After a long day of work, it can be difficult to get organized, make dinner, and sit down to eat at a reasonable hour. But what’s really “reasonable?” Is a 10PM dinner too late? A 5PM dinner too early?
Conventional wisdom tells us that it’s better to eat earlier. However, eating too early can leave us craving a dessert, or even waking up to indulge in a late night snack.
There are potential benefits to eating early. If you tend to experience gas, bloating, or other irritating GI symptoms in the middle of the night, you could potentially benefit from winding back dinner time so that you have time to digest before bed.
However, the ideal dinner time can vary between person to person.
In this guide, we’ll go over the potential benefits of an early dinner and the specific steps you can take to help support your digestive system at night.
What Are the Benefits of an Early Dinner?
Setting an early dinner time is both a popular intermittent fasting method and a folk recommendation for good health.
In a 2015 review of research on nighttime eating and its impact, Dr. Amber Kinsley and Dr. Michael Ormsbee explain some of the supposed issues with late meals and nighttime snacking:
- Our bodies process glucose more slowly at night than during the day. Because of that, nighttime eating could potentially result in higher blood sugar levels.
- Gastric emptying—the emptying of the stomach into the small intestines—takes longer at night. This means that it takes longer to digest meals eaten shortly before bedtime.
Combined, these effects have led to the predominant view that consuming eating late a high calorie count late at night can lead to weight gain and other negative health impacts over time, including but not limited to inflammation, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Conversely, eating an early dinner is often used as a weight loss strategy. You essentially set a daily deadline for consuming calories. Then, you give your body the opportunity to digest more before bed, burn more calories, and better process glucose.
So how early should you eat dinner?
Interestingly, Kinsey and Ombree ultimately find that it’s perfectly healthy to eat “small, nutrient-dense, low energy foods” just before bed—and in fact, this can even carry some emotional benefits.
Night time snacking might not carry all the risks you think it does. In fact, new research suggests
there isn’t just one time when everyone in the world should padlock their refrigerators for the night.
Instead, it’s important to customize your eating routine to your specific needs.
Next, we’ll go over some potential options for maximizing night time digestion while nourishing your body.
Plan Dinner According to Your Nighttime Routine
Do you tend to experience gas or GI discomfort at night? If so, you may be able to improve your symptoms by going to bed with your dinner well on its way through your digestive system to not only lessen discomfort, but also boost sleep quality.
In this case, the best strategy is planning your dinner around the time that it takes for your stomach to complete the first step of the digestive process and empty into your duodenum (the top of your small intestine).
How long does it take for your stomach to finish its job? Certain studies indicate that:
How long will it take you to digest? Unfortunately, researchers found no correlation between gastric emptying and other demographic factors like age, gender, and weight.
To play it on the safe side, it’s best to wrap up dinner about three hours before your usual bedtime. If you want to take one step further in support of your digestive function, consider what the best sleeping position for digestion is and how this goes hand in hand with intermittent fasting before bedtime.
The Benefits of Movement
Do you want to eat a little bit later in the evening? Whether it’s difficult to meal prep with your busy lifestyle or you simply like the later European eating schedule, you have options.
Light exercise has been shown to improve digestion before settling in for a good night's sleep. For example, some studies show that walking accelerates gastric emptying, even if it’s done at a slow pace.
If you tend to eat shortly before bed, try squeezing in a walk or some gentle yoga before you slip between the sheets for improved sleep quality.
Consider Your Circadian Rhythm
While there are definitely some benefits to eating early, other studies suggest that the most important factor isn’t when you eat—it’s how consistently you keep to your eating routine.
“Circadian rhythm” applies to our internal sleep cycle—the body gets in the habit of recognizing a particular time as bedtime, and another as wakeup time. Traveling to different time zones or working a night shift can disrupt these rhythms, making it more difficult to sleep.
Did you know that circadian rhythms also include our meal and snack times?
- Evidence suggests that our bodies pair information about meals and sleep pattern. Having highly caloric foods late at night may send our bodies the signal that it’s time to wake up and get active, for example.
- A study from the American Heart Association finds that we’ve incorrectly assumed that meal time has the utmost significance. What really matters, researchers state, is that we avoid irregular eating patterns in favor of “intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions.”
