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Why you shouldn’t eat late at night, according to science

Guy eating late at night
Science says you need to stop your late night snacking CREDIT: CORBIS

As well as contributing to weight gain, a new study has suggested that snacking late at night could increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that eating late a night raises glucose and insulin levels, both of which are causes of type 2 diabetes.

They also found evidence that poor

timing of meals can also affect cholesterol levels which can increase the risk of heart disease or suffering a heart attack.

 Eating later can promote a negative profile of weight, energy and hormone markersNamni Goel

The researchers asked nine adults of a healthy weight to eat three meals and two snacks between 8am and 7pm for eight weeks and then asked the same but between noon and 11pm for another eight weeks. To control for sleep, the researchers asked participants to sleep between 11pm to 9am for both of the eight weeks.

They found that when participants ate later at night not only did their weight increase, but so did their levels of insulin, glucose and cholesterol.

They also found that during the first eight weeks of daytime eating, participants produced a hormone which stimulates the appetite to help them feel fuller for longer.

Fridge
Midnight snacking could have a detrimental affect on your health CREDIT: ALAMY

Namni Goel, lead author of the study, said: “These early findings, which control for sleep, give a more comprehensive picture of the benefits of eating earlier in the same.

“Eating later can promote a negative profile of weight, energy and hormone markers – such as higher glucose and insulin, which are implicated in diabetes, and cholesterol and triglycerides, which are linked with cardiovascular problems and other health conditions.”

This isn’t the first time a study has suggested that late night snacking could be detrimental to your health. Here we round up five reasons why you should avoid eating late at night…

It can affect your memory

According to American researchers, snacking late at night could negatively affect your memory. The study, from from the University of California, found that eating at irregular hours – such as late at night – had the potential to impact cognitive functions.

Late night snacking could negatively affect your cognitive abilities CREDIT: GETTY

Over a period of two weeks, researchers fed one group of mice – nocturnal animals – during the day while the other group were fed at night like usual.

They then tested the ability of the mice to distinguish new objects in their cage. The mice with the disrupted eating habits showed a lesser ability to recognise new objects than the mice who continued to eat as usual. In addition, they also found that the ability to create long-term memories was damaged in the mice who were being fed during the day.

 It makes you have weird dreams

In 2015, a pair of Canadian psychologists investigated whether people’s eating habits can have a negative effect on sleep patterns and dreaming.

Eating late at night could be responsible for your bad dreams CREDIT: NICHOLAS

Tore Nielsen and Russell Powell asked almost 400 university students to fill in a questionnaire about the diet, sleep, and dream experiences and found that 18 per cent believed food has the ability to “render their dreams more bizarre or disturbing.”

Alongside eating too much of certain kinds of foods (dairy products and spicy meals), Nielsen and Powell found that eating late at night was also to blame for the confusing dreams. They said this could be because late night snacking can often lead to gastrointestinal discomfort which in turn can cause difficulty sleeping.

It increases the risk of a heart attack

Experts have found that eating dinner after 7pm could increase the risk of suffering a heart attack. Researchers from Dokuz Eylül University assessed more than 700 adults with high blood pressure in order to find out whether different eating times made a difference to their health.

Eating after 7pm has been linked with heart disease CREDIT: LAURENCE MOUTON/GETTY

They found that eating dinner late at night had the most significant impact on overnight blood pressure while eating with two hours of going to sleep did more damage than indulging in a high salt content diet.

24.2 per cent of those who ate dinner within two hours of going bed suffered from high blood pressure which did not drop sufficiently overnight, compared with 14.2 per cent of those who ate their evening meal earlier.

Dr Ebru Özpelit, associate professor of cardiology, at the university said: “We must define the ideal frequency and timing of meals because how we eat may be as important as what we eat.

“Eating breakfast is important, we should have a strong breakfast, we shouldn’t skip lunch. We must have a small dinner and it mustn’t be later than  7 o’clock  in the evening.”

It creates acid reflux

According to experts, eating late at night (especially heavy foods) and going to sleep shortly after is a key contributor to acid reflux.

Going to sleep immediately after a meal could result in acid refluxCREDIT: GETTY

Because your stomach takes a few hours to empty after a meal, physician Jamie Koufman says when you go to sleep it allows for the acid to spill out of your still full stomach and leak into your esophagus, leading to acid reflux.

Speaking to The New York Times in 2014, Koufman said: “The drugs we are using to treat reflux don’t always work, and even when they do, they can have dangerous side effects.

“My patient’s reflux was a lifestyle problem. I told him he had to eat dinner before 7pm, and not eat at all after work. Within six weeks, his reflux was gone.”

It makes you hungrier the next day

Eating late at night can have you feeling hungrier than usual when you wake up the next morning thanks to the insulin your pancreas releases after a meal.

Full English breakfast
Eat late at night and you’ll want a big breakfast in the morning CREDIT: RII SCHROER

This in turn produces more glucose which triggers a hormone called ‘ghrelin’, responsible for triggering hunger. Ghrelin usually uses the naturally occurring fast between around 8pm to 8am to reset itself, ensuring you only feel usual levels of hunger in the morning.

However, if you snack late at night, the cycle will still be ongoing and you will feel hungrier than usual, which could potentially lead to weight gain.

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