The Harmful Myth of the Midnight Snack
The healthfulness of the "midnight snack" is a topic that has been examined frequently in recent years, often in the light of emerging diet and lifestyle trends. Gallons of proverbial ink have been spilled examining the "healthiest" midnight-meal options, often attempting to justify them -- and the concept of the midnight snack itself -- within the greater narrative of healthy living.
But the reality is, eating before bed simply is not good for you. The very notion of the "healthy midnight snack" is a myth. Indeed, a veritable constellation of myths have sprung up around eating before bed, and many of these incorrect notions can -- if followed over time -- cause us harm. Some may sound like good sense at first blush--like eating a slow-digesting protein like chicken or turkey breast before bed is good for building muscle, or that popcorn as a midnight snack is "easy" on the body and won't compromise your diet. But putting food in your body before you go to sleep not only compromises your diet, it also wreaks havoc on your body's natural energy production. And here's why.
Eating within the day's last energy cycle is inconsistent with what the body is trying to accomplish during sleep, which is lower energy production to achieve slow and efficient repair and recovery. The efficiency of first-stage digestion -- churning food in the stomach and then moving it to the intestines - burns a lot of energy, and when there is undigested food in the stomach at night, it consumes already sparse energy reserves that should be used for repair and recovery.
When food is added to the mix during sleep, it disrupts sleep patterns, changes the melatonin-serotonin production cycle that is key to both scavenging free radicals during nighttime repair and recovery cycles and next-day alertness, and interferes with the body's production of new energy.
Patterns of late-night eating result in short term deficiencies in repair and recovery as described above. In the long-term, however, midnight snacking diminishes the body's ability to physiologically adapt to our ever-changing environments; more insidiously, it even advances our aging process - because if repair and recovery cycles are consistently inhibited, the body ages faster and earlier, and may lead to looser skin and wrinkles, a weaker immune system, and a host of other ailments.
If you absolutely must eat before bed, have a smoothie, milkshake, or ice cream, as foods that don't require chewing are more easily digestible and energy-friendly. Think twice before eyeing that old pizza at 1 A.M. -- it isn't worth your health.