January 13, 2023
So what are the best and worst foods to eat before bed? Actually, the best food to eat before bed is nothing! You should always aim to stop eating for at least two, and better yet, three hours prior to bedtime. This gives your body time to digest your food and your stomach time to empty, giving you much less chance of having reflux of acid stomach contents into your esophagus as a consequence of reclining.
In addition, you are working against your body’s natural circadian rhythm when you eat before bed, especially if you are snacking or eating late into the night. Your pancreas produces insulin to help drive glucose (sugar) from your food into your cells, where it is burned for fuel. Normally, your cells are very sensitive to insulin but at night, your cells become more insulin resistant. The unhappy result is that extra calories from that late night snack or meal are not burned as they would be during the day but are stored as fat.
There is yet another reason why eating before bed is bad for you. At the end of the day, your ability to make healthy choices decreases markedly, and you are much more likely to go for that pint of chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer than for a piece of fruit and some walnuts.
Everyone has an off day now and then and sometimes you really need to eat something before going to bed. Ideally you want to choose something that will give your body some protein as well as some healthy fat to help you feel full. Some good choices are an apple with a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, a serving of Greek yogurt, a piece of fruit and a square of really good quality dark chocolate, lightly steamed vegetables such as broccoli, or carrot slices dipped in hummus.
Regardless of what you choose, keep in mind that eating later in the day or eating at night will likely tempt you to eat more than you should. Just like you are apt to make unhealthy food choices, your brain, after having worked hard for you all day, will try to convince you that you need more food than you really do, so be aware of this.
What foods should you avoid eating at night? If you want to sleep well and protect your health, stay away from foods high in fat and sugar, such as processed snack foods, candy or ice cream. Also avoid caffeine in the evening and at night as it takes your body from 4 to 6 hours to metabolize half of what you have consumed, so drinking a cup of coffee after dinner or at night can lead to insomnia. Also, don’t be fooled by decaf coffee. A cup of decaf contains from 2 to 15 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces, as compared to regular coffee, which has around 80 to 100 milligrams per 8 ounce cup. If you are one of those people who is sensitive to caffeine, even a single cup of decap can disrupt your sleep.
If you like to eat dinner early but are late going to bed, nightime hunger may well interrupt your sleep. Choosing an evening snack from those listed above can solve this problem. But ideally, you really want to keep that 3 hour window from the time you swallow your last bite until your head hits the pillow. Good quality sleep for 8 hours a night is a cornerstone of a healthy life. Don’t let late night eating or snacking keep you from the rest you deserve.
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