Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed? Pros and Cons + How To Do It Right

Is it bad to eat before bed? Not for everyone. Here's what you need to know about late-night snacking and your metabolic health.

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by
Caitlin Beale, MS, RDN
— Signos
Health & Nutrition Writer
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
April 23, 2024
January 29, 2023
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Eating before bed is a more contentious topic than you'd think. Some people believe eating before bed is a no-no, while others believe a midnight snack has its benefits.

Here's the truth: when it comes to food (or any habit or behavior related to eating) there's no such thing as "good" or "bad." Using these words only furthers the idea that food is moralistic and shames people for making decisions that may not fit into someone else's idea of "healthy." Whether you eat before bed doesn't make you a bad or good person, right?

Eating before bed does have some downsides, but if it feels good to your body or you simply don't have a choice because of your work schedule or other lifestyle factors, that's okay! There are ways to make it work for you, too. And the truth is that, like anything else with food and nutrition, how it affects your body depends on your personal physiology—you can find research pointing to benefits on both sides.

In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of eating before bed, plus tips to optimize pre-bedtime snacks so you can experiment and devise a plan that works best for you.

Cons to Eating Before Bed

Let's start with the arguments against late-night eating. Eating before bed can have several drawbacks that should be taken into consideration, including:

It Could Affect Metabolic Health

Eating too late could disrupt a good night's sleep by interfering with your natural circadian rhythms that control metabolism.¹ What does that mean exactly? Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that controls when you feel awake, alert, or sleepy. It also regulates hormones like insulin (which is at its lowest levels overnight), so you are more efficient at using and digesting nutrients earlier in the day.²

Eating before bed may increase weight gain and other markers of metabolic health like insulin, fasting glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides.³ Sleep is also a time of repair. During overnight fasting, your body can complete critical processes it can't do during the day, like cellular repair. Eating late at night could affect this by stimulating digestion and taking away energy that would otherwise be used for restorative processes. 

It Could Add Extra Calories You Don't Need

Ever have that feeling that you "need" something sweet after a meal even though you aren't hungry? Humans are creatures of habit, which means if you are used to having a bowl of cereal right before bed, you'll probably keep doing it even if you aren't hungry. It just becomes something you're used to doing. 

Eating popcorn as you watch a movie before bed every once in a while is no big thing. But if you suddenly find yourself reaching for the popcorn at 9:30 pm every night just because you may add extra calories to your day that you don't need (or even necessarily want). Your body won't utilize those extra nutrients like it would if you went for a walk or moved your body during the day.

It Can Trigger Acid Reflux

Lying down too soon after eating is a big trigger for people with acid reflux (aka heartburn).⁴ When you lie flat, stomach acid can creep up and worsen symptoms. Plus, digestion slows down while you sleep, and if you've had a large meal high in fat or spices (which can also trigger reflux symptoms), you may feel double the discomfort.

Some common symptoms of acid reflux include:⁵

  • Burning sensation in the chest
  • Gas pain and burping
  • Bloating
  • Coughing or needing to clear your throat constantly
  • Dental problems (from acid erosion)
  • Feeling like there's a lump in your throat or difficulty swallowing

Acid reflux needs to be addressed because it can cause changes in the esophagus cells, increasing the chance of cancer.5 Make sure you discuss it with your doctor or dietitian if you experience any of the above symptoms.

Potential Benefits of Eating Before Bed

The potential benefits of eating before bed may outweigh the risks for some people, including better sleep and improved blood sugar (in some instances). Let's look more closely at each.

Better Sleep 

Ever tried to fall asleep hungry? It's not easy. Hunger can interrupt sleep and make it difficult to relax enough to drift off. In other words—it's not that eating before bed always promotes better sleep, but going to bed hungry can be a problem.

Certain nutrients in foods may also promote better sleep. Tryptophan, an amino acid (also the reason people always attribute turkey to feeling sleepy), is linked to better sleep in older adults.⁶ Tart cherries and calcium-rich foods (like dairy and leafy greens) may also help with melatonin production.⁷ Melatonin is a hormone that makes you sleepy.

Stabilized Blood Sugar in the Morning 

Eating a bedtime snack is sometimes recommended for people with blood sugar dysregulation to help stabilize their blood sugar in the morning. Depending on your diet and what you're eating, nighttime eating could help balance out the lows in the morning and keep your energy level stable throughout the day. 

The type of food matters—high glycemic carbs can cause blood sugar to spike and crash. A combination of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats can help your body get the nutrients it needs without spiking blood sugar.

