In today’s busy lives and schedules, it is not always easy to know what time your next meal will be and when you may get to go to sleep. Surely, this unpredictability in schedules also takes a toll on the body. What do you do if you reach home from work only at midnight? Is eating dinner late bad for you? Yes, it is, but it doesn’t have to be if you eat the right thing. The following is a quick and easy guide to how what you eat and what time you eat impacts your sleep.
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What Happens If You Eat Late at Night?
It is no secret that following a disciplined routine is of utmost importance for your health. What you eat and more importantly at what time you eat makes a difference to your general health. The human body works in fascinating ways and like in physics, every action has a reaction. So no matter what you put in your body, it is bound to manifest in one way or the other. This is not a question of putting on weight or losing weight, but food and the routine of your meals can impact your moods, your metabolism and most importantly, how you sleep. Naturally, if you eat a heavy meal at 11 in the night and then pop off to sleep immediately after, it is going to have an impact on your sleep. But how does your sleep get affected if you eat too late at night?
If you eat a big meal late at night, your body will not have the liberty of the whole day to digest it. When you go to sleep, your muscles will relax, there is no physical exercise that will help your metabolism kick in. Naturally, the body will have trouble breaking your food down. Especially, if you have eaten a spicy curry or something oily, you are bound to get heartburn, which will only aggravate when you are lying down. It goes without saying if your body is in discomfort, your sleep is going to be disturbed.
An unhappy gut will only have you tossing and turning at night. Even if you manage to get some sleep, if you measure the quality of that sleep, it will not be a very peaceful one. Essentially, since you are lying down, gravity cannot do its job of keeping your digestive juices in the stomach. When stomach acids spill into your esophagus, you may experience indigestion and heartburn. What time you go to sleep and what you eat before sleeping has a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.
Studies have shown that eating late at night can also trigger strange dreams. While more research needs to be conducted on this front, it is possible that eating late at night disturbs your sleep. Therefore, there’s a greater chance you will find yourself waking up more frequently in the night, even during the dreaming phase, more commonly known as REM sleep. Since you are waking up during that phase, you will be able to recall the dream more vividly since you are closer to it.
There’s a good chance that you have weird dreams every night. After all, dreams, by definition, are bizarre and surreal. But eating late at night makes you susceptible to waking up more often during your sleep cycle, causing you to remember the dreams more vividly.
You Could Take Longer to Fall Asleep
Depending on what you have eaten, you could have trouble falling asleep too. There are some foods that may prevent sleep. Coffee is one such thing but you may know better than to drink a strong cup before bed. But there are other foods too that could be rich in caffeine and other sleep prohibitors. Don’t be misled by decaffeinated coffee either. While the caffeine content may be low, it’s still enough to prevent you from sleeping.
Even fatty foods like ham or bacon will prevent you from sleeping, simply because they will cause gastrointestinal trouble. Eating late puts your circadian rhythm out of step. If you notice, you tend to feel sleepy around the same time during the day. Perhaps, around 4pm, a little after lunch when you need to be productive at work. This is your circadian rhythm which gets pushed back the more you mess around with your regular routine. So if you eat late, your circadian rhythm also gets pushed back.
Increased Blood Pressure, Disturbed Sleep
More than eating salty foods, eating a late meal can result in increased blood pressure. This is especially dangerous for those already suffering from heart disease. If this is a routine you keep up, you could be risking heart attacks too. When you eat late, overnight blood pressure remains elevated. Sustained high blood pressure will trigger your body’s stress system, resulting in disturbed sleep.
High blood pressure, again, may cause you to feel distressed and cause anxiety, leading to disrupted sleep. For general cardiovascular health, it is absolutely crucial that you maintain proper meal times or eat at least within 15 minutes of your decided meal time.
Healthy Foods for Unavoidable Late Night Meals
All said and done, there will be nights when you will invariably eat dinner late. Perhaps a deadline held you back at work or the traffic delayed your evening. No matter how hard you try, something or the other may get in the way of your routine. On your end, however, you can try your best to maintain a schedule. On the days that maintaining that schedule becomes too hard, you can indulge in a late night snack, provided you eat the right thing. The following are some meals you can eat before bed when dinner gets too close to your bedtime:
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are nutritious, full of fiber and light on the stomach. Even if you eat a small bowl of salad before bed, it will fill you up, hydrate you and at the same time, will not give you gastric trouble at night. A bowl of fresh salad or a bowl of cut fruits is enough to tide you through the night and for breakfast the next morning. There’s no such thing as too many fruits and vegetables. If an average diet is examined, there’s a good chance there is not enough fruits and vegetables in it. So if dinner has gotten delayed for whatever reason, don’t hesitate to binge on a delicious bowl of fruits and vegetables before bed.
