late night snacking

My mother always told me not to eat before I go to bed. She was right!

The Power of 5 formula works because it integrates 5 very important activities that work synergistically to improve longevity and the quality of our lives.

I place great emphasis on getting a good night’s sleep. Its importance for longevity is unquestioned. A recent scientific article has revealed yet another example of integration within the Power of 5 formula. It addresses the timing of meals prior to sleep as it relates to our metabolism and our ability to control our appetite and weight.

Timing Your Last Meal of the Day

For quite some time scientists have seen a link between the timing of our last meal of the day with increased appetite, risk for obesity, and weight gain. Until this study was published on October 4, 2022 in the journal Cell Metabolism, researchers were not sure why. This article answers the question. Funny, both my mother and my wife must have instinctively known about the phenomenon because they often told me not to eat before I go to bed!

The research performed by lead author Frank Scheer, Harvard professor and the director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston discovered, “When meals are delayed by four hours and everything else stays the same, you burn fewer calories, have an increased drive for food, and experience changes in fat tissue that would promote weight gain.” He adds, “a solution to avoid weight gain is to eat earlier in the day. This new data along with other clinical evidence suggests eating earlier in the waking day helps control weight.”

Appetite Hormones

There is a lot more to the study including changes in hormones that control our appetite: Leptin and Ghrelin. Leptin helps inhibit (prevent) hunger and regulates energy balance so that your body doesn’t trigger a hunger response when it doesn’t need energy (calories). Ghrelin has many functions. It is termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake, and promotes fat storage

Additional Highlights on Late Eating

  • Late eating increases wake time hunger and decreases 24-hour serum leptin levels
  • Late eating decreases wake time energy expenditure and 24-hour core body temperature
  • Late eating alters the adipose (fat) tissue gene expression favoring increased lipid (another word for fat) storage
  • Combined, these changes upon late eating may increase obesity risk in humans

Because of the study design, factors such as light exposure, sleep and exercise were not tightly controlled and could have affected calories burned. More research is needed to incorporate these variables.

Since the Power of 5 is an integrated formula, it is clear from this study that when we sleep and what and when we eat impacts our neurohormonal system (Leptin and Ghrelin) which affects our appetite, our weight, and essentially our overall health. In essence, there are complex metabolic events that occur during sleep, and late-night eating can be disruptive and have adverse effects on our ability to control our appetite and weight.

How can we use this information about late eating to improve our health and wellness?

  • Here are some concrete suggestions about incorporating Power of 5 recommendations for better health and longevity:
    • Set a schedule to get 7-8 hours of quality sleep every night
    • Integrate caloric restrictions which are also referred to as timed eating or intermittent fasting
    • Eat early in the evening 5-6 pm and no food within 4 hours of bedtime
    • Develop a wind down routine (see below) to prepare for bedtime to assure better sleep
  • Here are some suggestions for winding down before bed that I practice and recommend:
    • Disengage from the outside world for an hour or two before bedtime
    • Stop working, come off social media, stop surfing the net, and try more relaxing activities such as chatting, reading or having a bath
    • Do a “mental download” – put your brain into neutral by writing down everything that is whirring around in your head, with a notebook and pen (not a computer)
    • Make your bedroom your sanctuary, cool, comfortable and stress-free

By adding or massaging some of these recommendations into your Power of 5 lifestyle, you are further optimizing your health and longevity.

To a long and healthy life,
David Bernstein, MD

To learn more, read our other sleep blog posts.

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