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Is it Good or Bad to Eat Before Bed?

"Don't eat before bed, the calories will turn to fat while you sleep" is one of the best-established bits of diet folklore out there, and it may well have prevented millions of people from raiding the fridge after dinner.

The question is, is it actually true, or is this just another confused fitness sermon from yesteryear? And weight gain aside, is there any other health effect - good or bad - of feasting before dozing off?

Let's take a look.

The good news about eating before bed

  1. Your metabolism is pretty much the same when asleep as when awake. One of the reasons often given for why it's bad to eat before bed is that metabolism supposedly slows down during sleep, meaning that calories are more likely to be converted to fat.As it turns out, though, research dating back to 1988 suggests that metabolic rate is virtually identical during sleep as when awake.
  2. Eating before bed may help you to sleep better --- and that may help you lose weight. Having a disrupted sleep schedule is a sure-fire way to not only ruin your overall health, but also to gain weight. Among other things, research has suggested that night shift workers produce more of the "hunger hormone", ghrelin and are at an increased risk of weight gain. The same has been seen in people who just don't sleep enough.This may lead to a vicious cycle, where disrupted sleep not only leads to overeating during the day but also increased hunger at night, followed by more disrupted sleep. Eating is, obviously, the primary way of reducing ghrelin levels in the body and taking the edge off your hunger. A modest snack before bed may help to break the cycle and help you to finally get a good night's sleep.
  3. A small snack before bed may help you gain muscle. A 2015 review published in Nutrients found evidence that a small protein snack before bed (around 150 calories) increased muscle protein synthesis rates in subjects by around 22%. In this example, the snack was in the form of casein protein. However, it's uncertain whether it was the casein itself, the fact that the snack was protein-based, or just the fact that any snack was eaten at all, that caused the benefit. In any case --- it looks like there might be a benefit to have a snack which includes casein protein before bed if gaining muscle is your aim.

The bad news about eating before bed

  1. Eating before bed is linked with eating more calories during the day. Studies have found that eating before bed seems to be linked with higher overall calorie consumption during the day, as well as increased weight gain as a result. The reason for this might be that a bedtime snack is an extra helping of calories towards your daily total, meaning that you simply end up eating more calories than if you stopped eating earlier in the evening. So if you want to eat a snack before bed without gaining weight, it might be worth keeping in mind how much you're eating throughout the day so you don't end up overeating.
  2. Certain types of food can disturb your sleep. Most people will have had the experience of eating something heavy, rich, or weird for dinner, and then tossing and turning in the grip of nightmares as a result. This isn't just a bit of folklore, either. One 1992 study, for example, found that eating spicy food for dinner caused significant sleep disturbances in young, healthy male subjects. If you experience this yourself, you may want to stick with eating less spicy food at evening time. 

There are both pros and cons to consider when it comes to eating before you sleep. Whether it is good or bad for your will be very much down to you as an individual, your lifestyle, and how your body responds to food. If we had to pick, we'd go with stick with what you think is best for you.

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