Consuming too much sugar before going to bed could also impact your sleep. Your blood sugar level will get elevated, for which your body will have to release hormones to stabilize the sugar. This sudden fluctuation in blood sugar will also impair your ability to sleep. A low-sugar cereal is not a bad meal before bed. You can mix it with some skimmed milk and add fruits to the mix if you so wish. This is a nutritious meal which should fill you up enough so you don’t wake up at night hungry.
You can take some form of protein before bed, provided it is slow digesting and releases slowly. The natural sources of protein in our diet, animal protein like cheese, milk, etc. are essential for creating tryptophan in the body. Tryptophan is an amino acid that induces sleep. Meats, like turkey, are really high on tryptophan. No wonder you feel like dozing off after a big turkey feast on Thanksgiving. But, of course, eating turkey immediately before bed may be too hard for your body to digest. The best meals you can have before bed are the ones that combine healthy portions of protein and carbohydrates. Peanut butter on toast, cheese and crackers, are good options for bedtime snacks. Eating cereal at night isn’t a bad idea either.
Don’t be afraid of the carbs before bed. Sure, there’s the fear that too many carbohydrates before bed will go straight to your waistline. But complex carbohydrates are a bit more ‘complex’ than that. Whole grain bread, oatmeal, brown rice, etc. are perfectly okay carbs to consume before going to bed. They are easy to digest and also filling so you don’t have to go to bed hungry. You can also enjoy some delicious popcorn before bed, a perfectly legitimate bedtime snack!
Nuts like walnuts and almonds have a host of nutrition to offer. Walnuts, for instance, is rich in magnesium, an element which is known to induce sleep. It is also rich in protein and healthy fat so you can feel full before going to bed without worrying about your digestive system going into overdrive.
Almonds, too, are rich in tryptophan and magnesium, which work as natural muscle relaxants. They are also rich in protein so your stomach will be full the whole night.
Foods You Should Avoid Late at Night
While there are plenty of healthy foods you can eat right before bed, there are some meals you should absolutely avoid before bed. Some of these include:
You need to be careful about what kind of fat you are consuming before bed. While omega-3 fatty acids, like the ones available in certain kinds of nuts and in most fish, may be alright to consume before sleeping, most fats will be hard to break down at night. So if you have been saving up a fatty cheeseburger for your late night meal, think again.
Chocolate is made of cocoa bean, which is high in caffeine. It would be counterproductive, then, if you have been avoiding coffee before bed but make no exceptions for chocolate. Chocolate can be equally detrimental to your sleep, perhaps even more as it also has a generous dose of sugar.
As described earlier, spicy food is bound to make you feel uncomfortable at night. When you lie down immediately after eating something spicy, there’s a good chance of experiencing acid reflux and heartburn. The stomach acids can creep up into the esophagus and cause a lot of discomfort, resulting in disturbed sleep.
Foods High in Water Content
Foods high in water content will have you running to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Naturally, you will have to wake up to go to the loo. Avoid drinking too much water right before bed, this includes foods that may be high in water content, like cucumber, watermelon, celery. While fruits and vegetables have been recommended as a meal before bed, avoid the diuretic ones.
This does not qualify as a meal but it must be mentioned. You may be misled by alcohol’s ability to induce sleep quickly but drinking too much before bed will lead to an increase in your heart rate. This increased heart rate means you will find yourself waking up in the later part of the night even if you fell asleep almost immediately after hitting the bed. Alcohol relaxes your muscles so you may experience deep sleep in the earlier part of your sleep cycle. But this also means the latter part of your sleep cycle, when you usually sleep the best will be easily disturbed.
It is evident from all that has been said above that a disciplined routine is of the utmost importance. Even if you push your meals by a few hours, the rest of your body clock experiences a shift and may have trouble adjusting. All the chronic ailments you may be experiencing, like fatigue, pain, etc. are linked, in some way or the other, to your sleep. A disturbed sleep cycle could lead to a host of other complications and has been shown to have links with depression and anxiety too. Therefore, take care of what you are putting in your body and more importantly, when you are consuming it. Eat foods that are easy to digest. A healthy diet and a good night’s rest will take you a long way without any medication or complications in health.