Weight Loss

Late-Night Hunger Could be Affecting Your Weight

Key Takeaways

Key takeaways:

  • Late-night eating may be associated with weight gain in some individuals.
  • Eating before bed can potentially contribute to acid reflux and discomfort. It’s best to eat meals and snacks within a consecutive 12-hour window and at the same time each day to promote a healthy metabolism. 
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep a night plays a huge role in how your body regulates its hunger cues and the types of food you are drawn to snack on.

Late night eating and weight gain seem to go hand-in-hand. It’s normal to be tempted by a little something before bed. And hey, if you do find yourself scooping a few spoonfuls of rocky road before brushing your teeth — no judgement. Everyone deserves a little treat once in a while. 

There are many different scientific reasons behind why you might eat more at night and a lot of it revolves around the amount of sleep you get (and how many waking hours you spend eating). In fact, eating a single (and small) nutritious snack before bed can have a neutral or even positive effect, especially if you’re otherwise healthy.

Does eating late at night make you gain weight?

Is the eating before bed myth true? The night part of this whole thing seems likely to be the most relevant factor, weight gain from eating late at night has more to do with what you’re eating — and how much — than the time of day itself (although it does still play a role in it).

According to this study on nighttime eating, when you eat at night you feel less satisfied or full, which can lead you to eat more than you would in a snack portion earlier in the day. This ultimately leads you to consume more calories for the whole day, which over time can lead to weight gain. 

So the short answer is yes, eating late at night can make you gain weight because it tends to be sweet or salty “craving” foods that you gravitate to, which have more calories and fewer nutrients. 

Ultimately, they taste good, and this — coupled with not feeling full from eating them — may be the reason you snack a little more heavily than intended.

What does eating late at night do to your metabolism?

There isn’t much research to suggest that eating before bed can have a negative impact on your metabolism, specifically. The biggest impact comes from irregular sleeping patterns, or lack of sleep itself which can put you at a higher risk for type II diabetes

The more tired you are, the more you crave starchy foods — those in the study who got less than 6 hours of sleep a night reported a 45% increase in cravings for these kinds of snacks. When it comes to sleep, your metabolism naturally slows down by about 15% as it enters a resting state, but never stops working completely. Because of this, calories consumed at night will still be metabolized by your body, though at a slower rate.

Overall, getting 8 hours of sleep a night (for adults) and keeping eating within a consecutive 12-hour window are the best things you can do to keep your metabolism healthy and stabilize your weight at the level that works best for you.

Does eating before bed affect digestion?

Although there is limited evidence to support the idea that eating before bed will lead to poor digestion directly, your circadian system helps your body digest most efficiently earlier in the day. Because this is when you’re the most active, it’s a cue to your body to use certain kinds of food (like fat or sugar), as energy, which it knows based on the time of day and amount of light. 

For those who are prone to acid reflux, heartburn, or other gastrointestinal issues (which are often associated with digestion), it’s best to avoid eating late at night since you’re more likely to experience symptoms when you’re lying down. To make sure your body has had enough time to digest and minimize the risk of feeling ‘the burn,’ it’s important to allow enough time between your last meal of the day and bed time. 

What time should you stop eating at night to avoid weight gain?

The short answer, however, is a minimum of three to four hours before you go to sleep.

The longer answer is everyone has a natural rhythm that your body tends to follow — when you naturally wake up, when you get hungry, and when you get tired at night are all part of your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm

According to a study done on the best times to eat, “Your body is best at digesting food/drinks when you are active and light is present. Thus, eating/drinking when your body expects you to sleep/rest, and it is dark, can disrupt this system and compromise metabolism.” 

Because of this, it’s healthiest to eat within an 8- to 12-hour window from when you ate your first meal in the morning, to eat most of your calories earlier in the day, and to avoid eating late at night. When you have higher levels of melatonin or sleep hormones that are signaling your body’s circadian rhythm that it’s time for bed. 

