A recent study published in the medical journal, Obesity, revealed that night owls eat a higher percentage of their daily calories in the evening and are more likely to be overweight compared to adults who eat more of their calories before 8 p.m.
The study has been covered extensively on TV, in newspapers and online, but most of the coverage focused on the findings that night owls eat more fast food, drink more soda and eat less fruits and veggies than those who go to bed and get up earlier.
What most reports failed to reveal, however, was the researchers’ finding that eating past 8:00 p.m. was an INDEPENDENT predictor of body weight and was correlated with total daily energy consumption, regardless of what time subjects went to bed or how many hours they slept.
Don’t Fuel Up to Sleep
[sws_pullquote_left] Our bodies don’t need fuel to sleep. We’re not vampires! Or bats! We’re humans and our circadian clock is set to eat during the day when we’re awake and most active. Our p.m. noshing is driven more by habit than hunger. [/sws_pullquote_left]
Researchers at Northwestern University followed 52 adults who wore wrist monitors that tracked sleep and activity. Subjects also recorded all of their food intake and timing of meals and snacks over the 7-day study. Roughly half of the adults had normal sleep patterns while the other half stayed up late and woke up later.
The results found that night owls ate some 754 calories after 8 p.m. while the normal sleepers ate 376 calories during the same time. Unless you’re an endurance athlete, shift worker or plan to go out dancing all night, eating that many calories (376+) after 8 p.m. is too much for 99.9% of us.
Many obesity experts believe that a calorie is a calorie, regardless of when it’s eaten. However, while this is a new area of research, this study and others suggest that daytime and nighttime calories are not metabolically the same.
Research shows that humans’ circadian rhythms that control sleep, eating and activity levels are normally synchronized so we don’t eat nocturnally. Eating at night may cause disruptions in hormones that regulate appetite and hunger, making it harder to lose and maintain a healthy weight. In fact, studies show that rodents get fatter when they’re fed at times when they’d normally be at rest and even feeding animals at different light-dark cycles results in weight gain. Night eaters may also be distracted when munching and crunching and this too may cause overeating, and the foods readily available (and most appealing) may not be the healthiest.
I’m not a night person and I’m even less of a nighttime eater. After dinner I’ll have water and/or tea while watching SportsCenter or Top Gear, but I rarely eat. It took some time to develop this healthier habit, but once I did, I never even think about my old favorite moon-time munchies.
If you’re struggling to lose or maintain a healthy weight, try not eating after dinner and see if it helps. If you’re extremely hungry, plan a light p.m. snack of up to 200 calories but make it something that’s nutritious and filling like handful of nuts with a cup of tea; half of a PB& J on whole wheat; whole grain crackers with some low-fat cheese; half a cup of yogurt or cottage cheese with dried fruit or a piece of fresh fruit.