It's not true that eating late at night will make you gain weight, according to research performed at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University. In 2006, scientists at Oregon University compared the effect of calories eaten during the day and at night. The conclusion was that as long as you eat the same amount of calories, the time of day doesn't really matter. The same is true of eating late and sleeping well. It's not the fact that you're eating but your choice of foods that matters.
One reason that late-night eaters might gain weight is that they might snack more. People who go to bed early might eat their dinner at 7:00 p.m. and then don't eat anything else. However, those who stay up late might reach for a few snacks after dinner. It's those added snack calories that can result in weight gain. If you feel like snacking after dinner, you can keep the calorie count low by choosing veggies or fruits, a low-fat yogurt or a bowl of cereal with milk. Avoid sugary snacks. Not only will they contribute to weight gain but they might affect your blood sugar levels, which can interfere with your sleep.
If you're trying to fall asleep, eating a heavy meal late at night won't do you any good. High-fat and spicy foods could cause indigestion or a feeling of being too full, making sleep difficult. Spicy food also wakes you up, increasing your energy levels so you're not as sleepy. To help you sleep better, choose late-night foods that are easy on your stomach. An apple is better than a sandwich or a chocolate shake. Some foods that might normally be a healthy choice, like beans, are not a good idea late at night, as they can cause cramps, gas and other gastrointestinal distress. Instead, choose foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid that can help induce relaxation and sleep. Foods rich in tryptophan include turkey, dairy products, bananas, potatoes and almonds.
If you skipped dinner earlier in the day and you need to eat one late, try to keep it light. While a sandwich is not the best late-night snack, it's a better dinner choice than eating pizza, a large plate of pasta or Chinese takeout. Try to make the dinner as healthy as possible by choosing whole wheat bread and skipping the mayo. Use some cheese, which contains tryptophan, but also add lots of veggies to keep it light.
Whenever possible, go for something liquid instead of solid. This is easier on your stomach, lower in calories and more conductive to a good night's sleep. A cup of herbal, caffeine-free tea or a glass of warm milk are good choices. Don't drink too much water, though, or you might wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.
- Taste of Home: What Are Good Late-Night Snacks?
- Global Healing Center: Does It Matter How Late We Eat?
- Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice!: Eating at Night = Weight Gain: Myth or Fact?
- Science Daily: Scientists Dispel Late-Night Eating/Weight Gain Myth
- The Daily Meal: 9 Foods to Help You Sleep; Yasmin Fahr