Most of us, at one time or another, have drunkenly inhaled a few thousand calories before passing out fully clothed with the lights on. Which, of all the times you could eat three days’ worth of calories, is generally accepted to be pretty much the worst.
Extreme episodes of the drunchies aside, one type of late-night eating that many of us engage in on a near-nightly basis is post-dinner snacking — often involving things like potato chips, cereal, leftover pasta and a helping of guilt. The latter comes from the fact we all know late-night snacking is a surefire way to pile on the pounds, because in addition to eating 12 percent more food than those who don’t eat right before bed, late-night grazers can also disrupt their circadian rhythms, enhancing cravings the following day.
Less obvious, however, is knowing exactly what time to cease stuffing your face before bed.
According to Jason Boehm, a board-certified nutrition specialist, the exact time depends on when you go to bed, but it’s generally a good idea to shove a cork in your mouth around three hours beforehand. “It takes about three hours to digest a typical dinner of 600 calories that includes some protein, carbohydrates and veggies,” he explains. If that’s impossible: “Give yourself at least two hours to digest before lying down to sleep,” says Boehm.
The research backs him up: In one 2013 Brigham Young University study, researchers asked 29 men to stop eating at 7 p.m. for two weeks, then eat whenever they wanted for the following two weeks. The researchers found that the subjects ended up eating 244 fewer calories each day when they stopped eating at 7 p.m. Another recent study found that when people who usually ate a third of their calories between 6 p.m. and midnight stopped eating between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m., they not only lost weight but slept better, too.
Which makes sense: Eating a big meal just before bed, says Boehm, can trigger heartburn or esophageal reflux. “In chronic heartburn, stomach acid slips into the esophagus, and that’s more likely when lying in bed shortly after a meal because gravity isn’t helping to keep digestive juices in the stomach.”
So here’s a tip: “When you sense that 10 p.m. hunger wave coming, brush your teeth,” jokes Boehm. “Chances are, macaroni and cheese doesn’t go too well with toothpaste.”