Is late-night snacking ‘bad’ for you?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Everyone’s work, sleep and eating routines are different, and these change at different points of our lives. So, there’s no doubt that occasionally some people will find themselves snacking late at night, for one reason or another. But is late-night snacking an unhealthy habit and should we be trying to avoid eating late at night?
In this article we’ll look at why you might need a snack late at night, the impact this might have on your body and other ways to make sure you’re getting the food and nutrition your body needs.
Reasons for late-night snacking
Sometimes you might just feel like a snack later on in the evening and there’s no real reason behind it, other than feeling a bit hungry or fancying a bit of something tasty that’s sat in your fridge. But there are lots of different reasons why your body might feel like it needs something to eat late at night, for example:
- Working shifts - you might need sustenance (or even a full meal) in the late hours to help keep you energised for work
- It’s become a habit
- You’re feeling stressed or anxious – sometimes people eat more when they’re stressed, particularly sugary foods
- Skipping meals in the day can make you hungry
- Drinking alcohol can make you hungry
- You’re tired and in need of energy
Some people with diabetes who are taking insulin or other diabetes medicine might need a snack before going to bed to prevent low sugar levels.
Is late-night snacking bad for you?
The occasional late-night snack isn’t bad for you. Generally, we try and steer clear of labelling foods or behaviours as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But there is some evidence to suggest that eating late at night, just before you go to bed can increase your risk of being overweight and potentially other health conditions.
Firstly, there’s the idea that eating late at night is potentially adding extra calories to your diet, outside of the regular meals you’re eating, which could lead to weight gain. It’s also thought that eating late at night can increase the levels of harmful fats in your blood, which could lead to an increased risk of heart disease or a stroke.
A study from 2022 found that eating late at night can increase how hungry you are when you’re awake and decrease how quickly your body uses energy when you’re awake. It also showed that late-night eating can also change the way body fat tissue works, making it more likely to store fatty compounds (lipids).
Another 2022 US study found that eating too late a night can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms. Your circadian rhythm is your internal body clock which tells you when to sleep by responding to daylight. The disruption of these rhythms can change the rate at which you use energy, also leading to an increased risk of weight gain.
Does eating late at night impact your sleep?
There is evidence that eating just before going to bed can impact how well you sleep, which is a key component of your health. Eating a heavy meal before bed means that your body has to digest it overnight. This can sometimes cause discomfort and impact the quality of your sleep.
Sleep is important for your body to have time to rest and repair, not least for your gut. So, if your digesting food late into the night while you’re sleeping it won’t only impact your sleep but also your gut health. Giving your gut bacteria time to rest overnight can help keep the gut healthy.
Food and drink to avoid before bed
Where possible you should stick to regular eating times and make sure you’ve had your final meal of the day long before going to bed, so it has time to digest. However, if you do feel really hungry before bed, its okay to have a snack but keep it light, and try to avoid:
- Heavy meals – your body will find these hard to digest late into the night
- Sugary foods and drinks – these can give you a burst of energy, which you don’t want before winding down to sleep
- Caffeinated drinks – you should actually try and avoid these after 4pm as the caffeine can keep you awake
Ways to avoid late-night snacking
If you do find that you’re snacking just before bed, here’s some tips for trying to avoid it.
Get more sleep
You might feel hungry later on in the evening if you’re lacking energy. Perhaps going to bed earlier or trying to get more rest might help.
Brush your teeth after dinner
Brushing your teeth right after eating can send a signal to your mind that you’re finished eating for the day.
Planning your meals head of time (maybe each week before you do your shop) can help you stick to a routine and avoid snacking.
Avoid buying snacks
Not having snacks in the house is one of the easiest ways to avoid eating them. But for lots of people this is easier said than done, especially if you have other people in the house who might need those snacks. In that case could you move them to break the routine/habit?
Think about the triggers
If you think your late-night snacking might be triggered by an emotional response to something, you might want to think about how you could tackle that. If it’s stress, is there a cause? If it’s anxiety, could you speak to someone?
Get help with losing weight
For some people, taking steps to avoid late-night snacking and trying to get into a better routine with eating which help them have a healthier, balanced diet. This can in-turn help you get better sleep and might help you lose weight.
Reducing calories and increasing the amount of activity you do is one of the best ways to start on a weight loss journey. Some people also find that weight loss treatments help, you can read our guide to medicated weight loss here to find out more.