For years you've probably heard that it's bad to eat before bed. And that may be true if you're on a fasting diet. But eating at night isn't a weight gain trigger, so you're OK if you're snacking on a pomegranate or eating dates at night. In fact, there are a lot of surprising benefits to a nighttime snack.
1. Improves Overnight Muscle Synthesis
One of the common reasons you've heard that you shouldn't eat before bed is that it will cause you to gain weight. And sure, binging on snacks in bed isn't great for your waistline. But it turns out that nighttime meals can actually help you improve your body's appearance.
A study in Nutrients in January 2015 found that a bedtime snack helped men synthesize muscle in their sleep. The researchers of the study recommended limiting the meal to 150 calories for the best effects. A study published in December 2017 in the Journal of Nutrition suggests 40 grams of protein for your nightly meals. That's a little more than 150 calories, but sticking to proteins is still a good idea.
However you fill your 150 calories, the good news is you're not gaining weight from it. And if you are, it's muscle weight. Now that's the kind of weight you want to gain, right? The type of weight that makes your body look toned and fit, not soft.
Read more: The 6 Rules of Gaining Muscle Mass
2. Improves Your Morning Metabolism
If you're concerned about gaining weight, then you don't want to neglect your metabolism. It's the process that your body uses to convert food into energy. When it's not functioning at its fullest, your body will store more fat. So if you want to lose weight, you want to ensure that your metabolism is functioning at its best.
Recent studies show eating before has a bed positive impact on the metabolism in the morning. Both healthy men and women who had obesity, according to the Nutrients study, had improved metabolisms from bedtime meals. The study showed that eating a small snack before bed causes the metabolism to kick into gear by morning. So when you eat breakfast, your body will have an easier time turning your food to energy.
A British Journal of Nutrition January 2014 study had similar results. The participants — active men — showed increased metabolic activity in the morning. This study noted improved metabolic impacts of eating different proteins and carbs, which means that you don't have to limit your snack to a protein bar to get this benefit.
3. Improves Your Morning Appetite
It might sound counterintuitive, but eating before bed can make you less hungry for breakfast in the morning. If your goal is to lose weight, then reducing your appetite is a good start. So while a pre-bed snack sounds like more food, it may not be as long as you listen to your reduced appetite come breakfast.
The Nutrients study examined the capacity for late night meals to reduce morning hunger. The researchers focused on populations of men who were healthy and athletic and women who had obesity. There was evidence of glycemic blowbacks in the females studied, but regular workouts combated this effect. Still, additional studies need to be done on other populations, such as healthy women, before claims can be made.
A study in the August 14 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition also focused on women who had obesity. They observed the same side effects as the Nutrients study. The article noted the reduction of morning appetite following consumption of a bedtime snack. Research continues to provide evidence that eating at night may reduce your morning appetite.
Read more: Lose Weight With These 13 Easy Breakfasts
4. Some Foods Help You Sleep
One of the benefits of eating before bed that isn't all about weight is its ability to help you sleep. You may not realize this, but some foods contain nutrients that improve sleep function. So if you eat a snack packed with melatonin, for example, you'll likely have an easier time falling asleep. In some cases, it'll even help you stay asleep.
A Nutrients article from April 2017 looked at the melatonin levels of certain foods and found that snacks with additions such as nuts and wheat supply a good amount of melatonin. A study in the March 2015 issue of Neuron points out the vital role melatonin plays in falling and staying asleep — something particularly helpful for those suffering from insomnia.
Melatonin is a hormone made in your body that regulates your sleep cycle, with levels going up at night and coming down in the morning. Many people supplement with melatonin to improve sleep, but adding foods that contain the natural hormone may work just as well.
If you don't have insomnia, there are still reasons to make sure you're getting enough sleep. A study in the June 2016 issue of the International Journal of Behavioral Nutritional and Physical Activity found that sleep deprivation causes weight gain. So you might want to start working harder on getting better sleep. Melatonin has a lot of other benefits as well; for example, it improves your immune system, reduces signs of aging and is anti-inflammatory.
The Best Bedtime Foods
With so many benefits, why wouldn't you want to eat a nighttime snack? It's time to discard the myth that eating before bed will make you gain weight as research has shown that bedtime meals can actually do just the opposite. As with any dietary decision, though, you want to make sure you're choosing the right foods to get the best results.
If your goal is to regulate your hunger and energy usage then rye is the perfect bedtime snack. A study published in PLoS One in March 2016 found that eating rye before bed can improve glycemic regulation. That means that it reduces blood sugar spikes and plummets. So when you wake up, you won't feel starved for your breakfast.
Whether you're trying to lose weight or just looking for a tasty snack, there are lots of options. And you might as well go for foods that will improve your sleep. An April 2017 Nutrition study provides a comprehensive list of foods packed with melatonin:
- Dried eggs
- Cow's milk
- Whole short grain rice
- Green beans
- Black pepper
Find the Right Snack
Protein is an excellent option for a bedtime snack. You might try eating peanut butter on rye to combine recommendations from two studies. But if you'd rather have something sweet, try fruit.
Eating a pomegranate at night is just as good as a peanut butter sandwich. Chocolate, on the other hand, isn't the best snack. Sure, it'll curb your sugar craving, but it also has caffeine, which may make it harder for you to sleep.
Whatever you choose, keep it and light. While eating before bed doesn't mean you'll gain weight, going to bed with a full stomach can be uncomfortable and may also make it harder for you to fall asleep. Besides, the benefits of eating at night are best experienced with small snacks.
- International Journal of Behavioral Nutritional and Physical Activity: “Lack of Sleep as a Contributor to Obesity in Adolescents: Impacts on Eating and Activity Behaviors”
- Nutrients: “Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin”
- Neuron: “Melatonin Is Required for the Circadian Regulation of Sleep”
- Plos One: “Rye-Based Evening Meals Favorably Affected Glucose Regulation and Appetite Variables at the Following Breakfast: A Randomized Controlled Study in Healthy Subjects”
- Journal of Nutrition: “Protein Ingestion Before Sleep Increases Overnight Muscle Protein Synthesis Rates in Healthy Older Men: A Randomized Controlled Trial”
- Mayo Clinic: “Metabolism and Weight Loss: How You Burn Calories”
- British Journal of Nutrition: “Night-Time Consumption of Protein or Carbohydrate Results in Increased Morning Resting Energy Expenditure in Active College-Aged Men”
- British Journal of Nutrition: “Influence of Night-Time Protein and Carbohydrate Intake on Appetite and Cardiometabolic Risk in Sedentary Overweight and Obese Women”
- USDA: “How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate, or Protein?”
- Nutrients: “The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives”
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine: "Melatonin"