I have been more and more convinced about the health benefits of intermittent fasting – limiting your eating to an 8-hour (or so) window within each 24 hour day. But even if that seems too difficult, at least try to limit late-night snacking.
Let’s be real—the phrase “Netflix and chill” should really be changed to “Netflix and snack” to accurately describe the way many of us spend our evenings. As reported by The Atlantic, a 2013 study published in the journal Obesity found that people’s cravings for junk food tend to increase dramatically in the evening, which is also when they reported being most hungry regardless of how much or when they’d eaten throughout the day.
Whether you’re inhaling chips while binge-watching your favorite show or waking up to raid the fridge for a classic midnight snack, eating late at night could be more harmful than you know. Here are some of the health problems associated with nighttime noshing.
A 2017 study conducted at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City found that going against the daytime eating habits dictated by our biological clocks can raise triglyceride levels, which in turn can contribute to the development of heart problems. Also in 2017, the American Heart Association released a scientific statement saying that allocating more calories earlier in the day may reduce cardiovascular disease risk.
Eating late at night can increase your risk of developing diabetes, according to a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers found that delayed eating may cause elevated glucose and insulin levels, both of which have been associated with type 2 diabetes.
That same University of Pennsylvania study also found that late-night eating negatively affects weight and metabolism. Other research suggests that your body is more likely to store calories as fat when they’re consumed at irregular times (like the middle of the night). And U.S. News & World Report cites two studies supporting the idea that late-night eating can lead to weight gain: one from 2007 showing that people who eat most of their food at night have higher body mass indexes (BMIs) compared to daytime eaters, and one that found participants who ate between 11 pm and 5 am gained more weight and consumed 12 percent more calories than those who didn’t eat during those hours.
If you’ve ever eaten a big dinner right before bed and woken up with indigestion, you’re not alone. In an editorial for the New York Times, reflux specialist Jamie Koufman explains that many of the patients who come to him complaining of chronic heartburn are in the habit of eating meals and snacks at night, a lifestyle choice that can lead to acid reflux disease.
If you’ve ever woken up fuzzy-headed after a nighttime snack binge, you’ll likely be unsurprised that science suggests a link between eating at odd hours and impaired cognition. A study conducted at the University of California found that mice who were fed during the day instead of at night (when they usually eat, since they’re nocturnal) for two weeks were less likely to recognize new objects and less able to create long-term memories compared to mice who were allowed to eat normally.
When researchers Tore Nielsen and Russell A. Powell surveyed nearly 400 college students about their eating, sleeping, and dreaming experiences, they found that 18 percent believed food had the potential to make their dreams “more bizarre or disturbing.” In addition to spicy meals and dairy products, eating late at night was one of the things that potentially altered their dreams, according to the students. The researchers concluded that the digestive distress that sometimes accompanies late-night snacking can also disrupt sleep.
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Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has been a consultant with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on national television, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times. He was most recently National Medical Director and Chief Medical Officer of a national medical practice, but is available to consult with individual patients interested in a personalized approach to optimal performance and health.