Food hangovers: why you want to eat dinner early

With the silly season fast approaching, you may be waking up feeling a little less fresh than normal. Maybe you drank too much. Or maybe you have a “food hangover” caused by eating too much, too late.

A lot of people get food hangovers on a daily basis and don’t even know it. This is what the picture looks like:

  1. You work hard, and get home past 7pm.
  2. By the time you are in front of your dinner, it is 8pm or later. Or maybe you had a big dinner out socialising. Often this dinner is heavy in carbohydrates.
  3. You then feel like something sweet. If you are trying to be healthy, you might opt for a piece of fruit. If you’re past caring, it might be chocolate or ice cream.
  4. You go to bed, often within the last hour or two of eating.
  5. You wake up for no particular reason at around 2-3am.
  6. You wake up first thing feeling really tired (your body feels heavy), in need of caffeine, sometimes dizzy, nauseous and definitely not in the mood for breakfast (which you tend to feel like late morning instead).

Does this sound like you?

If you want to  avoid food hangovers and wake up feeling your best and brightest, the solution is to eat dinner early (at least 3 hours before you go to sleep). When you eat dinner early, you will start to feel lighter and more energised pretty quickly.

You wake up with more energy when you eat an early dinner

When you eat an early dinner, you wake up with better energy. There is no doubt about it. There are several reasons for this:

  • Your body has the chance to break down more food in your stomach before sleep. Breaking down food takes energy, so if you have to do it while you sleep you are going to feel tired the next morning.
  • When you eat late, your blood sugar remains high as you go to sleep. This can result in a blood sugar crash in the early hours of the morning (usually around 2-3am). If the blood sugar drop is steep enough it can actually cause you to be restless or even wake up around this time.
  • Because of this blood sugar crash around 2-3am, you may feel hypoglycaemic by the time morning rocks around (you feel tired, off food and potentially dizzy or nauseous). This issue is compounded by adrenal issues, blood sugar dysregulation, carb-heavy dinners and pre-bed sweet snacks (even fruit!).

You sleep better when you eat dinner early

As mentioned above, when you eat dinner earlier you avoid blood sugar crashes that can wake you up throughout the night. Full stomachs also cause levels of discomfort that can make you restless as you try to sleep.

You will lose weight if eat dinner early

When you combine an early dinner with a delayed breakfast, you are essentially doing a mini Intermittent Fast (IF). The ideal is to create a minimum of 16 hours between dinner and breakfast, but according to science even 12 hours of fasting appears to switch on important fat burning pathways in the body.

When you do an IF, you set your body up in a controlled famine mode that allows for greater weight loss. It does so by:

  • Normalising ghrelin levels (otherwise known as the ‘hunger hormone’)
  • Normalising insulin and leptin sensitivity, which is often increased with high sugar diets and stress.
  • Resetting the body’s ability to use fat as the primary fuel.

Other benefits of IF include:

  • Increased production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). This hormone plays an important role in the slowing down the ageing process and also helps the body to burn fat.
  • A reduction in oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with ageing and disease generally.
  • Improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Some people feel completely daunted by the idea of fasting. If this is you, start with simply trying not to eat for 12 hours. It really isn’t hard, with nine of those are spent asleep. Start by trying it a couple nights a week. I guarantee the vitality you feel in those proceeding mornings will be inspiration enough  to get you eating dinner earlier generally and/or try longer Intermittent Fasts.

Eating dinner early reduces symptoms of acid reflux

 When you go to bed with a full stomach, digested food has the opportunity to travel up the oesophagus as you lay horizontal. You may feel a burning sensation in your chest, or get a vomit-like taste with food particles in your mouth. This is Acid Reflux. There are many ways to avoid acid reflux (click here), and eating dinner earlier is one of them. Doing this gives your digestion time to break food down properly thus reduces the risk of it travelling up the oesophagus.

 Other tips around eating at night

  • If you have to have something sweet in the hours preceding bed, make sure to include some protein and/or fat. If you like fruit, add some nuts, seeds or sheeps/goats yogurt to it. If you have to have a square of chocolate, have a small mouthful of nuts with it (almonds/ walnuts/ pecans). Same goes for ice-cream. By adding a little fat and protein, you offset a potential blood sugar crash while you sleep.
  • If you start to wake up often around 2-3am and you generally don’t eat sugar or carbs before bed,  try a mouthful of protein and fat before bed. Literally a mouthful! Good options include full-fat yogurt, nuts, half a homemade protein ball, or my current favourite – a teaspoon of organic peanut butter on a very small celery stick.
  • If you can’t manage to eat dinner 3 hours before bed, at least try to optimise your digestion before sleeping:
  1. Drink a tsp of apple cider vinegar in a small amount of warm water ideally before you sit down to eat. If you forget, afterwards is beneficial too.
  1. Eat light. Stop eating when you are satisfied vs. full.
  1. Avoid heavy carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice, pasta and flour-based products (such as baked goods) right before bed.
  1. Chew chew chew!
  1. Drink a digestive tea before bed. It may mean getting up for the loo thru the night but that is better than going to sleep on a full stomach. My favourite digestive teas include black dandelion and fennel teas. Peppermint tea is not a good idea at night after dinner as it can relax the valve that keeps food in your stomach and consequently caused acid reflux as you lie down.


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