Is late night snacking healthy for you? Eating before bed and eating late at night — a large dinner or something small to snack on while watching your favorite TV show — may help you fall asleep but can affect your overall metabolism and ultimately create stress inside the body.
What Does the Sun Have to Do with Metabolism?
During the dark hours of the night, a hormone called norepinephrine is released. It tells the brain to make melatonin. Think of melatonin as the chemical that dominates sleep cycles.
Eating before bed will cause your blood sugar to spike and crash before you even wake up. This blood sugar crash will put stress on the body, weaken the digestive system, and lead to adrenal exhaustion. Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals is designed to nourish the adrenals, and it also contains magnesium as a natural sleep aid.
A couple of things need to be in place for the production of melatonin:
- Norepinephrine is one essential element necessary for melatonin production.
- Actual darkness is needed for norepinephrine release and for melatonin production. This means that bright lights, including the light from a television, can inhibit this process.
- Excess of cortisol, a chemical tied to stress, will also inhibit the release of norepinephrine and the production of melatonin.
- Melatonin and cortisol have an inverse relationship. When cortisol is high, melatonin will be low. Likewise, when cortisol is low, melatonin will be high.
We already know by now that stress has an important relationship with sleep — more stress equals less quality sleep, in most cases.
Clayton Sleep Institute researchers discovered in 2009 a “bidirectional relationship” between chronic stress and sleep issues. People suffering from chronic stress were more likely to sleep shorter and sleep worse, experiencing daytime impairments to follow. In the study, daytime impairments and shorter sleep also led to complaints of habitual stress.1
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You may recognize some of the most common causes of stress that can affect your sleep:
- Anything that engages strong, reactive emotions.
- Over-thinking and worrying.
- Trauma, both physical and emotional.
- Adrenal stimulants, like coffee.
- Lack of sleep.
- Unhealthy fats, which release pro-inflammatory chemicals.
- Irregular blood sugar levels.
Poor sleep can also alter the immune system’s stress response — increasing the risk of mental and physical health problems by increasing inflammation in the body, as seen in a 2012 study conducted on older adults.2 And unsurprising to many of us, researchers likewise confirmed a reciprocal, causal relationship between job stress and poor sleep in 2015, showing that daytime stress can impact sleep quality and create a stress-sleep disturbance cycle that is hard to break.3
A Vicious Stress Cycle: Too Much and Too Little Blood Sugar
Eating late at night will initially raise your blood sugar. While sleeping, your body goes into a light fast. If you eat before sleeping, you are more likely to experience a crash in blood sugar while asleep.
The mechanism goes like this:
- Blood sugar spikes.
- The pancreas releases insulin to get the sugar out of the blood and into cells.
- If the blood sugar spike happens frequently (as it does for most of us), the pancreas delivers too much insulin into the bloodstream.
- This causes a drastic drop in blood sugar, or a crash.
- A blood sugar crash alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency.
- The adrenals secrete the stress hormone cortisol.
- Cortisol inflames the body and weakens digestive function.
- Constant sugar crashes exhaust adrenal function.
Skipping meals or frequently eating foods that are starchy or sugary causes blood sugar spikes, and both lead to the same thing: adrenal exhaustion. What’s interesting is that people who skip meals will often use adrenal stimulants or excessively sugary foods to get a quick lift of energy.
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This blood sugar yo-yo effect in the body will pull on the adrenal glands for cortisol. This pulling on the adrenal glands does something else in the body. Eventually, it will exhaust other elements of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the system in charge of regulating hormones in the body. Now it makes sense why more than 40 million Americans are struggling with chronic sleep disorders — and why University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers recommend eating less late at night to buffer some of the effects of sleep deprivation, like deficits in alertness and concentration.4,5
Cortisol Lowers Your Melatonin
Sleep is an activity that is all about relaxation and restoration. Thus, cortisol, the stress hormone, should be at its lowest at night.
When blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night, cortisol levels rise, and melatonin production diminishes:
- The natural cycles of cortisol and melatonin are part of your circadian rhythm.
