Working on my intermittent fasting blog got me thinking about mealtimes and the best times to eat, particularly in the evening.
One reported benefit of intermittent fasting is you get a better night’s sleep. We need good quality sleep for our bodies to restore properly, yet many of us are eating too late into the evening, which affects this.
If you are waking up tired and groggy in the mornings, it could be that you need to look at what and when you are eating in the evening.
Read on to find out the best times to have dinner for better health and to get a good night’s sleep.
How our eating habits have changed
If we look at our past, we used to eat the main meal of the day much earlier. Before the industrial revolution, when we worked in fields, daylight very much shaped our working day and eating habits. We would be up working much earlier, so our main meal would be at midday to replenish the body and fuel the afternoon’s work. We would also go to bed much earlier.
Since the industrial revolution, our eating habits have been more and more dictated by our working lives. Our main meal of the day is the evening meal, and it’s been pushed back later and later with many people not eating until 9pm.
As a nutritionist and health coach, I talk a lot about the benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet, yet if we want the perfect night’s sleep, when to eat is just as important as what to eat.
Our sleep requirements change as we get older
You may have found that when you were younger you could eat anything, any time of day, and it didn’t really affect you. However, as we get older and enter our 40s, changes occur.
We may need fewer hours’ sleep than we did in our 20s, but we need to make sure we get a good quality night’s sleep so that our bodies and brains do the restorative work required.
Also, our digestion and gut health may not work as well as it used to, so we have to make more of an effort and be more mindful about what we consume and when.
Having a large meal just before bed is not ideal as this places a huge stress on our digestive system. The worst thing you can do is go to bed feeling full.
When is the best time to eat your dinner?
The best time to have dinner is no later than three hours before bed. This allows plenty of time for your body to digest the food and ensure you don’t go to bed hungry.
A heavy meal and poor digestion will keep you up. You may find you awake after falling asleep, or experience insomnia.
The worst kinds of meals to eat late at night are protein rich or fatty meals as they will take longer to digest, so they are best eaten three hours before.
It also goes without saying that caffeine, sugar and processed foods late at night will also keep you awake and disturb your sleep because of the excess sugars, salt and fats.
Change your dinner routine slowly
If you are used to eating at eight or nine in the evening, then it may take some time to get used to a new routine. Start by always having dinner at the same time every night and then try to bring it back an hour.
Another option is to eat a bigger meal at lunchtime and have a light dinner.
Consistency is key, and it’s important not to stress. Sometimes you will eat late. If you know this in advance, then choose a light meal that won’t take long to digest.
You also have to be careful of eating too early, as this can also affect your sleep and health. Going to bed hungry can cause blood sugar dips, which will wake you up in the middle of the night. It could also mean that you reach for an unhealthy snack near bedtime.
What to do if you get hungry in the evenings
If you’ve not quite eaten enough or eaten too early and get hungry later in the evening, then there are some foods which will be a better choice.
Chose small amounts of foods rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is known for its ability to help people fall sleep, and can be found in many ordinary foods, such as turkey, nuts, honey, seeds, oats and bananas.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet at the same time every day, preferably three hours before bed, is the best way to ensure better sleep.
If you have any questions about this or anything else to do with your diet and fitness then do not hesitate to get in touch.