Nighttime Eating: This "Harmless" Habit May Be Affecting Your Energy Levels

In this article, we're going to explain why nighttime eating may be affecting - and harming - your energy levels.
Nighttime Eating: This "Harmless" Habit May Be Affecting Your Energy Levels
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 08 July, 2023

There’s a “harmless” habit that may be negatively affecting your energy levels, making you feel like you haven’t slept well. According to experts, no matter how active you are or what you do in the evening, your energy levels may have to do with what you eat in the evening. Let’s take a closer look at what they’ve discovered and what to do about it.

Nighttime eating: Is it really necessary?

Although it all depends on the kind of food you eat and other related habits, there are those who claim that nighttime eating is necessary, and would not always affect the quality of your sleep. In this regard, it’s been pointed out that one of the advantages has to do with weight management.

And the fact is that you need energy, even when you sleep. But, if you go to bed without eating, the body can retain carbohydrates and fats, as a reserve, instead of spending them.

Also, when you go to bed a little hungry, you may have to get up to eat at some point and sleep is affected. In turn, this can increase cortisol production.

On the other hand, certain foods can be rest-inducing, especially those that are rich in melatonin, such as the following:

  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Cherries
  • Ginger

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What could be affecting your energy levels?

It’s not just eating at night that can hurt your energy level; the issue is how much, at what time, and the kind of food. For starters, it’s not a good habit to have your heaviest meal close to bedtime.

And that’s because your metabolism doesn’t work the same throughout the day, even if it’s the same meal (for example, a steak). Thus, the body’s ability to obtain energy from such food can be affected.

Therefore, large meals at night can disrupt sleep. But, in addition to quantity, you need to look at the type of food, as sometimes unhealthy choices can be consumed.

What nighttime eating habits can harm your energy? The following:

  • Many calories: dinner should not represent more than 15% of the day’s calories.
  • The high content of carbohydrates, especially when it comes to desserts.
  • Too much fat: hamburgers, as well as other salty options(snacks), contain harmful fats.
  • Too much protein: although animal proteins are beneficial, as they provide tryptophan, they are also often difficult to digest, which could affect rest.
  • Too much salt: too much salt can make you drink more water and you may have to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
  • Dairy: according to the NIDDK, 36% of people in the United States are lactose intolerant; and consuming these foods at night increases the chances of flatulence.
  • Caffeinated drinks: this includes coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks. According to studies, the latter can affect heart health by increasing blood pressure.
  • Alcohol: can contribute to dehydration, making you move slower the next day. Not to mention the headache that comes with a hangover.
  • Spicy or acidic foods.

The consequences of eating heavy food at night

In addition to affecting the metabolism, these foods often bring other consequences, such as poor digestion, stomach pains, heartburn, and reflux, since when sleeping in a horizontal position, it’s more likely that gastric acids pass into the esophagus.

Additionally, in a study, it was found that there is a greater chance of waking up in the middle of the night, the closer the food intake is to bedtime. It has even been observed that this worsens sleep apnea.

And it’s because of this “harmless” habit that the quality of rest could be affected, which would be damaging your energy level the next morning.

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Changing your habits

As with so many things in life, it’s not so much what you do, but the excesses. That is, you should not think that the problem is the food at night. Even less should you stop eating dinner, as this could bring worse consequences.

Although it’s also believed that it can be beneficial, within the modality known as intermittent fasting.

Now, to combat this “harmless” habit that may be damaging your energy level, you should focus your efforts on the three main variables: time, quality, and quantity.

Let’s look at some recommendations:

  • Eating an early dinner is best: some people eat dinner at six-thirty or seven (or even earlier).
  • If you feel hungry again at bedtime, you can have a light snack, such as an apple, cheese with crackers (low salt), cereal, nuts, or yogurt.
  • You should avoid fried foods, heavy-to-digest proteins, spicy foods, and junk food in general.
  • Opt for compound carbohydrates: This can also include foods that contain protein. Bananas are a good choice.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages in the evening.

Other suggestions regarding nighttime eating

You should try to maintain good sleep hygiene, but this is not only related to food. In this sense, other recommendations to take into account are the following:

  • Don’t use electronic devices for a prolonged time in bed before going to sleep.
  • Do activities that help you relax, such as meditation.
  • A moderate exercise routine can also increase your energy levels by increasing blood flow and tissue oxygenation.

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When to go to the doctor

A low energy level at some point can be normal. It may just be a temporary situation due to a bad night’s rest.

However, if this goes on for a certain period of time (more than a week), it’s a good idea to see a doctor. According to the Harvard Health website, prolonged fatigue could be related to depression or an underlying illness, especially if there are other symptoms, such as loss of appetite, labored breathing, and discouragement.

A doctor will try to rule out anemia and hypothyroidism. However, all it may take is a little rest and improved eating habits at night to get your energy level up to 100% in the morning.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.