- Chronically high cortisol levels suppress human growth hormone.
- Chronically high cortisol levels suppress immune function.
- Chronically high cortisol levels also open the door to a series of inflammatory cascades in the body.
Does this mean that taking a melatonin supplement will restore the circadian rhythm?
No, supplementing with melatonin is not recommended. Short-term, emergency use may be tolerated. But keep in mind that ultimately you want your body to remember its own natural ebb and flow of hormones. Melatonin is a hormone and giving your body this hormone over time will actually lead to a deeper and more pathological imbalance. University of Adelaide researchers caution that melatonin can be dangerous for children especially, warning doctors and parents not to give kids melatonin to help manage sleep issues.6 For adults, caffeine has also been proven to alter our circadian clock — delaying internal rhythms up to 40 minutes after drinking a double espresso before bed.7
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More Magnesium, Deeper Sleep
Most people do well with magnesium supplementation, and it is best to try magnesium first before using melatonin. Magnesium does have a laxative effect, so keep this in mind if you decide to use it as a sleep aid. A full-spectrum mineral supplement, like Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals, is another good way to not only restore levels of magnesium in the body but to also bring the body fully into mineral balance.
Along with its ability to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety, magnesium has been dubbed a vital sleep nutrient because it keeps the “trains running on time.”
University of Edinburgh researchers discovered in 2016 that magnesium plays a critical role in helping living things adapt to the natural rhythms of night and day. Most researchers are familiar with how the body uses magnesium to convert energy, but it wasn’t until 2016 that magnesium’s ability to regulate our body’s internal clock and metabolism was discovered.8
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Eating late at night can raise your blood sugar, making it likely that you’ll experience a blood sugar crash while you are asleep. This vicious cycle is a recipe for adrenal exhaustion and may explain why more than 40 million of us continue to struggle with chronic sleep issues.
Here’s what you can do to practice good sleep hygiene and get some rest:
- Make your last meal of the day around or shortly after nightfall.
- Your natural production of melatonin depends on low levels of cortisol.
- Stress will increase cortisol levels in the body.
- The foods that you eat, depending on what they are, can be a significant stressor in the body.
- Supplementing with a full-spectrum and magnesium-rich mineral supplement, like Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals, will alkalize your body, dampen the inflammatory cascade, and create a more restful sleep.
- "Study Shows A Bidirectional Relationship Between Chronic Stress And Sleep Problems." American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- Kathi L. Heffner, H. Mei Ng, Julie A. Suhr, Christopher R. France, Gailen D. Marshall, Wilfred R. Pigeon, Jan A. Moynihan. Sleep Disturbance and Older Adultsʼ Inflammatory Responses to Acute Stress. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 2012; 1 DOI: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e31824361de.
- Torbjörn Akerstedt et al. Work and Sleep - A Prospective Study of Psychosocial Work Factors, Physical Work Factors, and Work Scheduling. Sleep, June 2015 DOI: 10.5665/sleep.4828.
- "Getting a good night's sleep is a nightmare for many Americans." Loyola University Health System.
- “Eating Less During Late Night Hours May Stave off Some Effects of Sleep Deprivation, Penn Study Shows.” Penn Medicine.
- David J Kennaway. Potential safety issues in the use of the hormone melatonin in paediatrics. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2015; DOI: 10.1111/jpc.12840.
- M. Burke, R. R. Markwald, A. W. McHill, E. D. Chinoy, J. A. Snider, S. C. Bessman, C. M. Jung, J. S. O'Neill, K. P. Wright. Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Science Translational Medicine, 2015; 7 (305): 305ra146 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aac5125.
- Kevin A. Feeney, Louise L. Hansen, Marrit Putker, Consuelo Olivares-Yañez, Jason Day, Lorna J. Eades, Luis F. Larrondo, Nathaniel P. Hoyle, John S. O’Neill, Gerben van Ooijen. Daily magnesium fluxes regulate cellular timekeeping and energy balance. Nature, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nature17407.
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