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The INSIDER Summary:
Late-night snacking in front of the TV has become a
pretty regular habit for me,
sometimes I have trouble
sleeping which makes me feel tired the next
For a week, I cut out all nighttime snacks after dinner
and before bed to see if it would help me sleep and feel
I was often still hungry after dinner. I realized I
needed to eat more during the day and add carbs to my
plate at dinner to curb my late-night
My sleep improved slightly, but I should probably
spend less time watching TV at night to get more rest.
I haven’t stopped eating at night altogether,
but I make healthier choices when it comes to what I eat
and think twice before reaching for a snack.
On most nights, after having dinner, I’m not done
eating. I live in a small apartment, where the
living room is literally in the kitchen. As a result, I’m
used to eating dinner while I watch TV — and often reach for
Despite my nighttime eating habits, I lead a pretty healthy
lifestyle. I follow a balanced diet, I don’t drink much,
and I try to work
out regularly. On busier days, I’ll end up ordering
takeout, but most of the time my dinners are nutritional,
home-cooked meals that are usually low in carbs.
After dinner is when the damage is done. I’ll microwave some
popcorn, or maybe crack open a tub of low-fat ice
cream (and when Halo Top isn’t
cutting it, I’ll steal spoonfuls of my husband’s
cream). This has become a somewhat regular habit,
and it’s frustrating when I’ve gone a whole day of
eating healthily only to end up ruining it with
I also tend to have trouble sleeping, and wondered
if my late-night snacking was contributing to that. So, I
challenged myself to cut out pre-bedtime snacks for a week to see
if it would make me sleep any better, or if it
could change my relationship to food.
Even though a week of skipping evening snacks might
not seem enough to make a significant difference —
admittedly I slipped a couple of nights — I did notice some
changes to how I usually feel during the experiment.
Here’s what I learned:
Lesson #1: Cutting out after-dinner snacks didn’t
necessarily encourage me to make healthier choices.
I started out the experiment dreading it. My willpower is
frankly non-existent, and I’ve found that strict diets or cutting
out certain food groups altogether don’t work for me in the
I realized fairly quickly that continuing to eat low-carb
dinners wouldn’t work, because I still felt hungry after.
One day, after working out, I had a chicken and
vegetable curry with green beans instead of rice for dinner. I
was still really hungry after and, having worked
out, I convinced myself that it was OK to have some
post-dinner fruit. And just like that, I broke my
snack-free rule. On other nights, I was better,
however, and sipped my nightly cup of green tea in
resentment as my husband enjoyed a bag of potato chips or
In addition to eating more for dinner and adding carbs to my
plate, I found a way to cheat by having my
snacks before diner. This tricked my body
into not wanting those snacks later. Noticing this pattern,
however, I made an effort to eat more fruit and
vegetables, and would munch on carrot sticks or an
apple as I cooked dinner to curb my cravings later.
“The reality is, you shouldn’t feel more hungry after dinner,”
registered dietitian Wendy Bazilian, author of “Eat Clean, Stay Lean:
The Diet,” told INSIDER. “Although you may feel your
digestion change or a bit of shift, which might be interpreted as
hunger, that can dissipate within just a couple days,” she said.
“Your digestive system is near-constantly in motion,” she added,
saying that “some people sense that ‘any motion’ is hunger and
that’s not the case.”
Bazilian also suggested that not eating before bed can also help
you fall asleep quicker.
Lesson #2: Not eating snacks may or may not have
helped me sleep better, but I felt better when I woke
up each morning.
Though most nights I would get to bed around the same time as
usual (around 11.45 p.m.), I found that I was sleeping
slightly better than usual.
One blissful evening, I even went to bed at 9.30 p.m. —
a very rare occurrence — and had the best night’s
sleep in a long time. I felt refreshed the next morning, though
I’m not sure if sleeping better that night had to do with
not eating anything before bed, or being tired from a late
night the day before.
As registered dietitian Lisa De Fazio
told me, snacking before bed doesn’t help you sleep.
“Eating before bed will cause your blood sugar to spike
and crash while you sleep,” she told INSIDER. “This blood
sugar crash will put stress on the body, weaken the digestive
system, and lead to adrenal exhaustion. Sleep is is all
about relaxation and restoration. Cortisol, the stress hormone,
should be at its lowest at night. When blood sugar crashes in
the middle of the night, cortisol levels rise, and melatonin
decreases. Melatonin helps you sleep well.”
Bazilian said that not having snacks close to bedtime can
not only improve your sleep, but also the way you feel in the
morning. “Falling asleep time (how fast) can improve,
staying asleep can improve, and the quality of the sleep can
improve,” she said, adding that everything from the amount of
calories to the fat and salt content in food can also affect
sleep in a negative way, and even make you feel more tired the
So it’s likely that cutting out high-salt popcorn or those
occasional spoonfuls of full-fat ice cream, could have
helped me sleep on some nights during that week.
That said, I still didn’t notice a big
improvement in my sleep. Registered ddietitian Andy
Bellatti, the strategic director of Dietitians For Professional Integrity,
pointed out that getting a good night’s sleep also comes
down to curbing other habits besides snacking.
“If better-quality sleep is the problem to solve, I
would prioritize other things before going to bed: minimizing
screen time, meditating, soothing music, and avoiding the news,”
he told INSIDER. It’s safe to say that I avoided none of
these things, which might explain why I didn’t notice a
hugely positive change.
Lesson #3: I probably need to eat more during the day, and
stop eating in front of the TV.
Not eating snacks in the evening made me realize that, most
of the time, the reason I want more to eat after dinner
is because I’m still
hungry. Having a light breakfast or lunch,
both of which I usually eat at my desk, didn’t help, and may have
been part of the reason I kept snacking at night.
I also realized that, even on the nights when I did feel full
after dinner, I felt like I was missing something when watching
TV. My “Real Housewives” binge wasn’t quite the same without
my post-dinner popcorn or Halo Top. But did I really need
those snacks, or was I just used to having them in my hands when
watching my show?
According to Bellatti, a pattern of late-night snacking
is often out of habit rather than necessity.
“Many of my clients who curb late-night snacking
fare off well in the long-term because their usual post-dinner
snacks were cookies, ice cream, and baked goods,” he
said. “Replace that with healthier items (or eliminate the
late-night snacking altogether, since often times that has more
to do with habits — like watching television — or emotional
eating) and you’ll be better off.”
Lesson #4: Eating nothing after dinner and before bed
doesn’t make you a saint.
While I was cutting out all snacks for the experiment, I don’t
think it’s a sustainable or realistic rule. That would
mean never having another dessert (unthinkable), and
denying yourself food if you’re ever genuinely hungry after
having an insufficient dinner.
If you don’t eliminate eating snacks at night altogether —
which I don’t plan on doing again anytime soon — it’s
probably a better idea to choose healthier snacks,
and have them at least an hour or two before your
bedtime, according to Bellatti.
“If you are physically hungry after dinner and aren’t going
to bed for another hour/hour and a half or so, snack on something
that promotes stable blood sugar,” he said, suggesting a handful
of almonds, two squares of dark chocolate, a glass of unsweetened
coconut milk, or a chia pudding.
Since the experiment ended, I’ve definitely made a move to
eating healthier if I crave a late-night snack, and I have
stopped snacking quite as much — though I can’t say I’m ready to
give up my Halo Top for good.
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