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How To Eat Before Bed The Right Way

Most health experts recommend at least two hours between your last meal and bedtime. This gives you a chance to digest and use the nutrients before heading to bed, so sleep can be a reparative fasting period for your body. 

If that doesn't work for you, then there are ways to make eating later work better for your body. Some people find that smaller meals or snacks before bed help them sleep better, and others may do well with a meal earlier in the evening—and both can be okay. That said, certain foods can benefit your sleep quality and blood sugar more than others.

Healthy Bedtime Snacks

  • Apples and peanut butter (or any nut butter)
  • Hummus and vegetables
  • Avocado toast
  • Greek yogurt with berries
  • Small smoothie with banana, almond milk, and nut butter

What Should You Avoid Eating Before Bed?

  • Sugary beverages, including sodas, juices, and energy drinks
  • Alcohol
  • High-glycemic carbs (like white bread, pasta, and pastries)
  • Spicy foods (if you experience heartburn)

Tips to Stop Eating Before Bed

If you've decided that eating before bed isn't helping you, or it's a habit you don't really need, here are some tricks to help you break it.

Person having lunch

Eat Enough During The Day

Skipping meals or not eating enough sets you up for hunger in the evening, making it harder to resist snacks. It's a vicious cycle where people tend to overeat late at night, wake up tired but not very hungry (still full from the night before), and start the process again.

Instead, try to divide your calories evenly throughout the day. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and snacks as needed) can help keep your energy stable, so you don't experience cravings late at night.

Reduce Stress

High stress can increase ghrelin, the hunger hormone, making it even harder to resist late-night snacks.⁸ Find ways to relax before bed (like yoga, reading a book, or taking a shower) can all help reduce stress and make it easier to pass up on snacks.

Keep Yourself Busy

You know that feeling when you find yourself staring into the fridge for the 20th time, not because you're hungry but because you're bored? Being bored or even lonely at night can be a big trigger for late-night eating. Find something to do! Take a walk, call a friend or listen to music to help keep your mind on something else. 

Learn More About Healthy Eating Habits with Signos' Expert Advice

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, whether eating before bed is beneficial depends on your diet and lifestyle. Getting to know what works for you can take time and experimentation, but a tool that can help you see precisely how your body responds to late-night eating is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). 

With a CGM, you can track your blood sugar levels in real time, so you'll know exactly how your body responds throughout the night and first thing in the morning. Notice your blood sugar spiking overnight or starting the day with higher glucose levels? It may be time to adjust your evening habits and find the ideal time of day to eat.

Signos takes the information from your CGM even further to help you make the best decisions for a healthier lifestyle. Based on the feedback from your CGM and Signos, you can make adjustments to your diet and health habits for better overall health. You can find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz

Interested in learning more? Read about all things metabolic health and nutrition on the Signos blog.

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References

1. Marcheva, B., Ramsey, K. M., Peek, C. B., Affinati, A., Maury, E., & Bass, J. (2013). Circadian clocks and metabolism. Handbook of experimental pharmacology, (217), 127–155. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-25950-0_6

2. Stenvers, D. J., Scheer, F. A. J. L., Schrauwen, P., la Fleur, S. E., & Kalsbeek, A. (2019). Circadian clocks and insulin resistance. Nature reviews. Endocrinology, 15(2), 75–89. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41574-018-0122-1

3. Lopez-Minguez, J., Gómez-Abellán, P., & Garaulet, M. (2019). Timing of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Effects on Obesity and Metabolic Risk. Nutrients, 11(11), 2624. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11112624

4. Fujiwara, Y., Machida, A., Watanabe, Y., Shiba, M., Tominaga, K., Watanabe, T., Oshitani, N., Higuchi, K., & Arakawa, T. (2005). Association between dinner-to-bed time and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. The American journal of gastroenterology, 100(12), 2633–2636. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1572-0241.2005.00354.x

5. Clarrett, D. M., & Hachem, C. (2018). Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Missouri medicine, 115(3), 214–218.

6. Sutanto, C. N., Loh, W. W., & Kim, J. E. (2022). The impact of tryptophan supplementation on sleep quality: a systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression. Nutrition reviews, 80(2), 306–316. https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuab027

7. Howatson, G., Bell, P. G., Tallent, J., Middleton, B., McHugh, M. P., & Ellis, J. (2012). Effect of tart cherry juice (Prunus cerasus) on melatonin levels and enhanced sleep quality. European journal of nutrition, 51(8), 909–916. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-011-0263-7

8. Chuang, J. C., & Zigman, J. M. (2010). Ghrelin's Roles in Stress, Mood, and Anxiety Regulation. International journal of peptides, 2010, 460549. https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/460549

About the author

Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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