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Secret Side Effects of Eating Before Bed, Says Science

Those midnight snacks could be doing a number on more than just your weight.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Whether you typically eat your last meal a few hours after work or regularly find yourself heading to the fridge for a midnight snack, most people find themselves eating before bed on occasion. However, those late-night snacks may lead to more than just a full belly over time.

A significant body of research suggests that eating before bed can have numerous side effects on everything from your weight to your performance at work. Before you start raiding the pantry again, read on to discover the side effects of eating before bed, according to science. And if you want to make better food choices throughout the day, discover The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

You may burn less fat.

man eating leftover pizza as a late night snack

If you're eager to lose weight and shed excess body fat, you may want to start by ditching those snacks before bed. A 2020 study published in PLOS Biology found that, among a group of six study subjects over the age of 50, those who ate a meal late in the evening burned less fat while they slept than those who ate their last meal earlier in the day, despite both groups having equivalent caloric intakes and activity levels. If you want to kick your metabolism into high gear, check out the 40 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods.

You may gain weight.

woman eating unhealthy food while watching TV at night.

If your weight loss efforts aren't working, you may want to consider having an earlier dinner. A 2020 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that individuals who consumed dinner at 10 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. were more likely to develop glucose intolerance and reduce their rate of fat oxidation, "potentially increasing the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome," according to the study's authors.

You may be more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.

Woman eating

Your risk of metabolic syndrome—a group of conditions that includes excess abdominal fat, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol or triglycerides and may make you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke—may increase if you typically eat before bed.

According to a 2018 study published in BMC Public Health, among a group of 8,153 adults between the ages of 40 and 54, women who ate dinner close to bedtime or consumed snacks after dinner were more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who didn't. The same study also found that both men and women who ate at night were more likely to experience dyslipidemia, a condition marked by higher than normal levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, or both.

You may have less restful sleep.

Tired woman lying in bed can't sleep late at night with insomnia

Your late-night meals and your morning exhaustion may be more interconnected than you think. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that, among a group of 52 adult study subjects, those who ate close to bedtime were more likely to experience sleep disturbances, including taking longer to fall asleep and experiencing reductions in REM sleep, than those who allowed sufficient time to elapse between their last meal and sleep. If you want to wake feeling rested in the morning, check out these 7 Healthy Diet Changes That Help You Sleep.

You may perform less well at work the next day.

stressed out young woman sitting at desk

It's not just your weight that those late-night snacks may be affecting. A 2021 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology revealed that individuals who ate unhealthy food at night were more likely to have physical issues, including headaches and diarrhea the following day, and be less helpful and more withdrawn at work the following day.

If you want to boost your workplace performance, try these 30 Best Foods That Give You All-Day Energy, According to Experts, and for the latest healthy eating news delivered to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter!

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more about Sarah
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