There are many reasons to avoid eating before bedtime. One of the main ones is impaired digestion and with it, reduced quality of sleep. How else does a night snack affect your health? In what cases are they necessary? And what can be eaten in such a situation? A nutritionist tells us.
Negative consequences of a late dinner
1. Sleep problems
After a meal, the body starts digesting, which leads to increased gastrointestinal activity – this can make it difficult to fall asleep and even end in insomnia.
2. Increased insulin and cortisol levels
A study by Iranian scientists has shown that eating before going to bed can lead to an increase in insulin levels in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, and if its levels are elevated, the body can start to store fat. Therefore, it is important for people who have and want to lose excess weight to determine the appropriateness of such a meal and choose what it is possible to eat at bedtime while losing weight. Cortisol levels may also rise, according to American scientists.
3. Stomach problems.
Or more specifically, the gastrointestinal tract – heartburn or belching may occur.
FATS VS PROTEIN
Eating fatty foods, like nuts, avocados or olive oil at bedtime doesn’t make things better: they can also cause upset stomach, poor sleep, weight gain and heartburn, and raise blood cholesterol levels (i.e. increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases). It is therefore best to avoid them.
Protein consumption can also have negative effects on sleep. Firstly, they are slow to digest – slower than the same carbohydrates. Secondly, some of them contain amino acids such as tyrosine and phenylalanine, which may stimulate the production of the hormone noradrenaline, which triggers an energy rush.
WHAT YOU CAN EAT AT NIGHT
Although we talked above about the difficulty of digesting proteins, it should be noted that in small amounts before bedtime they can be good for our body. For example, a little protein containing tryptophan (an amino acid necessary for the production of serotonin and melatonin) can help us fall asleep. So a small amount of easily digestible protein before bedtime will provide you with the right amount of amino acids and minimise the impact of a late dinner on sleep quality.
It can be:
- cottage cheese in the form of cheesecake or casserole without sugar – it contains easily digestible protein and calcium (but must not be lactose intolerant);
- baked chicken fillets – they are low in fat and high in digestible protein;
- Eggs – they are rich in protein and other nutrients. The best way to eat them is with boiled eggs or poached eggs;
- Greek yoghurt – only that which is high in digestible protein, magnesium and beneficial lactobacilli.
It is best to eat foods rich in slow carbohydrates before bedtime. They are slower to digest, which helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and reduces the desire to eat unhealthy foods. And thanks to their glycemic index, they can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
The glycaemic index is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates from food raise blood sugar levels. Foods with a high glycaemic index cause a rapid spike in sugar levels, which can lead to higher cortisol levels. The latter needs to be low at night to keep sleep sound and healthy – by morning its level peaks and we wake up, and by evening it drops back down.
If stress levels are high, the adrenal glands may continue to secrete cortisol at night
Thereby damaging the quality and duration of sleep and even leading to insomnia. In addition, when cortisol levels are elevated, we experience fatigue, irritability, increased appetite and a desire to eat sweets and other high-calorie foods.
In general, in order to maintain the quality of sleep, we need to reduce stress levels and keep cortisol levels low at night. Various relaxation techniques can be used for this – yoga, meditation, deep breathing. And also fill your daily diet with foods that are rich in slow carbohydrates – you can and should even eat them before bedtime.
These can be:
- wholemeal oatmeal that cooks for more than 15 minutes;
- brown rice;
- buckwheat, especially green buckwheat;
- unsweetened fruit and berries;
- vegetables – preferably stewed or baked, to avoid fermentation in the stomach;
- Rice bread – provided you have no gluten intolerance.