Does eating before bed affect your sleep?
The answer, sadly–is yes. Scroll down to learn more about the effects of eating after dark before bed (regardless of the type of food).
It’s 9:30 p.m. and your stomach starts rumbling again. Now you have a decision to make: suppress your appetite and hit the hay, or sneak down the hallway for a bedtime snack.
We’ve all been there when the late-night cravings hit. So what’s the verdict on eating before bed? Is late night snacking healthy for you? Sadly, the answer is no.
The bottom line: Eating during bedtime hours – whether it’s a large dinner or a small snack while watching your favorite TV show — while it may seem to help you fall asleep, may actually harm your overall health and metabolism, creating added stress inside the body.
Let’s take a closer look at the effects below:
The Basics: What are the factors that affect sleep?
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. When your blood sugar crashes in the middle of the night (as the result of late-night eating), cortisol levels rise, and melatonin production diminishes – thus, interrupting a good night’s sleep.
Eating before bed may cause your blood sugar to spike and crash before you even wake up. This blood sugar crash may put stress on the body, weaken the digestive system, and lead to adrenal dysfunction.
Poor sleep may 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 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, showing that daytime stress can impact sleep quality and create a stress-sleep disturbance cycle that is hard to break.3
That’s where a natural sleep aid can come in to help supply your body with the ‘restful’ chemicals it needs, specifically, the two “Ms” – magnesium and melatonin. While most of us are familiar with taking melatonin to improve sleep, the most underrated sleep remedy is magnesium.
Try it now: Body Ecology Ancient Earth Minerals
Beware of the late-night blood sugar crash.
Eating late at night may initially raise your blood sugar. While sleeping, your body goes into a light fast. If you eat before sleeping, you may be more likely to experience a crash in blood sugar while asleep.
What happens during a blood sugar crash?
- Your blood sugar spikes, triggering pancreas cells to release insulin into your bloodstream.
- If the blood sugar spike happens frequently (as it does for many of us), the pancreas delivers too much insulin into the bloodstream, causing a drastic drop in blood sugar, or a ‘crash.’
- A blood sugar crash alerts the adrenals that there is an emergency, so your body secretes the stress hormone called ‘cortisol.’
- Frequent cortisol releases like these can exhaust the adrenal function, inflame the body and weaken your digestive system.
Skipping meals or frequently eating foods that are starchy or sugary causes blood sugar spikes, and both lead to the same thing: adrenal dysfunction. 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.
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.
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers even recommend eating less late at night to buffer some of the effects of sleep deprivation, like deficits in alertness and concentration.4,5
Newsflash: Melatonin is not the answer.
Many people assume that melatonin is the answer for restoring the body’s natural circadian rhythm. However, 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 may 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
More magnesium, deeper sleep.
In addition to calming your nervous system down, magnesium helps with maintaining GABA levels, a neurotransmitter responsible for turning off the “wakefulness” that prevents you from falling asleep. As a bonus, the mineral can also help increase the body’s dopamine supply, leading to an increase in mood (AKA, happier you).
Some people can do well with magnesium supplementation. 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 help support 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 that magnesium plays a critical role in helping living things adapt to the natural rhythms of night and day. 8
Eating late at night can increase your blood sugar, causing a rise in cortisol levels and sugar crash while you’re asleep. Whether you know it or not, this vicious cycle could lead to adrenal dysfunction – which causes digestive issues, poor immunity, inflamed skin, and sleep deprivation.
Quick tips to improve your sleep (and live a happier life):
- Make your last meal of the day around or shortly after nightfall.
- Avoid stress to combat cortisol, which is the #1 enemy of restful sleep.
- Opt for a balanced dinner with lots of water throughout the day.
- Supplement 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.
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’re asleep. This vicious cycle is a recipe for adrenal dysfunction.
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.
- Loyola University Health System. (2013, June 29). Getting a good night’s sleep is a nightmare for many Americans. ScienceDaily.
- University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. (2015, June 4). Eating less during late night hours may stave off some effects of sleep deprivation. ScienceDaily.
- 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.
- University of Edinburgh. (2016, April 13). Vital nutrient has key role in keeping body clocks running on time. ScienceDaily.