Do you live to snack after dinner? That might be fine, as long as you’re making healthy choices and staying consistent about your snack time.
General guidelines for meal time include:
- Avoid snacking when you’re not hungry (i.e., snacking because you’re bored, tired, or stressed out).
- Pay attention to the food in front of you. Turn off the television and take the time to eat “mindfully”, This can help prevent you from eating when you’re no longer hungry.
- Set clear meal times and stick to them. Integrate snacks into your routine, but don’t spend all day grazing. Eat when you are hungry.
How to Snack Smart
No one wants to go to bed hungry.
If eating an early dinner leaves you craving a late night snack, it might be fine to indulge. In fact, making a healthy snack a consistent part of your bedtime routine could potentially strengthen your circadian rhythms and send your body the signal that it’s time to get a good night’s sleep.
In the study by Kinsey and Ombree, it was found that small, high-nutrient snacks are ideal for before bed. The researchers also note that “single macronutrients” are better than meals—that means that it’s better to eat one food than a snack made of several different ingredients.
Get a Helping Hand From Probiotics
Are you wondering how probiotics are good for digestion before bed?
The gut microbiota plays a central role in how we digest food and absorb nutrients. When we have a healthy, thriving collection of bacteria, we tend to experience fewer GI issues. Equipped with the vitamins and minerals we need to thrive, we may also see improvements in immunity and emotional well-being.
On the other hand, “bad” bacteria can cause a variety of negative symptoms.
Helpful bacteria are naturally found in fermented foods including yogurt, kimchi and kombucha. Probiotic supplements can help you take gut health a step further by introducing specific bacteria with proven health benefits into your GI tract.
Probiotics work best when they’re integrated into your daily routine. Try out one of the following:
- Take a probiotic capsule in the morning, or in the evening as part of your nighttime routine.
- Eat a probiotic yogurt as an evening snack
Are you vegan or dairy intolerant? Try out Bio-K+®’s vegan probiotics.
Thrive Dusk to Dawn with Bio-K+
Creating a healthy, regular routine can be challenging. In fact, there are bound to be days when you stay up past your bedtime or have a bedtime snack a little later than you mean to. But as long as you take a holistic approach to your overall health, you’ll eventually arrive at a wellness regimen that helps you thrive.
Probiotics can help support your wellness on several levels. Stronger digestion means more readily available nutrients to help deal with the hurdles that inevitably arise in life.
Bio-K+ probiotics are specially formulated to support your health. Our capsules and drinkables contain three unique strains: Lactobacillus acidophilus CL1285, Lactobacillus casei LBC80R and Lactobacillus rhamnosus CLR2.
Our scientifically backed products help you create the new routines that will nourish you for years to come.
Kinsey, A. W., & Ormsbee, M. J. (2015). The health impact of nighttime eating: old and new perspectives. Nutrients, 7(4), 2648–2662. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7042648
Hellmig, S., Von Schöning, F., Gadow, C., Katsoulis, S., Hedderich, J., Fölsch, U. R., & Stüber, E. (2006). Gastric emptying time of fluids and solids in healthy subjects determined by 13C breath tests: influence of age, sex and body mass index. Journal of gastroenterology and hepatology, 21(12), 1832–1838. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1440-1746.2006.04449.x
Franke, A., Harder, H., Orth, A. K., Zitzmann, S., & Singer, M. V. (2008). Postprandial walking but not consumption of alcoholic digestifs or espresso accelerates gastric emptying in healthy volunteers. Journal of gastrointestinal and liver diseases : JGLD, 17(1), 27–31.
Wagner D. R. (1999). Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders. Current treatment options in neurology, 1(4), 299–308. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11940-999-0020-x
St-Onge, M. P., Ard, J., Baskin, M. L., Chiuve, S. E., Johnson, H. M., Kris-Etherton, P., Varady, K., & American Heart Association Obesity Committee of the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health; Council on Cardiovascular Disease in the Young; Council on Clinical Cardiology; and Stroke Council (2017). Meal Timing and Frequency: Implications for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 135(9), e96–e121. https://doi.org/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000476