By healthline

The exact time you should stop eating for the day has been debated for some time.

Many factors influence when a person stops eating, such as appetite, habits, culture, work schedules, personal preferences, and social settings.


The primary concern for most people is that eating too late may contribute to weight gain. Everyone has an opinion on the best time to stop eating, but you may wonder whether any of it is based on scientific research.

This article examines the best time to stop eating and the health effects of eating late in the day.

Many people are interested in when they should stop eating at night due to the perception that late-night eating causes weight gain.

It’s well established that eating more than your body needs contributes to weight gain. Thus, if you’re doing a lot of late-night eating on top of your regular meals, you may gain weight

Recently, research has examined the timing of meal intake and its effects on health

This means that it may not only be what you eat but also when you eat that affects your weight and health.

Though there’s no established time when you should stop eating at night, various approaches outlined below may help you find a time that works for you.

Circadian rhythm

The 24-hour body clock, also known as your circadian rhythm, may influence the best time to eat based on its effects on hunger, nutrient absorption, insulin sensitivity, and metabolism

To match your body clock, the recommended eating window is less than or equal to 8–12 hours a day, during daylight hours. Eating outside of this window may lead your body to process calories less efficiently, which may contribute to weight gain.

One study found that when mice were fed a high fat meal according to their circadian rhythm, they had significantly lower weights than mice fed the same high fat meal outside of their circadian rhythm.

Furthermore, eating over a period greater than 12 hours a day may increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

In a small study including 8 men with prediabetes, eating within a 6-hour window from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. resulted in improvements in blood sugar levels, blood pressure, and appetite.

In another study, fasting blood sugar levels adults in adults with prediabetes were lower when they ate within an 8 a.m.–5 p.m. window than from 12–9 p.m..

This may be why shift workers — whose hours are likely to be irregular — may be at a greater risk of chronic conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes. However, these claims are inconclusive.

However, the associated increased risk of chronic disease may be due to a combination of poor quality sleep, irregular eating patterns, and other factors.

Intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting involves eating within a specific window — often 8–12 hours — over any time during the day. Thus, it differs slightly from eating according to your body clock.

Intermittent fasting has been linked to improved levels of blood sugar, cholesterol, body fat, and inflammation.

Many intermittent fasting regimens suggest skipping breakfast and having most of your meals later in the day.

However, some studies note that eating a bigger breakfast and smaller evening meal may lead to better blood sugar control, decreased body fat, and lower hunger levels.

Reducing your eating window to 12 hours or fewer may minimize mindless snacking, thus lowering your overall calorie intake and preventing weight gain.

Effects of eating late at night

Eating late at night may affect your weight, disease risk, acid reflux, and food choices. Still, bear in mind that more research is needed in each of these areas.

Weight gain

While many people are concerned that eating too late may contribute to weight gain, research is inconclusive.

One theory that may support this claim is the idea that your body’s ability to burn the food you eat — also called food-induced thermogenesis — differs throughout the day. It’s higher in the morning and lower in the evening.

Limiting your food intake late at night may also indirectly lead to a reduction in calorie intake, thus preventing weight gain.

Still, more research is needed.

Metabolic syndrome

Numerous studies show that eating late or throughout a wide eating window may increase your risk of metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that includes insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

One study looked at the metabolic effects of a late dinner (9 p.m.) versus a routine dinner (6 p.m.) in 20 adults. The late dinner resulted in higher blood sugar levels the following morning and a reduced breakdown of dietary fat, compared with the routine dinner.

In the long term, this may contribute to obesity.


Depending on the size and quality of the meal, eating too late may increase your risk of acid reflux, especially if you go to bed shortly after the meal.

Reflux occurs when acid in the stomach begins to irritate the esophageal lining. Long term, it may cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

In a study that study compared the effects of a 6 p.m. meal with a 9 p.m. meal in healthy adults, the early dinner was shown to reduce acid reflux symptoms.

