For most of us, the last meal we’ll have before bed is dinner. Maybe some dessert if you’ve got a sweet tooth. Then it’s off to bed, looking forward to breakfast and the next day.
Some people get the munchies late at night though and in some cases, it’s hard not to give in. After all, some chips or chocolate won’t hurt, right?
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 thing 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 disrupts 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 yes, 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.
The body doesn’t have a time limit when it comes to digesting food and burning amino acids to turn into fuel. That means any food you eat close to bedtime becomes energy that you don’t really need when all you’re doing is lying down.
Maintaining a regular sleep cycle is crucial for overall sleep quality. Therefore, it’s best that you do what it takes to keep to your nighttime schedule. One way of doing it is to refrain from late night snacking.
Late-night snacks and REM Sleep
Since we covered the effects of midnight snacking on sleep patterns, it’s necessary to also talk about the stages of sleep and how it’s also affected by snacking.
There are two common stages of sleep, which are deep sleep and REM or rapid-eye movement sleep.
Deep sleep is the early stage of bedtime where the body starts to power down and prepares for snoozing. In this stage, bodily functions typically slow down and movements become few and far between.
REM sleep follows deep sleep and is commonly associated with dreaming. Here the brain processes information gathered throughout the day and this leads to higher instances of dreaming than in the other stages.
So how do sleep stages and midnight snacking relate?
For one, the later you go to sleep, the harder it is to achieve deep and REM sleep. This means that your body is unable to rest properly. Since you failed to reach adequate hours of sleep, you wake up feeling exhausted when you should feel refreshed.
Consistently not getting enough deep and REM sleep can lead to fatigue, sleepiness during the day, and decreased mental reaction time.
To avoid those drawbacks, it’s advisable to stick to a regular sleep time to familiarise your body and facilitate deep sleep easier. It’s also advisable to avoid snacking at nighttime so you’d have more time sleeping.
Midnight snacks result in extra calories
As mentioned, our bodies continue to function even after we sleep. That includes digestion of food we eat, regardless of the time. Where do all the nutrients, glucose, and carbohydrates go? We have a gut feel 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 isn’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. Symptoms of sleep apnea 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 signals serious complications like a heart attack.
To prevent sleep apnea and other problems from plaguing your bedtime, say no to after dinner snacks.
Give your stomach time to digest
There’s a reason our parents didn’t want us eating large meals before bedtime.
Nighttime eating is known to cause poor sleep, as it deprives our stomachs adequate time to digest all the food we ate. 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 with good reason. Leave 3 hours for your tummy to do it’s magic before sleeping. Otherwise you’re opening yourself to an upset stomach and even heartburn.
If you haven’t struggled with an upset stomach, indigestion or acid reflux, be thankful. 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.
Are late-night snacks all bad?
Midnight snacks aren’t created equal. In fact there are some food and drinks that are perfect for nighttime consumption.
Kiwi fruit is rich in antioxidants which improves bowel movement and digestion. Chamomile tea is known for its relaxing effect, and a glass of milk remains the champion of bedtime drinks.
The key here is understanding what your body needs at a given time of day. Moderation and discipline is also necessary to keep you from overindulging when you should be sleeping.