A dietitian weighs in.
Do You Really Need a Gap Between Dinner and Bed?
A dietitian weighs in.
Have you ever been told you need to finish eating at least two hours before going to bed, but you're not sure why or if it's necessary? Maybe you’ve heard that it helps prevent weight gain or high blood sugars? Or maybe you've heard about the benefits of certain foods to assist with falling asleep. There’s lots of conflicting information online about the need for a gap between dinner and bed, so you’re not alone if you’re feeling unsure about what to do!
A two-hour gap between eating dinner and going to sleep is recommended in Japan for good health, which may be where this idea stems from. But is this gap really needed? Do we ACTUALLY need to cut out those sneaky late-night snacks?
Read on for a dietitian’s take on whether there really are any benefits to leaving a 2-3 hour gap between dinner and bed.
Does eating late at night make you gain weight?
The type and amount of food you consume may be just as important as meal timing when it comes to weight management. This is due to their impact on total caloric intake and thus energy balance. However, increasing intake earlier in the day (i.e. having a substantial and nutritious breakfast) can improve appetite regulation which generally results in lower calorie intake overall by reducing portion sizes and sugar cravings in the evenings.
Does eating within two hours of bedtime affect your sleep quality?
In terms of sleep quality, both the timing and types of foods consumed may play a role. Eating a healthy balanced diet, with an even spread of carbohydrates throughout the day is known to have beneficial impacts on sleep quality. While you don’t want to be consuming a large meal right before bed, the inclusion of wholegrain carbohydrates and protein in your evening meal may result in better sleep. This is because they are high in an amino acid called tryptophan, which is used in melatonin production. Some foods high in tryptophan include dairy products such as milk and yoghurt, nuts and bananas. So, the old wives’ tale which recommends a glass of milk before bed is actually backed by science!
Does eating within two hours of bedtime affect your digestion?
The impact on digestion and sleep quality must also be considered; eating too close to bedtime can mean feeling too full when going to bed, as you are still digesting the evening meal. This can increase the risk of reflux, as well as a disturbed night’s sleep.
Does eating within two hours of bedtime affect energy levels?
While eating within two hours of bedtime doesn’t have a direct impact on energy levels, it can have an indirect impact if sleep is disturbed due to digesting a large meal eaten right before bed. However, for those with extremely high energy requirements, adding in an extra snack before bed can be another window to get a little more in (for example those in physically demanding jobs), and may mean better energy levels due to optimised food intake.
So, is a gap between dinner and bed really that important?
There are some clear benefits to leaving a gap of 2-3 hours between eating and going to bed, particularly if you suffer from reflux or indigestion. Leaving around 2-3 hours between eating and bedtime to allow time to digest your food so you're not feeling full and potentially uncomfortable when you go to bed.
However, if you're someone who needs to eat more for energy, eating later in the day may mean better energy levels due to optimised food intake.
You need to consider your lifestyle, training schedule, and overall goals. At the end of the day, it’s more important to focus on consuming a healthy, balanced diet while being mindful of meal composition and total calorie intake than setting strict rules around the gap between dinner and bedtime.
Chloe is an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD), Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Verde Nutrition Co. You can follow her on Instagram here and at Verde Nutrition Co here.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualised health advice. If you are concerned about your health and well-being, please speak to your GP, who will advise on the correct treatment plan. You can also call Samaritans 24/7 for mental health support on 116 123.