Although there is no specific time to stop eating at night, it really depends on your circadian rhythm. It’s best to try and follow these guidelines within your own routine. 

Benefits of not eating late at night

Eating most of your calories earlier in the day (including making sure to have breakfast) can help you stay energized throughout the day and have a positive effect on your metabolism by the time you go to sleep.

Managing your blood sugar levels

Blood sugar is the glucose and carbohydrates you consume that your body metabolizes as energy to fuel itself. When you eat late at night, the foods you’re drawn to tend to be higher in sugar and carbohydrates, which can cause a spike in your blood sugar. Spikes in blood sugar over a prolonged period of time, can ultimately lead to heart disease and be a precursor to diabetes.

On the other hand, when you eat carb-heavy or sugary foods earlier in the day, it allows your blood glucose to regulate by the time you’re ready for bed, leaving your pancreas and digestive system functioning well and not working to regulate as you sleep. 

Stabilizing weight 

Snacks we’re drawn to in the evenings tend to be higher in sugar, calories, and processed ingredients.

These options, when you choose them, don’t fill you up, so you eat more of them, which contributes to your overall calorie intake for the day. When eaten over a period of time, they may cause you to gain weight.

On the other hand, eating low-energy foods like yogurt, nuts, or dried fruit before bed may help in maintaining or losing weight.

Preventing acid reflux

While there is limited evidence to support the idea that eating before bed leads to poor digestion, eating a lot before bed may increase the risk of discomfort from acid reflux

When you lie down, gravity is no longer helping you digest, and stomach acid can more easily flow back up into your esophagus. This can potentially cause acid reflux and heartburn, which can lead to a burning sensation in the chest, and disrupt sleep because of it.

By giving yourself a couple of hours to digest your last meal before lying down, you may be able to avoid this. When you give yourself time to digest, it reduces the contents of your stomach by about 90% within 3-4 hours and with an almost or mostly empty stomach, there’s nothing to come back up.

How to find the right eating routine

Finding a consistent eating routine that works for you can help your body know when everything else needs to happen (like getting tired, releasing certain hormones, and helping your heart function) throughout the day. 

A consistent sleeping, eating, and exercise routine is important, but each piece of the puzzle works as an important signal helping all the pieces come together to form a complete picture.

Establish regular meal times

Find meal times that work with your schedule, so that you’re able to eat at roughly the same time every day. Having regular and balanced meals can help regulate your circadian rhythm and maintain your overall health.

Listen to your body's hunger cues

Start paying attention to your body's signals of hunger and fullness. If you feel hungry in the evening, be mindful of how your other eating habits have played out during the day or the amount of sleep you got the night before. This may be the reason you’re feeling hungry later on in the evening. Sometimes, the body confuses thirst with hunger, so if after having some water or tea you’re still hungry, well, that probably means you’re hungry.

Plan your meals and snacks

When you plan your meals and snacks in advance, it ensures that you have nutritious options available. By having a plan or meal prepping, you can make your choices ahead of time, which usually tend to be healthier. And if you do want to indulge, it’s a conscious choice rather than an impulse. 

Create a nighttime routine

Establish a relaxing nighttime routine that feels like a nice gift to yourself. You can try different things like reading, developing a skincare routine, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation exercises to wind down before bed. These activities may help you decompress and feel content before bed, which may lead to improved sleep and less intense cravings.

Seek support if you need it

If you find that there’s something in your eating and sleeping routine that is becoming an issue or having a negative effect on your body, consider speaking to a licensed Canadian healthcare practitioner.

These types of health professionals can provide personalized guidance and strategies such as prescription medications to help you find a thoughtful eating routine that’s right for you, or assess what might be preventing you from having a good night’s sleep.

Final thoughts

Remember, making conscious choices to avoid late-night eating or simply eating nutritious, low-calorie foods before bed, can contribute to your overall well-being and weight management goals.

Prioritizing a balanced diet, regular physical activity, and healthy lifestyle habits will support your journey toward a healthier, happier you.

Medically reviewed by


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