While working late at night or binge-watching your favorite shows, you may end up eating a heavy meal or dessert at midnight. However, does the food you consume, and the timings of your food intake disrupt sleep patterns?
How does eating at midnight affect your sleep?
A study published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine analyzed the relationship between food intake and sleep patterns in healthy individuals. It revealed that food intake during the sleeping period (late night or midnight) affected sleep quality variables such as its duration and efficiency.
“If eating late at night is a regular habit, it can lead to insulin resistance and even contribute to cardiovascular issues. Delaying food consumption or eating even one hour before your bedtime can result in changes in your insulin levels,” says, Vani Krishna, chief nutritionist, Manipal Hospitals, Bengaluru.
Apart from obesity, such individuals will also have variations in their blood sugar levels. Late-night eating can lead to poor glycemic control (optimal serum glucose concentration in diabetic patients), Krishna added.
“Here, the concern is not just the duration of sleep but also the time when they sleep. The spectrum of the sleep-wake cycle ranges from being morning larks to night owls. While the latter are individuals who usually tend to stay up late at night or early morning hours, morning larks are those who rise early, sometimes even before the break of dawn, and sleep by 9pm,” shares Dr Nileena NKM, consultant sleep medicine specialist and psychiatrist, Nithra Institute of Sleep Sciences, Chennai.
She continues, “Sleeping early or late at night is not a matter of concern. However, food — especially heavy food — when eaten too close to your bedtime, can trigger acidity, which may disrupt sleep. Also, when you eat just before sleeping, your body does not have enough time to burn it down, thus leading to problems such as weight gain.”
Eating at night leads to surplus calories
The calories that you gain from food remain the same regardless of when it is eaten. Rajiv Ambat, a Kerala-based nutritionist and founder of NuvoVivo, Kochi, Kerala, shares that the issue with late-night eating is that an individual would have already consumed enough calories during the daytime. Hence, while eating late at night, they may end up eating surplus calories.
“The surplus calories lead to weight gain. Eating healthy is not just about the quality of food — the quantity matters, too. If someone is hungry late at night, they can always go for low-calorie food like fruits,” he added.
Staying awake at night affects metabolism
The research paper published in International Journal of Endocrinology explains how sleep is intricately connected to various hormonal and metabolic processes in the body.
“The metabolic rate is high across the day and plays an important role in digestion,” says Dr Neelamekam Thoppa Kapali, HOD, gastroenterology and liver transplant surgeon, Fortis Malar Hospital, Chennai. “However, at night, it slows down. That is when you need rest. If you are not sleeping for eight hours at night and consuming food when it’s too late, it can affect your health.”
Late-night eating and night-shift workers
Shift workers face a gradual disruption in their sleep patterns. Working late at night has an impact on eating habits and timings, which has an adverse impact on their health. However, there is a difference in the eating habits of permanent night-shift workers and others, who may have to do late-night shifts occasionally.
“Those who eat at night due to a permanent night-shift job may get used to the odd eating hours. However, over time, their health could deteriorate. Eventually, problems like weight gain, obesity and metabolic syndrome could show up in addition to affected sleep patterns. However, eating late at night once or twice due to night shifts does not have a drastic effect on an individual’s sleep pattern,” explains Dr Kapali, a gastroenterologist.
Eating junk food or drinking carbonated drinks can disturb your sleep. “If a person is working late at night and feels hungry, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese, unsalted nuts and seeds, non-flavored yogurts, green tea, and hibiscus tea are a few options,” advice Krishna, a nutritionist.
How to alter your late-night eating habits
- Maintain sleep hygiene: An individual should follow a sleep routine by sleeping and getting up at the same time every day.
- Focus on physical health: Regular exercise is crucial. So, even if the individual is eating at odd hours, the calories are burned down by working out at a gym.
- Watch your plate: Even if you are working late at night and feel hungry, choose your meals wisely. Cutting down on heavy food during breakfast, lunch and dinner will also help in avoiding the problem of excess calorie intake if eating during the wee hours is unavoidable.
- Avoid high-calorie food: Having a bigger snack late at night or during midnight causes surplus calorie intake besides raising your blood sugar levels and affecting your sleep.
- Cut down on caffeine and aerated drinks: Having caffeine or aerated drinks late at night or midnight hours may lead to acid reflux, contributing to poor sleep quality. Hence, it is better to cut down on such drinks and avoid their consumption later in the day.
- Eating late at night or midnight affects sleep quality.
- Sleep is associated with metabolic processes in the body. The metabolism of the body slows down at night. As a result, you need to rest.
- The habit of eating at night can be avoided by maintaining sleep hygiene and cutting down on caffeine in the wee hours.