Poor food choices

Eating later in the day may lead you to overeat or choose easy, quick foods that are likely to be unhealthy, such as chips, candy, or ice cream.

Indeed, in a study among104 people with obesity, 45% chose sweets as the snack of choice in the evening and night.

Plus, not eating enough throughout the day may lead to overeating at night. One review demonstrated that those who had fewer than the average three meals per day felt less full than those who ate three meals or more.

Choosing meals that are less filling may also increase your desire to eat.

In a study including 35 men with obesity, those who followed a filling diet high in protein and fiber experienced a reduced desire to eat.

Simple tips to stop late-night cravings

A few basic strategies may help you avoid eating late at night.

Enjoy regular meals. Eating regular meals throughout the day — especially ones that are very filling, such as those high in fiber and protein — may reduce your desire to eat late at night.

Avoid keeping snacks at home. “Out of sight, out of mind” pertains to late-night snacking. The more visible a food is, the likelier you are to eat it. If you’re tempted to snack at night, place snacks where you can’t see them — or avoid keeping them at home.

Brush your teeth. When you brush your teeth, it’s like telling your body that you’re done eating for the day. Plus, some foods don’t taste good after brushing. Have you tried eating an orange straight afterward? I don’t recommend it.

Drink herbal tea. Instead of rummaging through the fridge after a long day, try forming new healthy habits that don’t involve eating. One simple idea is to brew a pot of calming chamomile tea.

Go to sleep early. Staying up late may give you more opportunities to raid the fridge at night. Also, getting insufficient sleep may raise hunger hormone levels, leading you to eat more. Aim for 7–8 hours of sleep each night.

The bottom line

Although some research suggests that your body may metabolize food differently during the day versus the night, there’s no scientific consensus on the best time to stop eating.

Some evidence suggests that eating late may negatively influence weight and metabolic risk factors. However, the quality and quantity of your meals are just as important.

The best time to stop eating may depend on your individual preferences, as well as other factors like work, hunger levels, and cultural practices.

Is It Bad to Eat Before Bed?

Many people think it’s a bad idea to eat before bed.

This often comes from the belief that eating before you go to sleep leads to weight gain. However, some claim that a bedtime snack can actually support a weight loss diet.

So what should you believe? The truth is, the answer isn’t the same for everyone. It depends a lot on the individual.

Eating before bed is controversial

Whether you should eat before bed — defined as between dinner and bedtime — has become a hot topic in nutrition.

Conventional wisdom says that eating before bed could cause weight gain because your metabolism usually slows down when you fall asleep. This could increase the likelihood that the calories will be stored as fat.

Alternatively, some health experts say that eating before bed is perfectly fine and may improve sleep or weight loss.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that many people are unsure of what the best option is.

Part of the problem is that there’s evidence to support both sides of the argument.

Although many people believe that a slower metabolism during sleep leads to weight gain, your nighttime basal metabolic rate is almost as high as during the day. Your body still needs plenty of energy while you sleep.

There’s also limited evidence supporting the idea that calories count more before bedtime than they do at any other time of the day.

Even though there seems to be no physiological reason, several studies have linked eating before bed with weight gain.

So what’s going on here? The reason is probably not what you expect.

It may lead to unhealthy habits

The current evidence shows no definitive physiological reason why eating before bed should cause weight gain. However, several studies show that people who eat before bed are more likely to gain weight.

The reason for this is much simpler than you might expect. It turns out that people who eat before bed are more likely to gain weight simply because a bedtime snack is an extra meal and, therefore, extra calories.

Not only that, but the evening is the time of day when some tend to feel the hungriest.

Research has also found that those who experience stress tend to see a rise in ghrelin — the hunger hormone — in the evening. This makes it even more likely that a bedtime snack will end up pushing your calorie intake over your daily calorie needs.

There are those who like to snack at night while watching TV or working on their laptops, and it’s no surprise that these habits might lead to weight gain.

