Weight control is all about calorie balance -- if you eat too much and move too little, you end up with a surplus of calories that leads to weight gain. When you eat those calories doesn't matter as much as their quality, their amount and your activity level all day long. Going to sleep right after eating doesn't mean you'll pile on pounds, unless it pushes you over your calorie needs for the day and you continue to eat this way over several weeks.
Weight Gain Explained
A pound is equal to about 3,500 calories -- so if you eat just 250 calories extra daily, you'll put on 1/2 pound per week. Whether you consume those excess calories at breakfast or right before bed, you'll still end up heavier. Your daily calorie needs depend on your age, gender, activity level and size. The average person requires between 1,600 and 3,000 calories per day to maintain weight -- with sedentary, older women needing fewer and active, younger men needing more. A dietitian or an online calculator can help you estimate your personal number.
You take in calories all day, not just before you sleep. Any meal during the day, whether eaten after you wake up or just before bed, can cause you to exceed your daily calorie goal. It's your total intake that counts, not just what you consume before sleep.
Correlations Between Sleep and Weight Gain
Your sleep habits may influence weight gain, however. Getting too little sleep -- under five hours per night -- or too much -- more than eight hours per night -- consistently correlated with weight gain in people younger than 40 over a five-year period, according to a 2010 study in the journal Sleep. If you're falling asleep right after eating because you're so very tired due to sleep deprivation, it may be your poor sleep habits leading to weight gain, rather than the pattern of eating and then sleeping.
Getting too little sleep may actually affect your hormones, particularly those that directly affect appetite. When you don't sleep enough, your body increases production of ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, and decreases output of leptin, which helps control feelings of fullness. If you're chronically tired, you may be eating more overall -- not just before you fall asleep.
Staying Up Late and Eating Late
Habitually staying up late, eating and then going to sleep until late in the morning can put you at greater risk of weight gain, a 2011 study from Northwestern University showed. It's not the pattern of eating and then sleeping that leads to weight gain, but the increased calories and food choices that individuals who maintain this pattern keep. On average, the participants who stayed up late and slept late consumed 248 more calories daily, twice as much fast food, more soda and fewer fruits and vegetables than people with earlier bed times.
These folks seem to be heavier because they're interrupting their natural circadian rhythms with eating while the body wants to sleep. It's also possible that the type of foods most readily available in the wee hours of the night are less healthy and contribute to weight gain.
Manage Your Weight
Eating before sleeping won't cause weight gain unless you couple it with poor eating habits. Having a salad before a nap will create a very different outcome than having a bag of chips and a pint of ice cream prior to bed. Don't stress if you work late, then eat a portion-controlled meal full of lean protein, vegetables and whole grains and fall into bed just a few minutes later. But, if working late causes you to stop at the local burger joint because you're too tired to cook, and then you fall asleep immediately, it could have weight repercussions.
Plan ahead if you don't have enough time to cook during the week. Grill several chicken breasts, cut up vegetables and boil a large pot of brown rice to partition out for meals during the week. This way, dinner is ready when you arrive home, and all you have to do is reheat it. Also, observe if you have a habit of snacking on processed foods such as sweets and chips while watching television just before bed. Too many of these snacks will cause weight gain no matter what time you eat them.