Health & Fitness

How Late-Night Snacking Can Affect Your Sleep

October 21, 2022   By Clarisa Mcdonald

For most of us, dinner is the last meal before bed. Maybe some dessert if you’ve got a sweet tooth or some junk food to satisfy cravings. Then you’re off to bed, looking forward to breakfast the next day. 

But some people get the munchies late at night. And in some cases, it’s hard not to give in. After all, some chips or chocolate “won’t hurt,” or at least that’s how they convince themselves to give in.

Late-night eating is caused by different factors, with studies citing irregular eating habits, boredom, or stress, which also robs us of a good night’s sleep. Whatever it is, it’s not always the best for the body.

While some people might see late-night snacking as harmless, bedtime snacks can impact your health in many ways, even your sleep quality. In some instances, it can even lead to sleep disorders. 

If you’re one of those who think a bite or two after the clock strikes 12 is okay, here are some facts that might change your mind.

Late-Night Snacks Disrupt Your Sleep Patterns

Aside from watching your weight, you should also monitor your calorie intake, especially when you’re about to sleep. This is especially true if your midnight snack of choice includes sugary food like ice cream or chocolates.

A little sugar won’t hurt, right?

We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it does. Sugar can mess with your body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm.

You see, sugar and calorie-rich foods increase your blood sugar levels and ups your energy, keeping your body awake when you should be winding down. The later you eat, the later you’ll fall asleep. There’s a reason why intermittent fasting is popular for weight loss.

The body doesn’t have a time limit for digesting food and burning amino acids to turn into fuel. That means any food you eat close to bedtime becomes energy you don’t need when all you’re doing is lying down.

Maintaining a regular sleep cycle is crucial for overall sleep quality. Therefore, you should do what it takes to keep to your nighttime schedule. One way of doing it is to refrain from late-night snacking.

Avoid Sugary Treats Before Sleeping

Most people know that eating sugary before bed is not the best idea. After all, sugar can lead to a spike in energy levels, making it difficult to fall asleep. However, many people may not realize how bad eating sugar before bed can be. Not only can it lead to a lack of sleep, but it can also contribute to weight gain and other health problems.

When you eat sugary foods, your body breaks down the sugars into glucose and fructose. Glucose is used for energy, while the liver metabolizes fructose. Overeating sugar can cause your liver to become overloaded, leading to health problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. Additionally, eating sugar or carbs before bed can cause blood sugar levels to drop during the night, leading to wakefulness and cravings for more sugary foods.

So, what should you eat before bed instead of sugary foods? Whole grains are a great option because they are slowly digested and provide lasting energy. You can also try eating some protein or healthy fats to help you feel full for longer and prevent sugar cravings. Of course, you don’t have to eliminate all sugary foods from your diet. Be sure to consume them in moderation and avoid eating them before bedtime.

Late-Night Snacks and REM Sleep

Rapid eye movement, or REM, is a sleep stage characterized by dreams and quick eye movements. REM sleep is an integral part of the sleep cycle and plays a role in memory and learning.

However, late-night snacking can interfere with REM sleep. Eating before bed can cause indigestion, make it difficult to fall asleep, and disrupt the regular sleep cycle.

In addition, late-night snacks can lead to weight gain and obesity. For these reasons, it’s best to avoid snacking before bedtime to get a good night’s sleep.

Midnight Snacks Result in Extra Calories

As mentioned, our bodies continue to function even after we sleep. That includes the digestion of food we eat, regardless of the time. Where do all the nutrients, glucose, and carbohydrates go? We have a gut feeling that you know.

Aside from the sugar rush that complicates our sleep schedule, late-night eating also leads to unintended weight gain. 

Some extra snacks here or there aren’t too bad. The real problem with weight gain from excessive midnight snacking is that it aggravates or complicates sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing is occasionally disrupted, particularly in the neck and chest area. Sleep apnea symptoms can include heavy snoring and fatigue, and while it affects people of all shapes and sizes, it can be brought on by added weight gain.

Excess weight from late-night snacking also results in higher blood pressure, which affects the cardiac system and how we sleep. Higher blood pressure often leads to pain in the nape area which can cause discomfort and signal severe complications like a heart attack.

Say no to after-dinner snacks to prevent sleep apnea and other problems from plaguing your bedtime. 

Give Your Stomach Time to Digest

There’s a reason our parents didn’t want us to eat large meals before bedtime.

Nighttime eating is known to cause poor sleep, as it deprives our stomachs of adequate time to digest all the food we eat. Indigestion is an irritant as it can lead to other complications like acid reflux.

Healthcare professionals regularly advise not sleeping on a full stomach, and that’s a good reason. Leave 3 hours for your tummy to do its magic before sleeping. Otherwise, you’re opening yourself to an upset stomach and even heartburn. 

Be thankful if you haven’t struggled with an upset stomach, indigestion or acid reflux. These issues can be further aggravated by sleeping, as lying down can bring that acid back up. To avoid sleep deprivation and stomach issues, follow that 3-hour rule.

What Snacks Can You Eat Before Bed

Regarding eating before bed, there are a few things to remember. First, sugar intake can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels. Consuming high amounts of sugary treats can cause blood sugar spikes, disrupting sleep.

Additionally, sugar consumption can promote the release of insulin, which can lead to low blood sugar during the night—for these reasons, avoiding sugary snacks or sweet treats before bed is best.

Instead, opt for high-fibre and protein-rich food, which will help to keep blood sugar levels stable. Additionally, dark chocolate is a good alternative before bed as it contains magnesium and has no added sugars; it has also been shown to promote sleep.

Finally, supplements such as magnesium or zinc can also help promote sleep. So if you’re looking for the best foods to eat before bed, aim for those high in fibre or protein and consider dark chocolate or supplements.

Healthy Snackers are Healthy Sleepers

It’s common knowledge that eating healthy is good for your overall health. Healthy eaters are more likely to enjoy deep, restful sleep than those who consume a lot of unhealthy snacks.

So, if you want a better night’s sleep, focus on consuming more healthy snacks throughout the day. Not only will you feel more rested, but you’ll also enjoy all the other health benefits of eating nutritious foods.

Doing so will help you sleep better and wake up refreshed and ready to start your day.

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