7 Nighttime Habits Making You Gain Weight, Says Science
Sleep is essential for your body to function properly, and if you're like most Americans, you're not getting nearly enough. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis. And you should be getting at least seven hours per night in order to best maintain your health and wellbeing.
There is good news (and incentive to make progress here!): Getting more sleep can help you drop unwanted pounds. If that's not as simple for you as crawling into bed a little earlier, these bad habits might be keeping you from getting the hours you need to shake those final pounds clinging to your frame.
Eating a Big Meal
While you shouldn't go to bed starving (that presents its own sleep-busting problems), you also shouldn't hit the sack completely stuffed. When you eat a large meal before bed, your body is working to digest it long into the night—and if your body is still worked up, so are you. The later you fall asleep, the less rest you'll get, and you'll wake up feeling groggy and more likely to reach for calorie-dense items like these unhealthy breakfast foods.
Eat This! Tip: Instead of eating a monster meal for dinner, try to keep portions about the same as your breakfast and lunch, especially if you eat dinner on the later side. "Dinner size will vary per person, but aim to eat more slowly to allow your stomach and brain to communicate the message that you're full and it's time to stop eating," says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. "You want to eat your last meal at least an hour or two before going to bed," she adds.
Don't get us wrong; chocolate has a lot going for it. In fact, any bar that contains at least 70% cacao is one of our favorite low-sugar snacks or desserts because of its high concentration of antioxidants and stress-busting abilities. Unfortunately, if eaten too late that chocolate could be the reason you can't fall asleep. Dark chocolate contains caffeine, which can prevent your body from shutting down when you want it to if you're sensitive to the compound.
Eat This! Tip: Chocolate bars have varying amounts of caffeine, but an average two-ounce, 70% dark chocolate bar contains around 79 milligrams. For reference, an eight-ounce cup of coffee contains around 145 milligrams. If you know you're sensitive to caffeine, but don't want to ditch the dark chocolate completely, try savoring your sweet treat earlier on in the night or cutting down on portions.
Exercising Too Late
Regular workouts have been found to help ease sleepless nights, but hitting the gym too late can mess with your body clock. Exercising close to bedtime—within about two hours—can energize your body so much that it may not be able to wind down when it's time to call it a night.
Eat This! Tip: If you're not a morning person, try to exercise right after work or midday if your schedule allows. That way, you can head home, eat dinner and relax knowing you'll be able to fall fast asleep when the time comes. If you're stuck at the office really late, you're better off skipping your workout for the night and hitting the hay early. If your body gets the rest it needs you're more likely to stay on track with your healthy eating and workouts in the days that follow.
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Let your phone charge, so you have a chance to recharge, too. The light from screens on your phone or tablet actually suppresses the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. Resist turning on the tube, too. Watching your favorite late-night shows stimulate your mind and can make it harder for you to shut down.
Eat This! Tip: If you can't stop trolling Instagram before you attempt to nod off, try dimming your phone's brightness as much as possible to minimize melatonin suppression. However, the best thing you can do is put the device away and limit your time spent using it before bedtime. Start by shutting down at least 20 minutes before bed, and if you can, increase the time gap between screen time and bedtime each night until you put the phone away one to two hours before you turn in.
Not Packing Your Lunch
Preparation is what weight loss plans rely on, and failing to plan ahead could be why you can't shake those pesky pounds. Forgetting to pack your lunch or high-protein snacks the night before means you have to navigate the office cafeteria or surrounding casual food spots when the lunch hour hits—and hope they post nutrition information.
Eat This! Tip: Use your Sunday evenings to cook food for the week ahead, or at least the next few days. Things like chicken breast, grilled veggies, or lentil and quinoa salads are easy to make in big batches, and you can spread them out throughout the week. To make things even easier, portion the food out into containers as soon as you're done cooking so that you can grab one and run in the morning.
Pouring a Glass of Wine
Wine is touted as the "healthy" alcoholic drink due to its resveratrol content—a plant compound that has been linked to heart-healthy benefits. However, what you may not realize is that your evening glass of wine is considered a high-sugar beverage according to Smith, and drinking too much can hinder your ability to snooze. Alcohol in general negatively influences sleep quality. It may feel like that nightly glass of wine is relaxing you and helping you fall asleep faster, but it actually prevents your body from fully indulging in its REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, which is where truly restful sleep and dreaming occurs.
Eat This! Tip: Try swapping out your glass of vino for a soothing cup of herbal tea before bed — your waistline will thank you, too. If you can knock the alcohol a night, you'll slash quite a few calories from your total for the day, which will lead to even greater weight loss. But if you can't ditch the wine all together, try to enjoy a glass earlier in the night—about two hours before bedtime—to avoid sleep disruption, and close the home bar after one or two glasses — tops.
Eating Spicy Foods
Spicy foods may rev up your metabolism, but they're also ruining your chances at falling asleep. According to Smith, spices like cayenne and Tabasco not only boost metabolism, but also get your blood flowing, which can be bothersome for some before bed.
Eat This! Tip: Eat your spices earlier on in the day and stick to flavoring with herbs at night. Or, if you leave a few hours between your last meal and bed—especially if it's on the spicier side—you'll be able to avoid issues when you hit the lights later.