Should You Be Eating Before Bed? The Answers
When we lead busy lives, it's not uncommon for us to be eating before going to bed. Whether it's a big meal or just a small snack to relax with, eating before bed can have a huge effect on how well we sleep and how our bodies function.
Eating before bed and memory
Snacking when you should be preparing for sleep, or even when you should be sleeping, can have an effect on your ability to remember things accurately the following day. This is most likely due to the way your internal body clock works. Your internal body clock is affected by changes to day and night, so it's important to try and match your eating habits to your light exposure, eating more when the sun is in the sky, and less once the moon is out.
Eating before bed and concentration
Eating before bed, especially late at night and if you're sleep deprived, can slow down your mental reaction times and decrease your attention to detail. People who snack late into the night tend to show significantly slower reaction times and larger lapses in attention.
How does eating before bed affect your blood sugar?
Eating before bed, late at night can initially raise your blood sugar. But, when we go to sleep, our bodies go into a light-fast which can mean that you're more likely to experience a sudden and dramatic crash in blood sugar while asleep.
When we eat, our blood sugar spikes, which then causes our pancreas to release insulin to move the sugar into the cells in our body. If these spikes in blood sugar happen frequently (as it should when we eat regularly), the pancreas can deliver too much insulin into our bloodstreams. This can then lead to a rapid drop in blood sugar which can increase the level of the stress hormone we produce called cortisol. This higher level of cortisol causes our bodies to weaken their digestive functions. People who regularly skip meals will find that this cycle does not occur correctly within their bodies. People who skip meals frequently are more likely to partake in snacking or eating before bed are more likely to use sugary foods to get a quick boost of energy.
This blood sugar yo-yo effect in the body can make it incredibly difficult for your body to settle down, making it harder to fall asleep.
Eating before bed and cortisol levels
When we sleep, our bodies should be relaxed and calm. This means that the level of stress hormone, cortisol, should be at its lowest. This also means that when you eat late at night and experience a sugar crash in your sleep, causing your cortisol to rise, your body is likely to feel the effects of stress. In effect, eating highly sugary foods before bed places your body under stress and causes you to sleep poorly.
Eating before bed and your physical health
Because our digestive functions slow down during sleep, our bodies are unable to fully digest any late night snacks of meals. This can not only cause you to wake up feeling sluggish and bloated but can also lead to the development of serious health conditions such as type two diabetes and obesity. Because our bodies slow down during sleep, they also do less of a job at digesting and breaking down the fatty deposits in foods. This can then lead to a build-up of cholesterol in our arteries. High levels of cholesterol can lead to a clogging of the arteries which is a high-risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and can even increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Eating before bed and our internal body rhythms
Our bodily functions are often controlled by our internal body clocks or rhythms. Our external environments affect how these internal rhythms run, so what we put our bodies through and what we put into our bodies can alter how these rhythms work. Eating before bed can throw the body's internal rhythms out of sync and prevent us from winding down for sleep when it comes to bedtime.
So, whilst many of us might think that having a small snack before bed is a great way to help us relax, it could, in fact, be doing more harm than good. Try to avoid eating large meals or sugary foods before bed to avoid disrupting your body’s internal rhythms and making it harder for you to settle down and get to sleep.
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