Deadly Nighttime Snacking?


I have never been good at timing when I eat. I may wake up some mornings at 8am and not eat until noon, which ends up pushing all of my eating times back. I have heard the theory that you shouldn’t eat 3 hours before you go to bed because it can result in health issues, but sometimes I eat at 10:30pm, which pushes my bedtime to past 1 am, and then the vicious cycle continues. Also none the health issues never seem to be specific, with weight gain being the only prevalent result. This did not really make a convincing argument that sleeping soon after eating was a health hazard, but since the notion does exist, I thought it was worth exploring.

My first finding was a study posted on WebMD, regarding an increased the risk of having a stroke. The subheading stated that, “people who wait an hour or more after eating before going to bed have a 66% lower stroke risk, researchers say.” I couldn’t gather much from that statement since it was positioned as a relative risk and I wasn’t sure what the normal risk of having a stroke is—which could potentially be low already.

Researcher Cristina-Maria Kastorini, a nutritionist at the University of Ioannina Medical School in Greece, conduced an survey on 500 currently “healthy” people: 250 people who had had a stroke and 250 with acute coronary syndrome—a common type of heart disease where there is a reduced blood flow to the heart because of clogged arteries, which can lead to tightness in the chest and sometimes heart-attacks. The participants were asked to complete detailed questionnaires asking about their sleep habits as well as when and what they ate.

The results stated that compared with the people who went to bed within and hour of dinner, those who waited 60 to 70 minutes were 66% less likely to have had a stroke. It also went on to say that those who waited 70 minutes to two hours had a 76% lower likelihood of having a stroke, but after two hours the reduction of risk began to taper off. I am not sure of how confident I feel in this data because the explanation is very vague and left me with a lot of questions. How did they calculate those percentages from the surveys? What factors were taking into consideration in determining the participants were healthy? Did those who waited longer end up healthier than when they began? Would the risk be the same for someone without heart-related health issues? Too many pieces went unanswered for me to buy into the concept.

What I did appreciate from this study was that the analysis took into a variety of heart disease and stroke risk factors:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Physical activity
  • Weight
  • Smoking
  • Diet
  • Family history
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes

This thorough observation really limits the possibility of third variables playing a substantial part in the study.

The reason why waiting longer might lower the risk wasn’t really discussed other than the fact that eating too close to bedtime increase the risk of reflux disease, which leads to sleep apnea—which is associated with strokes. Overall, after reading this study I feel like I am just as unsure whether or not I should eat around bed-time as I was when I found it. No substantial evidence was made to compel me to definitively stop eating closer to the time I go to sleep, so I guess I won’t concern myself with it as much. I will probably stop doing it anyways because I feel bloated in the morning and it throws off my internal hunger clock, but this study just told me that I am probably fine either way since I don’t have heart related health issues.

4 thoughts on “Deadly Nighttime Snacking?

  1. Asia Grant Post author


    Your question about why nighttime cravings occur is something I seriously empathize with. Why is it every time I am about to lay down and go to sleep, I get this overwhelming desire for chocolate? It is seriously unproductive. But if the Cercadian rhythm has such a influence on these cravings, doesn’t that mean we have the ability to change it, and if so how easy is it to do so? Also, why is only a distinct type of food, why can’t it be something health or that I won’t regret eating later? This makes me believe that it has something to do with stress, because eating is a common way for people to deal with their stress, as well as sleeping. So maybe it would make sense if something is really stressed that when they want to go to sleep (which is a stress relieving activity) they also become hungry, but that is just my thought process.

  2. Asia Grant Post author


    I can sympathize with your comment. The parameters are a bit too fuzzy for my liking as well. I would feel better if they were able to segment the experiment a bit better as to create some clarity. Separating them among all the factors that were considered may produce some radically different results as the ones that they found. Also, it would allow me to just pay attention to the parameters that I fit in, so that I would better know what my potential risk levels are–and in this case it would be a relative risk anyway.

  3. Nick Jacoubs

    I’m a habitual nighttime snacker, so this blog really caught my attention. While I’m sure snacking at night causes weight gain, I’m more concerned about just why cravings get so bad at night. Turns out that our body’s biological clock, the circadian system, triggers cravings for sweet, starchy, and salty food during the evening. This is a byproduct of what worked for our ancestors, whom as hunter-gatherers needed all the calories they could get. But in today’s world of walk-two-minutes-to-the-vending-machine, it’s not exactly as though we’re exercising and hunting for food like our ancestors. A study at the Oregon Health and Science University has found that subjects developed a peak level of appetite during the evening or sometime before bed. This confirms the circadian system’s role in appetite, likely preparing the body for the fasting period during sleep.

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  4. Katherine Jane Ballantyne

    This study definitely made me question whether or not it was part of the Texas Sharp Shooter Problem. The study seemed to have looked at a large group of people who had strokes and heart disease, and looked into a bunch of factors, like the people’s sex, diet, smoking, family history, sleep patterns. So, because the sleeping pattern showed differences with people and strokes, the people deduced that there was some causation there, which I don’t believe quite yet.

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