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Should You Eat Before Bed?

Should You Eat Before Bed?

Medically reviewed by 
Brittany Ford, RHN

Brittany Ford, RHN

Brittany Ford is certified as a holistic nutritionist by the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN). She also hosts the Biohacking with Brittany podcast. In her practice, Brittany focuses on improving gut health and troubleshooting skin problems through diet.

Written By
Sleep Tips
Read Time: 7 minutes

Admit it; you’ve been guilty of sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night to get your favorite bedtime snack at least once. Although, if you’re here, it’s probably because you’ve been guilty of that multiple times, don’t worry, we’re not judging; we’ve done it too. The question is, should you eat before bed, or should you quit cold turkey? Mmm, turkey…

The truth is, there are good and bad results that come with eating right before bed, and it’s up to you to decide what works best for you. Lucky for you, we’ve put together a comprehensive list of everything that happens when you eat before bed to help you weigh your options. So look ahead to check out the good, the bad, and the truth about eating before bed. But know, nutritionists typically recommend you eat your last meal 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed.

Benefits of Eating Before Bed

Don’t let the threat of weight gain worry you; there are benefits of eating before bed, you just need to be conscious of what exactly you’re eating. As long as you’re choosing healthy options, most people can reap the benefits of late-night snacking.

Fall Asleep Faster and Stay Asleep Longer

Have you ever tried to fall asleep with a hungry stomach? If the growling noises don’t keep you up, the dissatisfied, empty feeling will. But, when done right, eating before going to bed helps keep you full, happy and satisfied, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. Some experts say eating before bed enables you to stay asleep longer because you’re less likely to wake up due to hunger.

Fall Asleep Faster

Have you ever snuggled up on the couch after a long meal and struggled to keep your eyes open? It’s pretty easy to fall asleep when your stomach is full (of the right foods for sleep). Think back to those meals you felt extra-satisfied after—what foods had you eaten? Certain filling foods help you feel more tired than others, turkey being one of them, which is why many people associate turkey dinners with post-dinner naps.

Refreshing Mornings

The more deep sleep you get throughout the night, the better you’ll feel in the morning. Eating before bed can help ensure you’ll wake up feeling well-rested because certain foods have a more significant effect on serotonin and melatonin, which helps your body feel happy and relaxed, making it easier to fall asleep and thus enables you to feel better in the morning. For example, nuts (like almonds and walnuts) contain melatonin and have been shown to help ease insomnia.

Fatty fish have lots of Vitamin D and Omega 3s, which increase serotonin and have been proven to provide better sleep quality and improved functioning the following day. However, foods high in sugar (like soda) have been linked to worse sleep, so it highly depends on what you eat before bed.

Weight Loss

Eating before bed can help you lose weight because it will curb your cravings and help you feel less hungry in the morning. This is because your body uses sleep as a chance to recharge, which means it’s still working even as you sleep, and thus still burning calories. However, the food you eat before bed should be healthy, like peanut butter and apples.

Potential Downfalls of a Bedtime Snack

There are a few downsides to consider, such as poor sleep quality, overeating, and physical pain. However, this depends on exactly the kinds and quantity of food you’re eating.

Poor Sleep

Eating before bed can make you lose sleep, but only if you aren’t eating the right foods. Certain foods and amounts can disrupt your sleeping patterns, causing you to stay up later than your body is used to, or waking you up periodically throughout the night. For example, eating foods high in caffeine before bed can give you jolts of energy you’re not used to, making it harder for you to relax and fall asleep.

Drinking too much before bed can cause you to wake up throughout the night to go to the bathroom, once again disrupting your sleep. However, if you choose foods like chamomile tea, warm milk, nuts, and bananas in small to moderate amounts, you’ll sleep more pleasantly throughout the night.

Physical Discomfort and Loss of Sleep

Normally, lying horizontally causes little to no problems for most people. However, that changes once food and digestion are involved. Heartburn, acid reflux, trouble swallowing, an upset stomach, and nighttime asthma can all be triggered by eating a large meal and then lying down. These are examples of what can happen when your body doesn’t have time to properly digest food and all its nutrients.

Eating heavy meals before bed can cause these kinds of reactions, or make them worse for people who already experience these things naturally. This physical discomfort can cause you to wake up in pain, or make it nearly impossible for you to fall asleep in the first place.

How to Prevent Hunger and Curb Cravings Before Bed

If you’ve decided that avoiding a late-night snack altogether is the best decision for you and your body, we’ve got you covered with some helpful ways to get rid of cravings and feel fuller.

Try the HALT Method

MIT Medical created a clever acronym to help you figure out if you really need to head to the kitchen. When you feel like eating late at night, first ask yourself if you’re physically hungry, or if there is another reason you want to eat, such as eating being a Habit, or if you’re feeling Anxious, Lonely or Tired. These are common reasons people tend to turn toward food at night, and it’s not a good decision to eat if you’re not actually hungry. A good test to see if you’re really hungry is to think about eating an apple: if you want the apple, you might actually be physically hungry, but if you’re thinking you’d rather have a cookie, you probably aren’t hungry.

