What You Need To Know About Eating Late At Night – 6 Reasons You Need to Stop Nighttime Eating
6 Reasons You Need to Stop Eating Late at Night
Eating late at night eating has long been debated for its health impacts. Many health professionals in the past have suggested that eating close to bedtime may promote weight gain and lead to obesity. But why exactly this happens and how meal timing affects your health was poorly understood. A lack of research in this area has also led many scientists to dismiss the claim as a myth. They argued that weight gain or loss is entirely dependent on your total calorie surplus, and as long as you eat within your calorie budget, your meal timing should not matter.
Thanks to groundbreaking research over the past few years, we now understand that the timing of your meals may be just as important as the quality of foods going into your system.
Night eating and the body clock
Recent studies have revealed that there may be more to a midnight snack than just a few extra calories. When you consume large meals at night, you go against the natural body clock, known as the circadian rhythm. It is an internal clock inside living organisms that regulates all essential functions based on the sun and induces physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral changes accordingly. It also influences the best time to eat—which is during daylight hours for humans.
Eating late at night outside the active phase of this natural cycle can cause unfavorable changes because our digestion, thermic response to foods, fat metabolism, blood sugar regulation, nutrient absorption, and appetite levels are all optimized for the daytime. Eating late at night close to bedtime, when the body is preparing for rest and restoration, can throw off the natural balance. It can affect your food choices and has been linked to obesity, sleep disturbance, acid reflux, eating disorders, blood sugar disruption, and an increased risk of chronic diseases.
6 reasons why you should avoid late-night eating
1. Eating late at night may lead to weight gain
While weight loss has little to do with the timing of your meals and depends a lot more on the quality of foods and how much calorie deficit you are able to create, eating late at night may still frustrate your weight loss efforts.
In a recent study published in October 2022, researchers found that having your dinner four hours later in the night significantly alters your appetite level, energy expenditure, and how the body stores fat. In this randomized trial, overweight men and women were studied under two strictly controlled eating conditions: one with an early meal and the other with the same meal scheduled four hours later.
When participants ate later at night, they burned fewer calories and had lower levels of leptin for the next 24 hours. Leptin is a satiety-promoting hormone that controls emotional hunger and helps in the long-term management of body weight. Eating late at night was also found to alter adipose tissue gene expression in a way that promoted fat storage and decreased lipolysis (utilization of stored fat). Based on these results, researchers suggested that nighttime eating may promote weight gain and increase the risk of obesity in the long term.
2. Eating late at night can disrupt blood sugar control
Our response to foods, insulin secretion, insulin sensitivity, and blood glucose regulation are all hugely dependent on the natural body clock. Close to bedtime, the body produces high amounts of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, which suppresses both insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity. This means your glucose tolerance is naturally low at this time, and you are less equipped to deal with even the slightest blood sugar spikes.
Several studies have shown that consuming high-calorie meals during this inactive phase of the circadian period can disrupt blood sugar control and increase the risk of type-2 diabetes. In a 2020 study, having dinner 4 hours later at night (at 10.00 pm instead of 6.00 pm) increased blood sugar levels, induced glucose intolerance, and reduced fatty acid oxidation in healthy adults. On the other hand, eating an early dinner at 6.00 pm was found to improve blood sugar control and increase fat metabolism for the next 24 hours.
3. Eating late at night close to bedtime is bad for your heart
Experts suggest that making a habit of eating late at night may be detrimental to your heart health in the long run. Even if you are eating within your calorie budget, your body metabolizes fats, lipids, cholesterol, and glucose much slower at night. As a result, late-night meals have been linked with elevated levels of blood sugar and blood lipids.
Research has shown that consuming hearty meals within two hours of bedtime can reduce total body fat oxidation and increase the levels of LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides—a dangerous combination that may develop into heart disease over time.
In a large-scale study conducted on adults free of major chronic diseases, researchers found that habitual eating late at night promotes the progression of arterial stiffness—a condition that causes a buildup of plaque around arteries and restricts blood flow, which is a major risk factor for stroke.
4. Eating late at night may increase the risk of eating disorders
People who frequently munch before bedtime tend to overeat and prefer high-calorie, high-fat foods. Why this happens is not clearly understood but being tired could be a possible reason. When you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, your brain seeks carb-rich foods that can provide quick energy. Moreover, the same foods may feel less satiating and less rewarding than usual when you are eating for comfort and pleasure. To feel full and satisfied, you end up consuming more calories.
Stress, boredom, and sleeplessness are also known to trigger cravings for salty, sweet, energy-rich foods. Evidence suggests that mindlessly giving in to emotional hunger can make you lose control over what to eat and when to stop even during the daytime. Over time, it can disrupt normal eating patterns and increase the risk of binge eating, night eating syndrome, and other eating disorders.
5. Eating late at night can affect your sleep quality
Eating late at night can disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle, which favors sluggish digestion and slower metabolism at this time. When you are eating late at night close to bedtime, especially if you are overeating or consuming large portions, sugars, and carohydrates, your body can jumpstart the digestion process at a time when your intestinal muscles are preparing for rest. This can not only make it harder for the body to digest the food completely but also prolong the sleep onset time.
Clinical studies have shown that eating heavy meals within two-three hours of bedtime can prevent you from falling asleep, cause frequent awakenings, and delay the transition to a restorative stage of sleep, known as slow-wave sleep or deep sleep stage.
Moreover, it may increase stomach acidity and trigger uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, dyspepsia, and acid reflux—which can also interfere with sleep and recovery.
6. Dine early (and dine like a pauper) to live longer and healthier
Numerous studies have shown that people who eat late at night and consume a major portion of their daily calorie intake later in the evening are at an increased risk of cardiometabolic disorders—a cluster of interrelated conditions that occur together. It includes type-2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglyceride, fatty liver disease, and kidney disease. Cardiometabolic conditions are the largest cause of premature death worldwide and are known to increase the risk of cancer.
A 2018 study found that having an early dinner before 9.00 pm and keeping at least two hours gap between dinner and bedtime may lower your risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer by 20%.
In another 2021 study, late eaters were found to have higher BMI, higher triglyceride levels, and lower insulin sensitivity compared to early eaters. Eating late at night also led to reduced weight loss and increased abdominal fat. Researchers concluded that late dinner was associated with an increased risk of metabolic diseases.
If you frequently find yourself reaching out for food at midnight, it may also mean that your brain is trying to compensate for something it needs. It could be a sign that you are not sleeping enough or your diet lacks protein and fiber. Chronic stress and hormonal imbalances are also known to cause nighttime hunger. Establishing healthy habits like eating at regular intervals, having an early dinner full of protein and whole grains, avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and self-care measures to lower stress levels can go a long way in curbing late-night cravings and emotional hunger.
Also, it is important to remember that late-night snacking is not always a bad thing. As long as you keep a tab on portion size and do not make a habit out of it, it should not be harmful. In fact, consuming small amounts of nutrient-dense, low-energy foods (such as a handful of roasted nuts, berries, or dried fruits) can even improve muscle protein synthesis and has been shown to help people with sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss) or cancer cachexia.
Rememeber, “Do Something Everyday That Heal Your Body!”
To Your Health!