Look, we get it. After a long, stressful day of work, parenting, and fulfilling your thousands of responsibilities, all you want to do is kick back and unwind in the evening. But if you’ve noticed unintentional weight gain or are struggling to lose weight, your nighttime habits may be to blame. In this article, we chatted with Destini Moody, RDN, CSSD, LD, a registered dietitian and sports dietitian with Garage Gym Reviews, who reveals 10 sneaky nighttime habits that cause weight gain.
According to the National Institutes of Health, eating during times of the day when you’re typically inactive (like at nighttime) can result in obesity and unwanted weight gain. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle—other sneaky nighttime habits may have been part of your routine for years, unsuspectingly making you gain weight. From snacking and drinking alcohol too close to bedtime to scrolling your phone or exercising before sleep, you may be surprised by these nocturnal habits that can cause weight gain.
Read on to learn more about the 10 nighttime habits that cause weight gain, according to Moody. And when you’re finished, don’t miss Do You Have Belly Fat or Bloating? Here’s the Difference.
“Skipping dinner or substituting dinner with small snacks can be detrimental,” Moody cautions. “This can cause your hunger in the morning to shift into overdrive, which can cause you to eat more calories the following day. This effect is even more profound if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t eat a proper breakfast, either.”
A substantial dinner provides your body with essential nutrients, and skipping it can lead to late-night hunger, potentially triggering unhealthy snacking and overeating.
Mindless munching on high-calorie snacks in the evening can contribute to an excess calorie intake. Instead, opt for nutrient-dense snacks earlier in the day, and practice portion control.
“Even if you’re aware enough to adhere to a super healthy diet during the day, if you are an avid nighttime snacker, you could be sabotaging yourself,” says Moody. “Snacks, even healthy ones, can quickly add up in calories over time. This is especially true if you gravitate toward carb-heavy snacks like chips, crackers, and cookies. These snacks digest quickly and don’t keep you feeling full for long, so sometimes you find yourself endlessly snacking.”
Eating meals too close to bedtime.
According to a 2020 study, indulging in a hearty meal too close to bedtime can disrupt sleep and contribute to weight gain. Your body needs time to digest food properly, and lying down immediately after eating can lead to discomfort and potential disruptions in sleep quality.
“Digesting food requires a lot of metabolic energy for your body to expend. To get quality sleep, your body needs to shut down, and it’s difficult for your body to do that if it is digesting a meal. The bigger your meal, the more lack of sleep can negatively impact your weight,” explains Moody.
Not getting enough sleep.
When your body is sleep-deprived, it craves energy-dense foods, and hormonal imbalances can lead to increased appetite and decreased metabolism, making it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight.
“Studies have shown that those who get less than seven hours of sleep a night have increased levels of cortisol (a hormone that promotes fat storage) as well as ghrelin (the hormone that causes hunger),” says Moody. “When your body is sleep deprived, it starts seeking fuel from food. This is why you may find yourself craving sweets when you’re tired, and these cravings do nothing but hinder weight loss efforts.”
Scrolling your phone before bed.
“Most of us have heard by now that the blue light projected from your phone stimulates the brain in a way that makes it difficult to sleep, something we’ve already established is detrimental. However, scrolling on your phone also indicates boredom, and many of us turn to food when we’re bored just to give ourselves something enjoyable to do. This can lead to us eating calories we don’t need,” says Moody.
Research indicates that the blue light emitted from screens interferes with melatonin production, negatively impacting your sleep. Poor sleep quality is associated with weight gain, making it crucial to establish a tech-free wind-down routine before bedtime.
Working too late.
Late-night work sessions can increase stress levels and disrupt sleep patterns. A 2018 review concluded that elevated cortisol levels can increase cravings for high-calorie comfort foods and lead to weight gain around your abdomen.
“Working late at night can cause excessive stress levels, and stress has also been shown to increase cortisol levels. Additionally, many of us crave sweets and other junk food when we are stressed as a subconscious way to obtain some comfort and this habit can wreak havoc on your waistline,” says Moody.
Drinking alcohol to help you fall asleep.
“Despite popular belief, a nightly glass of wine isn’t helping you get better sleep,” says Moody. “Alcohol disrupts the melatonin levels in your brain. In addition to poor quality sleep, empty calories from alcohol are the equivalent of snacking on junk food late in the evening.”
Multiple studies have shown that alcohol interferes with REM sleep (when your brain processes emotions and memories), impacting your ability to rest and recover. Additionally, the extra calories from alcoholic beverages can cause weight gain if consumed regularly.
Exercising in the evening.
While evening workouts have their benefits, intense exercise too close to bedtime can speed up your metabolism and make it challenging to wind down. Also, the increased adrenaline and heart rate from exercise can interfere with your body’s ability to fall and stay asleep.
“There’s nothing wrong with getting a good sweat session in if you can only work out in the evening. However, the endorphins surging through your veins after a workout could keep you awake longer than you should. This is compounded by the fact that exercise can make you hungry, which can ramp up nighttime cravings,” says Moody.
Eating while watching TV.
Mindless eating in front of the TV is a common habit that can contribute to weight gain. The distraction of the screen can lead to overconsumption, as you may not be fully aware of what and how much you’re eating. Research backs this up. A 2019 study found that watching TV while eating meals is linked to poor diet quality.
Moody tells us, “Eating while watching TV, working, or engaging in other distractions prevents the brain from communicating with the stomach that the body is fed, resulting in you consuming more calories.”
Having a huge dinner.
Enjoying a large meal in the evening can lead to overeating—especially if it becomes a habit. Instead, opt for a balanced and portion-controlled dinner to support digestion and promote a restful night’s sleep.
Moody says, “Many people make dinner their biggest meal of the day, which isn’t always favorable for weight loss. This is because it may cause you to wake up not feeling super hungry for breakfast, and skipping breakfast causes your hunger hormones during the day to go haywire.”