Most of us live our lives in the fast lane. We wake up early, commute to a 9-to-5 job, try to fit in a workout, and then going home to eat dinner and stream a bit of Netflix before heading to bed. Unfortunately, what those jam-packed schedules mean for our meals is that we often breeze past breakfast and lunch without having anything too substantial, only to make up for the day’s lack of total sustenance at dinner time. But coming home at 8 p.m. and scarfing down a huge Chinese takeout meal – while it may be a treat for your taste buds – can spell serious trouble when it comes to your sleep.
“The circadian rhythm is a very complex system of hormones that are regulated based on a 24-hour cycle,” says New York-based dietician and health coach, Tamar Samuels “The two major hormones that are involved in energizing us throughout the day and allowing us to rest at night are cortisol and melatonin. Cortisol is the hormone that also impacts other aspects of our health like fat burning, blood sugar regulation, and stress. If you disrupt a circadian rhythm, then we see impacts in all those other areas, too. So eating before bed can impact our circadian rhythms by impacting our hormones.”
As far as what that means for your sleep, Samuels adds that eating too close to bedtime can throw off your sleep cycle by sparking acid reflux, a fact which has been found to be true in different studies, too.
“Our stomachs take about three hours to completely empty, so if you are having a meal less than three hours before bed, then that food can cause reflux,” says Samuels. “We need to give our bodies enough time to empty our stomachs.”
It it still important, however, to get that nighttime meal in, so the real question is just how to regulate that meal accordingly so that it doesn’t throw off your sleep. To that end, Samuels recommends striking the perfect combination of carbs, fats, and protein, which recent research has worked on pinpointing.
“The research is relatively new, but says that you should be having about 30 grams of carbohydrates, paired with a healthy fat and a healthy protein, and that combination actually aids in sleep and digestion, and can help anxiety as well,” says Samuels.
So even though it may be hard to manage your time and work out when to squeeze in your dinner at the end of the day, it’s totally worth it – for the sake of better sleep – to prioritize smart late-night eating that helps you feel nourished and energized way beyond dinnertime.