Does late-night eating affect longevity? Research sheds light

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Anastasia Climan, RDN, CD-N
Published January 20, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Research indicates that eating dinner or snacking late in the evening may decrease a person’s lifespan.

  • Studies have indicated that intermittent feeding may provide protection in humans against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and possibly a host of age- and obesity-related disorders.

  • Experts agree that circadian rhythm plays an important role in human metabolism, and clinicians should encourage patients to avoid late-night eating along with caffeine and alcohol before bed.

Is it possible that eating dinner late or snacking at night ages us faster?

Researchers have reason to believe so, and that intermittent time-restricted feeding (iTRF) and intermittent feeding (IF) may serve as potential antidotes.

As scientists continue to uncover the link between IF, iTRF, and longevity, doctors may want to advise patients to refrain from eating during the 3 hours before sleep.

Link between IF and longevity

There’s no shortage of evidence pointing to the benefits of iTRF and IF for human health.

For example, an article published by the New England Journal of Medicine stated that “in humans, [IF] interventions ameliorate obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and inflammation.”[]

"As a simple dietary intervention strategy, iTRF appears to be both efficient and pleiotropic, with health benefits for multiple tissues, and offers a potential method of choice to combat aging."

Cabo, et al., New England Journal of Medicine

Researchers are learning more about the relationship between iTRF, IF, aging, and lifespan.

In a review published by Ageing Research Reviews, the results of human studies on IF indicated it “can protect against the metabolic syndrome and associated disorders including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”[]

The authors also wrote of how “small trials of IF in patients with cancer or multiple sclerosis have generated promising results that provide a strong rationale for moving forward with larger clinical trials in patients with a range of chronic age- and obesity-related disorders.”

Related: Does intermittent fasting lead to eating disorders?

Tips for navigating late-night hunger

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) may be familiar with the list of health issues associated with eating too close to bedtime. Higher risks of diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome are just a few, according to the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.[]

As scientists continue to unearth the relationship between eating times and longevity, accredited health organizations encourage patients to create space between dinner time and bedtime.

A 2022 article published by the Cleveland Clinic stated that patients should aim to forgo food 3 hours before they head to bed.[]

"When you eat late at night, you’re going against your body’s circadian rhythm."

Alexis Supan, RD, to the Cleveland Clinic

Our bodies are more sensitive to insulin in the morning to give us the energy we need for a productive day. At night, however, our insulin resistance increases, which is why our bodies tend to store late-night snacks as fat while we sleep (instead of burning it off during the day).

Although avoiding food entirely in the 3 hours before bed is ideal, HCPs recognize that it’s not always realistic.

If patients find themselves hungry close to bedtime, the Cleveland Clinic recommended the following snacking options:

  • Carrots and broccoli with hummus

  • Steamed or raw veggies, including grape tomatoes and snap peas

  • One tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple

  • A piece of dark chocolate with fruit

  • Greek yogurt

These foods supply a generous amount of protein, fiber, and healthy fat to help patients feel full quickly without promoting hyperglycemia through the sleep cycle.

This way, people can head to bed feeling satisfied and reap the benefits of a good night’s sleep, ultimately contributing to their health and longevity.

What this means for you

Scientists have discovered that avoiding late-night eating may help reduce aging markers in muscles and the gut, as well as significantly increase lifespan. You can advise patients to eat in accordance with their circadian rhythms by avoiding food 3 hours prior to sleeping. If they must eat, raw or steamed vegetables, hummus, apples, and yogurt are the least disruptive choices.

Read Next: Here’s how intermittent fasting can be safe and effective
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