Many people, owing to their hectic schedules, have dinner close to bedtime on a regular basis. Some even indulge in late night snacking to satiate their midnight cravings. Even though this habit may seem harmless, nutrition experts stress that eating just before bedtime is never advisable. But why? Find out more below.

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What happens when you eat close to your sleep time?

According to Dr Jinal Patel, dietitian, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai, doing so tends to “slow down the body’s metabolism”, and can lead to certain chronic diseases. “The body finds it difficult to digest carbohydrates if consumed right before sleeping; as a result, you may gain weight and also experience acidity problems. One may also have abdominal pain, discomfort, constant heartburn and acidity — ultimately leading to Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Additionally, those who eat late at night are prone to obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. Binge eating eating junk food, especially late at night, will further narrow down and clog arteries because of cholesterol and fatty deposits (called plaque),” explained Dr Patel.

A 2020 study published in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism also stated that all these factors can make one gain weight even while sleeping because as one’s metabolism slows, it boosts blood sugar and other chemicals that contribute to weight gain and also type 2 diabetes. “It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat that may be a factor in promoting conditions like obesity,” said study author Dr Jonathan Jun, associate professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “You might eat this same number of calories in that 24-hour period, but your body will handle those calories differently depending on what time you eat them.”

It is important to be mindful about what you eat before sleep (Photo: Pexels)

Does it also affect one’s energy levels?

Yes, and a bedtime meal can also hamper your sleep due to indigestion, said Dr Abhishek Subhash, consultant internal medicine, Bhatia Hospital Mumbai. Eating heavy meals just before sleeping can make you sluggish the next day. “You will feel inactive and tired,” added Dr Patel.

A 2013 study mentioned that eating within four hours of bedtime could result in eating more calories throughout the day.

What is the ideal gap?

Since the body’s metabolism is slow after sunset, it is best to avoid carbohydrates before sleeping as it can become difficult to digest, and lead to weight gain.

A one to two hours gap after dinner is always recommended between meals and sleep, said Dr Abhishek. “It also depends on the quality of food that you eat at night. If you consume processed and junk food rich in sugar and trans fat it will impact your digestion,” he said.

But what about people who cannot avoid meals close to bedtime?

If you have to eat just before bedtime, ensure to have a healthier and light meal. Most importantly, be aware and mindful of your calorie intake during the entire day so you can balance it accordingly at night. If you already have had enough calories, then it is fine to not have any at night, said Dr Abhishek.

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