Plus, some people become extremely hungry before bed because they didn’t eat enough during the day.

This extreme hunger can cause a cycle of eating too much before bed, then being too full to eat much the next morning, and again becoming overly hungry before bed the next evening.

This cycle, which can easily lead to overeating and weight gain, highlights why many individuals should eat balanced meals during the day.

It would seem that the problem with eating at night isn’t explicitly linked to your metabolism switching to storing calories as fat at night. Instead, weight gain can be caused by bedtime snacking, which increases your caloric intake.

It’s not good if you have acid reflux

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition that affects 18.1 to 27.8 percent of people in the United States. It happens when gastric contents such as stomach acid splash back into your throat.

Symptoms include:

  • heartburn
  • difficulty swallowing
  • a lump in the throat
  • dental erosions
  • chronic cough
  • laryngitis

If you have any of these symptoms, you may want to avoid eating before bed because lying down makes it much easier to regurgitate.

Therefore, if you have reflux, it’s a good idea to avoid eating anything for at least 3 hours before lying down in bed.

Additionally, you might want to avoid drinking or eating anything containing caffeine, alcohol, tea, chocolate, or hot spices. All of these foods can aggravate symptoms.

Potential benefits

While eating before bed may not be the best idea for some people, it can benefit others — it may actually curb nighttime eating and aid weight loss. 

Some evidence suggests that, rather than causing weight gain, eating a bedtime snack may help some people lose weight.

If you’re someone who tends to eat a big portion of your calories after dinner, having a structured snack after dinner instead of continually “grazing” can help to manage your appetite and may prevent overeating.

In one 4-week study of adults who were night-snackers, participants who began eating one bowl of cereal and milk 90 minutes after dinner ate an average of 397 fewer calories per day.

Ultimately, participants lost an average of 1.85 pounds (0.84 kilograms) from this change alone.

This study suggests that adding a small after-dinner snack may help night-snackers feel satisfied enough to eat less than they would otherwise. Over time, it may also have the possible benefit of weight loss.

Better sleep

Getting enough sleep is very important, and sleep deprivation has been linked to overeating and weight gain.

There’s no evidence that a small, healthy snack before bed leads to weight gain. Just keep in mind your total daily calorie intake.

Therefore, if you feel that eating something before bed helps you fall asleep or stay asleep, it’s OK to do so.

Stabilized morning blood sugar

In the morning, your liver starts to produce extra glucose (blood sugar), which provides you with the energy you need to start the day.

This process causes scarcely any change in blood sugar for people without diabetes. However, some people with diabetes can’t produce enough insulin to manage the extra glucose from the blood.

For this reason, people with diabetes may wake up in the morning with high blood sugar, even if they haven’t eaten anything since the night before. This is called the Dawn Phenomenon.

Other people may experience nocturnal hypoglycemia or low blood sugar during the night, disturbing sleep.

If you experience either of these phenomena, you might need to talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting your medication.

A few studies have also suggested that a snack before bedtime may help prevent these changes in blood sugar by providing an additional energy source to help get you through the night.

However, since the research is mixed, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to decide what is best for you.

What should you eat before bed?

For most people, it’s perfectly OK to have a snack before bed.

There’s no recipe for the perfect bedtime snack, but there are some things you should keep in mind.

While eating before bed isn’t necessarily a bad thing, loading up on traditional dessert foods or junk foods such as ice cream, pie, or chips isn’t a good idea.

These foods, which are high in unhealthy fats and added sugars, trigger cravings and overeating. They make it very easy to exceed your daily calorie needs.

Eating before bed doesn’t necessarily make you gain weight, but filling up on these calorie-dense foods before bed certainly can, and it’s best to limit them.

If you have a sweet tooth, try some berries or a few squares of dark chocolate (unless the caffeine bothers you). Or, if salty snacks are what you prefer, have a handful of nuts instead.