If you’re a night owl, you’re probably familiar with the struggle of having the late-night munchies. So the question is, is snacking before bed really that bad for you? Let’s start with this: if you’re hungry, you should eat. There are, however, certain foods that are better to eat as a late-night snack and there are some that should be avoided altogether. So the main question isn’t whether you should eat before bed, it’s what you’re eating when doing so.
Midnight Cravings are a Matter of Science
A 2013 study found that people were hungriest at night, no matter what time they woke up, how much they ate during the day, and when they ate their last meal. The cravings were also, on average, for fatty, sugary and starchy junk food rather than fruits, veggies and whole grains.
There are loads of reasons why people snack late at night. Sometimes it’s because of sheer boredom, or your body could not be getting enough nutrition. If you eat too much sugar and carbohydrates throughout the day, and not enough healthy fats and protein, you can set yourself up for an insulin crash later that can lead to cravings.
So, is Eating Before Bed Bad?
In short: it can be. Look, if you’re hungry at night, you should eat. While there’s no hard and fast rule that says you can’t snack before bed, there’s also proof that eating right before bed can be bad for you if done regularly.
Researchers found that snacking right before bed is a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and obesity. Calories consumed late at night are more likely to be stored as fat – this helped our ancestors to survive periods of starvation. We crave fatty, carb-heavy things at night because our bodies want to hold onto those calories.
In addition to weight gain, eating right before bed can also cause acid reflux and indigestion. It’s recommended to eat your last meal between three to five hours before bed to avoid this.
How to Combat Late Night Munchies
So how do you stop yourself from making your way down to the kitchen when you should be fast asleep? The best fix is to change your eating habits according to your lifestyle.
We often think we shouldn’t eat after 6 or 7pm, but this standard dinnertime doesn’t take different lifestyles into account. A 6pm dinner makes sense for those who are in bed and asleep by 10pm, but if you’re usually up until 1am then dinner at 6pm doesn’t make much sense. By midnight, you’ll be so hungry that you’ll raid your pantry to make up for the calorie deficit that you’ve created for yourself. Instead of eating dinner six or seven hours before going to bed, professionals suggest moving it back a few hours. Just be sure to finish your dinner at least 3 hours before bed to allow for proper digestion.
The Best Foods for When You’re Hungry at Night
If you simply can’t go to bed without having a quick snack first, dieticians recommend eating something between 150-200 calories (around 600-800kJ) that’s high in protein, then finding ways to cut out those calories throughout the day. The main rule of thumb is to avoid anything overly fatty, spicy, sugary or acidic. Anything caffeinated or with alcohol can also cause indigestion or delay sleep. Bananas and almonds are both rich in magnesium that promotes sleep, and anything that contains melatonin is great for a pre-bedtime snack.
5 Healthy Midnight Snacks
- Whole grain toast and nut butter
This is an oldie but a goodie. Slather your favourite nut butter onto one or two slices of whole grain toast for the perfect carb-to-fats ratio. A filling and nutritious late night snack – we love to see it!
- Strawberries and dark chocolate
This snack is perfect when you’re craving something sweet but don’t want to splurge on junk food. Melt some dark chocolate (which is high in antioxidants) and dip some sweet strawberries for a healthy dessert-snack.
Recommended serving: 2-3 cups. Swap out your favourite chips for its healthier cousin, popcorn. Popcorn is naturally low in calories – a three-cup serving adds up to roughly 100 calories – so you can snack without feeling too guilty.
- Banana with peanut butter
Recommended serving: 1 medium banana, 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter. This snack can help increase your body’s melatonin levels to support a good night’s sleep, for only about 180 calories.
- Fruit and nut mix
Recommended serving: a handful of nuts, palm full of fruit. This is a great snack when you’re feeling lazy and don’t want any food prep. A small handful of nuts and fresh fruit is perfect thanks to its high protein and healthy fat content.
Here are some more lazy girl recipes for when you’ve for the munchies!
The Final Takeaway
To sum it all up: it’s hard to sleep when you’re hungry, so eat if you must, just eat smart.