It’s 2 a.m. You’re sitting at your desk, cramming for that last midterm before finals week. Nothing can interrupt your sharp focus; your eyes are glued to your laptop screen as you watch that last webcast. All of a sudden, you hear a strange grumbling sound: your stomach. You are hungry! But you've heard that eating before sleeping is dangerous. What should you do?

The answer is complicated. Traditionally, people have believed that consuming food before you go to bed has negative health effects, such as weight gain, insomnia, heartburn, and low blood sugar levels. However, busy individuals—like us college students—often work long days and invariably become hungry before bed. In order to resolve this debate, I researched the effects of eating before sleeping. Here’s what I found.

The Myths

cutie, tangerine, clif bar, studying, snacks, study snack, textbook, notes
Jocelyn Hsu

Health experts say that eating before sleeping does not necessarily result in a slower metabolism. Studies show that the human body maintains the same rate of metabolism while asleep. Experts also believe that the stomach should not be entirely empty. This is because the body remains in a prolonged fast when dormant. Without any food in the body, blood sugar levels drop, and this often results in additional morning fatigue.

Eating before sleeping can actually benefit people who exercise in the evening. After strenuous activity, the body often lacks the directly accessible nutrients necessary for recovery. By snacking healthily, the nocturnal athlete stabilizes their body's blood sugar levels. One study even states that consuming protein before bed promotes muscle growth. Perhaps drinking that protein shake before hitting the sack is not a bad idea after all.

#SpoonTip: If you're looking for a great healthy nighttime snack, try eating a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter or have a banana. These two snacks contain essential nutrients, like protein and carbohydrates, and help you sleep more easily.

The Truths

chocolate, candy, sweet
Sydney Davis

Despite the benefits of eating before sleeping, every individual still needs to be careful of what they eat and how much they consume. Otherwise, these unhealthy nighttime dietary habits can promote weight gain and disturb sleeping patterns. Foods and beverages to avoid include alcohol, spicy foods, foods with high acidity, caffeine, and fatty foods. Indulging in these foods increases the chances of heartburn and cravings—only creating more cravings later. 

It's equally important to understand that the body can take up to three hours to properly digest food. This does not mean that a person has to eat a smaller dinner. Toby Morris, a dietitian at UC Berkeley's Tang Center, notes that individual needs vary, so snacking before bed has no clear formula. However, it is still important to avoid overindulging in large meals and snacks. She also suggests checking whether you're physically hungry or just mentally craving something. It's up to you to decide whether you're eating that bag of chips as a study snack or as a means of procrastination.

The Bottomline

tea, coffee, beer
Josie Persson

Like many other things in life, eating before sleeping has both its good and bad sides. Too much, or even too little, food can harm the body. However, by following a path of moderation, pre-bedtime snackers can ensure that the body has sufficient energy and will rest peacefully. The next time you're up late at night, have no fear: it is indeed okay to have a snack but just make sure it's a healthy one.