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Midnight Snack? Not So Fast

Your eating habits impact how you sleep more than you may realize.

Late-night meals and snacks can affect the time it takes for you to fall asleep, your sleep efficiency, and even your REM and deep sleep numbers.

How Late-Night Meals Impact Sleep

The impact of late night meals goes way back to our cave-dwelling roots. Before modern times, humans hunted and ate during the day and rested at night. Over time, our bodies developed networks of internal clocks, including ones in our digestive system (i.e., stomach, liver, and pancreas) to help us stay alert at biologically advantageous times.

If you chow down on a late-night hamburger or brownie, it confuses your internal clocks. The one in your brain sees that the sun has set and is primed for sleep. However, the clocks in your digestive system kick into high gear, actively digesting at the very moment your other clocks are preparing for bed.

You’ve now forced your body to sleep and digest at the same time—activities that the body has not evolved to do well simultaneously. This splits your body’s attention between two tasks, and it struggles to do a great job at either one. If your digestive clocks are synced up with your bedtime, sleep occurs more naturally.

Check out these tips to help improve your clock alignment:

  • Avoid big meals close to bedtime: Big meals elevate your metabolism and resting heart rate before bed and ultimately harm your sleep. It’s best to avoid heavy, carb-loaded meals 3+ hours before bedtime to give your body time to digest.
  • Cut caffeine after midday: Be aware that the effects of a late afternoon cup of coffee can last much longer than you’d think. Caffeine can cause restless sleep and make it harder to fall asleep. Keep in mind that soda, teas, and even chocolate can contain enough caffeine to disrupt sleep. Women taking oral contraceptives should be aware that caffeine remains in their systems longer.
  • Refrain from using wine as a sleep aid: While alcohol may help you relax before bed, too much can rob you of highly valuable REM sleep. Once the alcohol’s effects wear off, you’re more likely to wake up throughout the night and have lighter sleep overall.

Learn more about how fasting, caffeine, and alcohol can impact your body and sleep patterns.

References

  • Crispim, Cibele Aparecida, Ioná Zalcman Zimberg, Bruno Gomes dos Reis, Rafael Marques Diniz, Sérgio Tufik, and Marco Túlio de Mello. “Relationship between food intake and sleep pattern in healthy individuals.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 7, no. 06 (2011): 659-664. (link) (link)
  •  Lane, J. D., J. F. Steege, S. L. Rupp, and C. M. Kuhn. “Menstrual cycle effects on caffeine elimination in the human female.” European journal of clinical pharmacology 43, no. 5 (1992): 543-546. (link)
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