Sleeping After Eating: Nighttime Snack 411

Should you sleep after eating? And what snacks are best to eat before bed?

It’s as familiar as hearing you shouldn’t eat just before swimming: Don’t eat before bedtime, either. But is there any evidence to show that sleeping after eating is actually harmful? Well, that depends.

For people who suffer from reflux, lying down right after a meal can worsen symptoms, so it’s best to wait three hours after eating before heading to bed, according to research in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

If you’re just wanting a quick snack and worried it will add to your waistline, the most recent evidence suggests there’s nothing to fret if you’re having a small snack full of nutrients and low in calories. A healthy snack between 100 and 200 calories may even help metabolism, muscle growth and heart health, notes a review of the evidence in the journal Nutrients.

A 150-calorie protein shake 30 minutes before bedtime improved recovery and muscle growth after resistance exercise, notes a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. In another study from the British Journal of Nutrition, overweight women who exercised three times a week felt less hungry in the morning if they had a protein shake before bed.

What about those studies claiming eating late at night increases weight gain? They’re not wrong – but most of them refer to people who stay up late and eat more calories than the daily amount they need, research in the journal Sleep notes. Staying up late might also mean not getting enough sleep, and plenty of research shows that too little sleep or poor quality sleep can contribute to weight gain. It’s also best to avoid large meals, especially those high in fat, later in the evening because they can make it harder to fall asleep.

If you are trying to lose weight, eating your biggest meal or lots of carbohydrates late in the day may slow down calorie burning and weight loss, studies in the International Journal of Obesity show. If you’re so hungry that a small snack won’t cut it, you may not be eating enough during the day.

The trick to grabbing a snack before bed is choosing wisely. Just as you wouldn’t down a cup of coffee before hitting the sheets, you probably shouldn’t eat a chocolate bar. Be sure you’re getting enough sleep in general because the more tired you are, the more likely you are to reach for something sweet or salty – with lots of calories.

Try one of these snacks instead:

  • Oatmeal raisin cookie (excellent bedtime snack)
  • String cheese
  • Rolled up turkey slice with cheese
  • Tablespoon of peanut or almond butter on wheat toast
  • Avocado or hard-boiled egg on wheat toast
  • Half cup of Greek yogurt, with or without fruit
  • Half cup of cottage cheese
  • Apple, pear or banana with a tablespoon of peanut butter
  • Trail mix
  • Small handful of nuts and fruit, such as grapes or berries
  • Cereal with low-fat milk
  • Four to six crackers with an ounce of cheese

For more ideas, check out How to Snack Smarter When You’re Sleepy.