Eating before bed – should it be avoided? 

It’s a common question – should I avoid eating before bed? Is eating before bed bad for you? The answer – it really depends on the individual! 

It is often advised to leave time between when you finish eating and when you hit the hay for the night. Late night snacking is very common and is the time when we reach for the unhealthy and ultra-processed options like chocolate, chips or biscuits after a long day. This can lead to overeating and gradual weight gain. You may also need to avoid eating before bed if you suffer from reflux to allow time for your meal to digest and leave your stomach before lying down for the night.  

More important than the eating time before bed is the overall concept of chrono-nutrition. When we eat is becoming increasingly recognised to be as important as what we eat. Recent research investigating chrono-nutrition focuses on time-restricted eating (TRE) or what can also be called the 16:8 diet. Time-restricted eating is a dietary strategy that emphasizes eating all meals within a ~8-to-10-hour time window each day (i.e., 10am until 7pm). It has been shown to be beneficial for weight loss, blood glucose control, and overall wellbeing.

So, how does time-restricted eating work? 

Humans have a natural body clock, which is set by light and dark cycles, sleeping patterns, temperature, physical activity, and our dietary intake – so ‘when’ we eat. It's thought that disruptions to our body clocks (in this case, eating late) can be detrimental to our health and contribute to diseases like obesity and diabetes. TRE then ensures eating aligns with our body clocks (or diurnal circadian rhythms) and can lead to health benefits. Incorporating TRE reduces the opportunity for late-night snacking and moves the focus from what to consume to when to consume food. The time between our last meal at night and our first meal in the morning is extended. 

Is there a better time for the eating window each day?

The research is still not clear as to what is the best 8 to 10-hour window each day but the overall aim is to ensure there is an adequate fasting period (i.e. time of no eating) that is achievable to maintain consistently. For this reason, 10am until 7pm is commonly researched and recommended. Studies exploring the benefits of TRE provide no guidance or emphasis on reducing energy intake (i.e. calories) or improving diet quality. What still needs to be explored is combining TRE with standard diet advice to see if there are additional benefits. 

On the other hand, there may be some situations when eating closer to bedtime might be a good idea. Consuming protein before bed, like a protein rich yoghurt snack, can help support muscle repair and growth which is particularly important for athletes or very active individuals. 

Remember when it comes to waking up feeling refreshed, aim for 7-9 hours sleep a night and implement sleep hygiene strategies such as avoiding screens and bright lights close to bed. Have a calming routine and stick to a reasonable and consistent bedtime where possible. 

When it comes to nutrition, personal advice is always key. Seek out professional advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) if you are not sure whether TRE or snacking before bed is a good idea for you! The UQ Nutrition and Dietetics Clinic provides fee-free appointments, delivered by postgraduate students under the supervision of an APD if you would like some nutrition advice.

Last updated:
9 January 2023