Late-Night Eating and Metabolism

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People walking in a park late at night

Sleep is not only good for having great dreams and feeling well rested in the morning. Sleep has some amazing benefits when it comes to natural appetite regulation and our healthiest nutritional metabolism. It’s time that we fully take advantage of the great metabolic gifts of sleep if we want to have the kind of energy and health that we know deep down inside we’re meant to have. In this informative video from IPEtv, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating covers topics such as eating before bed and how it impacts sleep, why we often feel tired and toxic in the morning, how to maximize your capacity to heal and regenerate while you sleep, how what we eat during the day impacts our appetite the following day, and more. This is a practical video with lots of great tips that you won’t want to miss!

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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Hi, I’m Emily Rosen, Chief Operating Officer for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating.

Today’s Topic: Late-Night Eating and Metabolism

Sleep is not only good for having great dreams and feeling well rested in the morning. Sleep has amazing benefits when it comes to natural appetite regulation and our healthiest nutritional metabolism. But when we eat late at night, it can often have some unwanted effects on the sleep state.

Let’s dive into this fascinating topic:

Are you the kind of person who eats a lot of food late at night?

If so, one of the downsides of consuming a high volume of food before bed is that we miss some of the great metabolic gifts of sleep. As you slumber at night the body shifts the bulk of its metabolic focus to the maintenance, detoxification, repair, and growth of its tissues and organs. When you grow new muscle and bone, you do so as you sleep. The liver, which is our primary organ of detoxification, does the bulk of its work in the late evening and early morning hours. Sleep is not the most well publicized of our metabolic activators, nor is it the sexiest.

But if this rhythm isn’t fully honored, we pay the price.

By consuming a big meal right before bed, much of the metabolic energy that is usually spent on maintenance, detoxification, repair, and growth is necessarily rerouted into digestion. That’s simply how the body works. Short-term survival needs take precedence over long-term ones. So with an excess of blood flow and metabolism focused on processing your meal as you sleep, you’ll most likely wake up feeling congested and heavy because you didn’t detoxify fully during the night.

The period between dinner and breakfast is evolution’s built-in fast. That’s because the fasting state is the ideal biological milieu to rebuild the body.

And that’s also why breakfast is called “break-fast.”

We’re ending this necessary fasting period with food in the morning.

So if you wake up feeling tired and toxic from eating a large, late dinner because you didn’t have real, relaxed meals during the day, you’ll naturally repeat this arrhythmic pattern. You won’t be hungry in the morning because your body will still be in detoxification mode when instead it should be readying itself for the metabolically stimulating activity of eating. Lunch will then feel to your body like breakfast and dinner will be interpreted by the body as lunch – time for the biggest meal. Some time after the dinner that your body thought was lunch, you’ll likely be looking for “dinner” and end up having late-night snacks.

Oftentimes, you’ll hear nutritionists recommend that you eat your evening meal about four hours before bedtime. A four-hour time period is quite sufficient for most people to metabolize a meal. You will then go to bed without raising your body temperature through the metabolic effect of food, thus increasing your probability of restful sleep. You’ll also do what you were meant to do while lying in bed – healing, detoxifying, rebuilding, and so forth – without sidetracking vital metabolic force into digestion.

To accomplish this, you may need to retrain your body and reorient your lifestyle. Focus on having a smaller and earlier dinner and have a more robust breakfast.

Eating a relaxed, sane, sensuous lunch makes it easier to have a lighter dinner.

If you know you’re going to have a late dinner and that’s simply what your schedule is going to be because there’s no way around it, you can still help yourself with this reliable trick: have a substantial snack sometime before dinner, approximately two to three hours earlier, and eat less at dinner. The snack will decrease your evening-time appetite and you’ll essentially be buying these calories from dinner and expending them earlier, when you’ll better use them and burn them anyway. This strategy is also useful if you find yourself coming home from work and feeling ravenous at dinner. By a substantial snack, I mean anything that has some healthy protein or fat: nuts and seeds, trail mix, nut butter, yogurt, hummus, guacamole, and for non-vegetarians – high quality and organic eggs, fish or meat.

Because of our work style, many of us ignore food and nourishment while we attend, frantically, to business. But this always catches up with us. The minute we return home from the office, the brain finally has permission to attend to our needs. But instead of calmly informing us that we neglected to rhythmically feed the body and nourish the soul during our workday, it jumps all over us like a neglected dog and barks out “I’m hungry!” The ravenous sensations we experience can be overwhelming, causing us to overeat. We then feel guilty and try to make up for our lack of willpower and control by following a tougher exercise regime.

Can you see how oftentimes our solutions to nutritional problems really have nothing to do with the actual problem? Is it clear how we can punish ourselves for all the wrong reasons when it comes to eating and exercise?

By planning a late-afternoon snack, then, you’re making a preemptive strike against ravenous, out-of-control, after-work eating. You’ll be making a conscious choice to attend to your universal right to nourish yourself, thereby short-circuiting the habit of denying yourself food and then devouring it. You’ll also be making a powerful statement that your job doesn’t supersede your health.

And then maybe you’ll get some good sleep, detoxify and re-build your body while you’re dreaming, and wake up feeling truly refreshed and ready to face the world!

I hope this was helpful. Please email us at if you have specific questions and we will be sure to get back to you.

People walking in a park late at night

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