your body will read lack of food for starvation, lower metabolic rate, and turn every food ingested into fat: our genes are still stuck in the stone ages and are programed for ‘feast or famine’.

  5. dangoat says:

    While for weight loss/gain the time of day to eat is not important. The body’s endocrine system is used during sleep and releases a flood of hormones that promote tissue growth and healing, repair and other wonderful ‘shoemaker and the elves’ scenarios. But, the body is not stupid and like the real world must work to a budget. If the body must spend it’s night expenditure of energy in digestion it must do that instead. Healing works best in quiet, protracted long rest periods such as sleep. That’s why if you go to bed not having had eaten since say 5pm when that is not your habit, you will often awake with a headache at the back of the head; evidence of excess water usage and rectification activity by the body during the night. Muscle mass rebuilding also takes place at night on an empty stomach, over the long term muscular repair and augmentation is better served by light eating.

  6. I agree that I don’t think it matters for weight control when you eat during the course of your day. But personally I would not eat too close to when I’m about to go to sleep, but if I’m not going to sleep until 4:00am I’ll eat at 2:00am without hesitation. (I cannot remember the last time I was up until 4:00am BTW)

    I think eating too close to when you are going to sleep is asking too much of your system. Your body/mind uses the sleep time to restore itself and to ask it to digest while doing that could cause some unwanted side effects.

    A 2005 survey carried out by the British Cheese Board reported that Stilton cheese seemed to cause unusual dreams when eaten before sleep, with 75% of men and 85% of women experiencing “odd and vivid” dreams after eating a 20-gram serving of the cheese half an hour prior to sleeping.[

  7. I am glad to hear this as I am much more of a night owl. I often go to bed about 2 or 3am so I often eat at about 1am at the latest.

    I personally always thought it shouldnt matter when you eat as long as your overall calorie intake for the day is balanced, althought in a counter my own thoughts I used to say that calories consumed earlier in the day are consumed while eating then going straight to sleep may lead to some fat gain.

    PS don’t worry I always get 7-8 hours sleep whatever time I go to bed.

  8. The information here is very false. Your body is not some kind of storage tank where it’s calories in..calories out. You can not eat much during the day but if you drink a tall glass of juice…with enough sugar your insulin will trigger and it will go straight to fat

    If it was this simple, everyone would be fit

    • Thank you Chris. Finally someone with a correct intelligent reply. It’s not calories in calories out, as you said. It’s types of calories as well. If so I could eat four donuts a day, assuming each donut was 500 calories, and not need anything else. Really? What if I fasted all day and binged on those donuts right before bedtime? You think I’ll be very healthy then?

      There is so much more to nutrition than what modern common sense conveys. Did you notice this article quotes from a study done back in 1997? Do you think it’s possible the human race might have learned anything about health and nutrition in the past 15 years?

  9. IAN PAYNE says:

    I get terrible painful wind in my chest and back if I eat too late before bed. If I take Metformin late with or after food late [I am Type II diabetic] then the wind is even worse while I sleep. Same if I take a Statin after I have eaten late.

  10. I tend to eat breadfast early morning and then go back to sleep for a couple of hours do you think that will lead to weight gain?

  11. This is a crock. Yes if you burn 2000 calories a day and eat 2000 a day you will maintain. But if your trying to maintain a body keeping muscle with minimum fat timing your meals is crucial. Skipping breakfast and eating a lot right before bed will get you nowhere. Skipping breakfast slows your metabolism and even causes your body to burn some muscle as fuel. Your body then tries to store food you eat later as fat. This is part of your bodies survival mechanism. Once you go all night and then through the morning with no food your metabolism slows and tries to store fat as future fuel. Eating several small meals keeps your blood sugar regulated allowing you to keep muscle and not store as much fat. Breakfast is by far the most important meal. Eating a good breakfast gives you energy for the day and increases your metabolism.

  12. Don’t get me wrong I eat before bed every night. Mostly protein though. Maybe even a little fat but low carbs and never sugar. Usually fish or chicken. I’m 38 weigh 225 at 5’9 with 8 percent body fat. I’ve been working out since I was 14 and have known several bodybuilders over the years. Mainly people I’ve met in the gym and workout partners I’ve had over the years. They will all tell you if you want to maintain a physique it is 90% diet and 10% workout. Eating the right kind of calories and eating them at the right time is crucial.

  13. futher comments says:

    It all depends also on how fast your body can digest foods. Most people it is two hours plus extra depending on bad saturates (saturated fats). Eating before you need to wait until after your body cools which is normally after (15mins-1hour) after you start yawning which we all do after food digestion (yawning for15 mins then no more). More after 15 mins if your really tired.

    Before bed eat little but enough vegetable greens are fine since digest quickly as and still two hours. But digestion heat will wear of quicker and still be able to sleep comfortable while digesting.

    All other foods should be taken with care inc meats. It is the sugar and the fats that will be the problem then waiting for those to digest.

    If don’t wait the sugar will be stored as fat.

    Same goes for if have a meal and then have something else a while later before the meal has digested. Then what happens the sugars are turned to fat and put on hold until other food has digested. Last to always digest is fats. Which is the reason care must be taken with fats more so polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Always avoid trans fats at all costs it is a bad fat also once consumed always stays in the body.

    Read further about cholesterol, carbohydrates and fats to understand further. Though this is changing day by day year by year. Like most things what they say now is good or bad may not be in the future, salt as an example.

    Know also some peoples metabolism they will always be thin. Some for many decades then change etc etc. The world has a problem with overweight many believe it is not enough exercise though that now proven unfounded. Likely more something many food manufactures or produces use to treat or mix in foods. This though may never be known in our lifetimes since dna in the 50’s understanding medically is still in it’s infancy some 70 years later. Remember the science programmes on tv when you were younger telling us within a few years cancer and all else could easily be found and have cures for. Medical is still in its infancy, it is technology that is making more progress than dna or other advances.

    Bed at twelve finish eating by 7 gives you two to three hours to fully digest to get rid of the sugars and fats. And have a nice cool nights sleep well cooler than you would be if was to be still digesting food when go to bed. Never sleep on anything foam it heats you up and also foam sinks the more you heat which may lead to an uncomfortable night. Talay Latex is not foam and is one of the best to sleep on (no brand no advert). That is you are not allergic to it, visit a bed shop to know lie on for a while go away wait and see. Latex bed products are globally expensive rip off, buy cheap or find shop sales at holidays.

Trackbacks

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