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carswell

Eating big just before bedtime

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Conventional wisdom is that eating a big meal an hour or two before going to bed is a Bad Thing. Here, for example, is a recent post from the Food Lovers' Discussion Group:

By dinner time I am pretty hungry so I end up making large meals and eating a good amount of food before going to bed within 2-3 hours of eating. Bad. I know.

The other day, an acquaintance who's something of a fitness nut was shocked when I told him I'd worked late, had dinner and gone staight to bed. "That's unhealthy," he stated matter-of-factly. When I asked why, his reply was a weak "Well, everybody knows it is."

Yet, if going to bed on a full stomach is unhealthy, why does one often feel sleepy after ingesting copious amounts of food, especially rich food? Isn't a post-Sunday dinner nap nearly as venerable a tradition as Sunday dinner itself? Don't wild animals often retire after eating their fill?

Is eating big just before bed time really so bad for you? And if so, why?

Edited to add a link to the quoted FLDG post, part of an interesting "how many meals a day?" discussion.


Edited by carswell (log)

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Eating just before bed isn't bad for you. In fact, it could be good for you.

Eating a full meal and then going to bed is bad.

A snack of nuts, fruit, and milk is very good for you. The most important thing to remember is that eating a big meal right before bed is a sign of an unhealthy eating pattern. 6 small meals and snacks spread throughout the day is better than 2 gluttonous meals with much time in between.

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I don't know about it being bad for you in general, but it sure as hell isn't good if you're trying to lose weight. Those calories aren't being worked off at all (well, they are, but at an incredibly slow rate, since most of us are pretty inactive when we sleep.) If I go to sleep when I'm still feeling full, I generally don't sleep well and I wake up still feeling full. It's very unpleasant.

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I think it's pretty pure unadulterated hokum. With the variance in the natural human rhythms across the whole population, you'll get more mileage out of listening to what your body tells you than someone who is an expert generally but unacquainted with you specifically.

Quite often I eat within 45 minutes of bedding down for the night, and a heatlhy 1500-2000 Calorie meal. Other times I may have a similar meal several hours before I bed down, and no ill-effects from either.

What will help you the most is eat a varied diet, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and don't ingest a large amount of alcohol or caffeine (or any other uppers or downers) before you go to bed and you'll be happy


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Hmmm, unhealthy for everyone, I don't know. For myself, eating big before going to bed gives me an ENORMOUS blood sugar drop when I wake up in the morning. Nausea, dizziness, etc., kinda like morning sickness. Sucks because I love me a copious cheese-and-crackers midnight snarf...but no longer...:sad:


Nikki Hershberger

An oyster met an oyster

And they were oysters two.

Two oysters met two oysters

And they were oysters too.

Four oysters met a pint of milk

And they were oyster stew.

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I think it's a load of hooey. I kept a food diary for over a year, and the time of day I ate didn't have an effect on the amount of weight I lost. The quantity and type of food I ate did have an effect, as expected.

One rational I've read in women's diet/fitness magazines is that late night eating tends to be "bad" food: sneaking carb-y, fatty foods standing up in front of the fridge. In other words, eating without regard to portion sizes and health.

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I'd be amazed if the conventional wisdom that "eating late is bad for you" held up in light of cross-cultural studies. For example, eating late is standard operating procedure in Spain, Brazil and many other places. Do people in the Midwestern United States who eat at 5:30pm live longer than people in Spain? Are they healthier, happier, smarter? Doubtful, and doubly doubtful that any differences could be attributed to time-of-dinner.

Looking at what happens in different countries is one of the most compelling refutations of many types of conventional wisdom. Fatty foods cause heart problems? Oops, French people have better coronary health than Americans. Sushi is bad for pregnant women? Oops, the entire nation of Japan eats it and there's no uptick in miscarriages or anything else that would indicate a reason for concern. Eggs MUST BE REFRIGERATED!!! Oops, in most of the world they don't refrigerate their eggs and there's hardly a salmonella epidemic.

(Also, Carswell, can you provide a link to that post -- we like to give credit where credit is due.)


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Many people with reflux disease find that eating a bit meal shortly before bed is a very bad idea. My father is frequently guilty of late dinner/early bed (he eats a large meal at 8 PM and is in bed by 9 PM). He also suffers from reflux. It was so bad in fact, that he was losing his voice from the acid reflux.

I find - with no logical explanation - that if I eat a big meal before bed, I wake up hungry?

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I drink one cup of coffee in the morning.

Otherwise, I generally have one (reasonably large) meal a day, at about 8:00. I sometimes vary from this on weekends, but it is certainly the weekday routine. (My SO is determined to make pancakes on the weekend, which tend to work like a narcotic on me.)

While I still have about twenty years in which to die prematurely, I have yet to note any negative side effects from this routine.

I'm no scientist, but as far as I can tell, I basically burn the same number of calories every day, regardless of what time I eat. And the food that I eat has the same number of calories that it has, regardless of what time that I eat it.

I'm not trying to be contrarian here, but, speaking only for myself, if I eat in the morning, I'm hungry all day. If I eat at noon, I'm sleepy all afternoon. (I have no caffeine after my morning java, btw.) It's 2:15 right now, I am slightly hungry, but it will pass when I get up from the computer. If being hungry gives me a headache, I'll take an aspirin, which will lengthen my life, anyway.

So at 6:00, I'll go shop. At 8:00, today - at least, the SO and I will have shad roe, sauteed potatoes, a nice salad, a multi grain roll, and some sort of dessert (been on a pineapple binge lately) and split a bottle of wine and a bottle of Pellegrino. I'll go to bed at 10:00. I'll sleep like a baby. And at 7:00, with tomorrow's coffee, I'll start the process again.