Choose Alternatives to Unhealthy Options

Cravings can be frustrating because you can’t stop thinking about them, but most cravings tend to go away in less than thirty minutes. Distractions can be helpful, but finding a healthier version of what you’re craving will work too. For example, if you want ice cream, try full-fat yogurt and low-glycemic fruit such as berries. If you want coffee, try herbal tea. Choosing alternatives will allow you to push through your cravings, and give your body what it needs to digest properly.

Add Protein and Fiber to Your Meals

Foods high in protein and fiber not only help you feel fuller longer, but are also easier for your body to digest, allowing you to sleep without feelings of hunger or indigestion. Some examples of foods high in protein and fiber are: rice, whole grain bread, fruit, peanut butter, yogurt, milk, and vegetables.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you go to bed hungry?

Going to bed hungry is OK, as long as you’ve had enough food and calories throughout the rest of the day. However, hunger can be uncomfortable and cause you to lose sleep. Eating a light, healthy snack before bed, such as raw honey and whole grain crackers, can help solve your hunger without causing unpleasant indigestion.

What is OK to eat before bed?

It is important that if you’re going to eat before bed, you choose foods that can easily be digested. Foods that contain melatonin are also a good option because melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Some examples of these types of foods include: bananas, honey, turkey, almonds, oats, blueberries, milk, lavender tea, and fatty fish like salmon. Avoid fatty, spicy or caffeinated foods and beverages.

Is drinking water before bed bad?

Drinking water has numerous benefits and it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day, however drinking too much water before bed can cause interruptions in your sleep cycle. Aside from waking up to go to the bathroom all throughout the night, there are no other consequences of drinking water before bed. Still, try to drink water continuously during the day to avoid excess water intake at night.

Can I lie down 30 minutes after eating?

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to wait about 3 hours after eating before you lie down. However, this applies to when you’re eating big meals. If you’re just eating a small snack, laying down 30 minutes later will not cause any issues. Some snacks to eat before bed are cashews, kidney beans, tuna, broccoli, and chickpeas.

Should I drink milk or water before bed?

While water clearly has fewer calories, drinking warm milk before sleep does come with several benefits. Milk is filled with protein, melatonin, and tryptophan—all of which help with falling asleep.

Tryptophan is best known for causing you to get sleepy after eating too much turkey. It produces serotonin and can help reduce stress, making it easier to fall asleep. Melatonin helps your body recognize it’s time for bed, and protein helps you feel full and satisfied.

While milk can be beneficial when trying to sleep, it also has its drawbacks. Milk contains lots of sugar and calories, and can be very problematic if you are lactose intolerant. Water is healthy for your skin, weight, and body, but does not promote falling asleep any quicker or sleeping better throughout the night. Milk is better to drink before bed if you can, but may not be best to drink every night.

Conclusion

We get it, you’ve heard a lot of inconsistent information about eating before bed, and it can be very confusing knowing what to do, whether you’re trying to lose weight, watching your health, or looking for a good night’s sleep. You may have even noticed some of the same reasons listed in both the pros and the cons sections and no, that’s not a mistake.

So here’s the bottom line: what you eat matters more than when you eat. Greasy, sugar-filled foods like potato chips and cookies aren’t healthy for your body, or for your sleep so try to avoid them at least three hours before bed. Stay away from greasy, sugary junk food and stick to foods that have nutritional value and are high in lean protein and easily digested, such as fish, chicken, cottage cheese, eggs, fresh fruits, and nuts. If you want to play it safe, eat at least 3 hours before you lay down.

Understand that you can eat small, healthy foods before you go to sleep, and focus on what you’re eating before bed if you’re having stomach trouble or finding it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you know you have a hard time staying out of the junk food cabinet when it gets later, make a plan to stop eating at a certain time.

You don’t have to stop late-night snacking completely, just change the way you do it and your body will thank you in the morning, fueled and ready for the day. There are benefits and consequences of eating right before bed, but they can easily be changed depending on how you deal with them. And while this advice may seem a little contradicting, the best thing to do is not to eat right before bed, but don’t go to bed hungry.

“Everyone is biologically unique, meaning some may do better with eating 30 minutes prior to bed, and others 3 hours. The best way to figure out what works best for you is to experiment,” notes Brittany Ford, RHN. “Notice if eating right before bed improves your sleep quality or makes you feel worse. Tuning into your body, and increasing your awareness on how your body and mind feels the next morning, will be your ultimate guide to deciding when you should stop eating. This may change with the seasons as well, since in the summer there is much more daylight, causing a lot of people to eat later at night than they would in the winter. It is natural and normal for your eating window to shift with the seasons.”

Christine Lapp is a full-time graduate student and part-time freelancer for Sleep Junkie. Since she was a little girl on the soccer field, Christine has had a love for sports, and she believes everybody should get up and get moving once a day. Now, she incorporates her love for exercise into her studies, pursuing a degree in exercise physiology. Christine understands that what you do during your waking hours has a direct impact on your night’s sleep. In our better sleep guides, she offers advice for developing healthy daytime habits to nurture a more peaceful slumber.