As an aside, acid reflux runs in my family, too. Unless I eat immediately before bed, I have not found this routine to compound the issue.

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Just goes to show, your mileage (and metabolism) may vary.

If it hurts, don't do it.

Average things out - what you eat over a week is more important than what you eat day-to-day or hour-to-hour.


V

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I personally don't find much of a difference in sleep patterns, weight, or general health depending on when I eat, but I tend not to eat much past about 9pm for the most part. If I'm eating later, I am also usually staying up later, too.

I'd agree with the women's mag theory that generally speaking, those who tend to eat a lot just before bed are more likely eating junk food or sweets, rather than a big plate of steamed veggies and a multi-grain roll.

It's probably another one of those "everybody knows it's true" myths that has some basis in reality, particularly for some people (like those who suffer from acid reflux), and it's been generalized to the entire population.


"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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It's calories in vs calories out that determines weight gain or loss not when they are consumed. That said, those midnight noshes are not usually fruits and vegetables or other low caloric density foods.

As far as reflux goes - stay away from big meals especially fatty ones 2-3 hours before bedtime but a small fat free nibble can help.

Interestingly, when I was a hospital dietitian every diabetic got a night snack, usually 2 graham cracker squares and a glass of skim milk or saltines and 1 oz of cheese. And if they needed to add calories it was a good opportunity to add another meal.

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Sumo guys training regimens include naps after big meals of chanko nabe, for weight gain. Chanko nabe isn't a fatty food, in fact it's very nutritious, but it is high in carbs, which convert into all that bulk during sleep.

Personally, I can't eat a big meal before sleeping, I always wake up feeling nauseous. I do whatever I can to resist the afternoon sleepies after a heavy lunch, usually by drinking tea with it.

I also wake up in the middle of the night if I sleep right after dinner. I chalk that up to something similar to the alcohol effect, where people who get sleepy from drink end up waking up a few hours later because of the sugar from alcohol digestion. I figure it's the same with food.

Pat


"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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Eating a big meal, especially one heavy in fats and/or in potentially stomach-irritating foods, right before bedtime is almost guaranteed to exacerbate my reflux disease. It's a simple matter of mechanics--you fill the stomach full, get it just starting to generate digestive acids, and then get horizontal so those acids have an easy time splashing up into the esophagus. Result--the killer-awful heartburn of a GERD attack.

Even if you don't currently have GERD or a chronic heartburn problem, a consistent habit of going to sleep on a very full stomach can, over a long enough period of time, help precipitate a case of GERD, by the same process described above. Get yourself in a position to allow stomach acid to splash out of the stomach enough times, and eventually that acid can cause enough damage to put you in a world o' pain. And once you get GERD, it really doesn't go away. Those fancy proton-pump inhibitor drugs help some, but only some.

You might think it won't happen to you, because you've been doing it for years without any untoward effects. But I have to say, I used to think the same. I got away with eating big greasy meals before bedtime, plus various other stomach-irritating habits, for literally decades, thinking nothing of it ... until the day of my first GERD attack.

Now that GERD has forced me to drop coffee and booze out of my life almost completely except for an occasional treat, and has made it nigh impossible for me to enjoy chiles and other spicy foods without risking serious pain, I do wish to hell I had listened to all those warnings about how eating big meals late at night can be "bad for you," as opposed to laughing those warnings off as old wives' tales.

So I offer my experience as a cautionary tale--especially if you want to enjoy a long lifetime's worth of consuming chiles and booze and coffee. :sad:

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the alcohol effect, where people who get sleepy from drink end up waking up a few hours later because of the sugar from alcohol digestion. I figure it's the same with food.

I hate to burst your bubble, but recent research has shown that culprit to being the effects of alcohol on the Central Nervous System being Quite Complicated Indeed. Consumption of alcohol, while technically a CNS depressant has characteristics that make restful sleep and proper REM cycles more unlikely on a night where one has consumed alcohol, than on a night where one has abstained.

Clickety to Dr. Bob's Medrants


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I had always assumed (meaning I have no scientific evidence of this) the reason you weren't supposed to eat before going to bed was because our bodies use our sleep time as "rebuilding & repairing" time.

And if you eat a large meal right before bedtime your body has to divert some of its energies to digest the food you just ate which means less energy dedicated to repairing and rebuilding the rest of your body.

In other words, it's going to do a half-assed job if it, thanks to that burger you ate just before bedtime.


 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

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Tim Oliver

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I was told one time that it's bad to eat and then go to sleep because you digest your food more efficiently while you're awake and moving, and also upright. Lying down and sleeping means your body has to work harder to push the food through your system, and that can lead to acid reflux, etc. etc.

I don't eat big meals within 2 hours of bedtime because I gain weight if I do. Also large meals before bed give me nightmares, and as someone with a fussy stomach I seem to develop nausea a lot easier at night if I eat right before bedtime. I'm a light eater at night anyway, I much prefer to eat my largest meal of the day at lunchtime, but I quit eating after 7 p.m. long ago. On rare occasions if my stomach is acting up I'll have 1/2 cup of cereal with milk to calm it down, but that's it. And I've never, ever eaten a "midnight snack."

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I have always heard from my husband that "you shouldn't eat right before sleeping". Twice in the last month, however, I have defied his advice and eaten a late, and not small, snack (once a hoagie, once a slice of pizza). On both occasions I woke up the next morning feeling better than usual, and realized it was because I had slept better than usual, and I believe that was because I had those late snacks. I have always been blessed with "good" metabolism - perhaps this is why I can get away with this.


Maggie

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