Researchers take a close and dispassionate look at what happens when we consume food late at night.

It was always my understanding that eating too soon before bed was a prescription for weight gain. Then again, I probably absorbed this information from the same brain trust that told me that eating before swimming was dangerous, cracking my knuckles would give me arthritis, and that I’d almost certainly “catch my death” if I left the house with wet hair. In recent years however, researchers have taken a close and dispassionate look at what happens when we consume food late at night and found that the answer to the question at the top of this page isn’t that black and white.

When eating before bed goes right…

…it can stabilize morning blood sugar levels

When you wake, your liver gets to work producing extra glucose to give you the energy you’ll need to get up and out of bed. Ordinarily, that jolt of glucose is sufficient to get us going—even it’s only as far at the coffee pot. Some people—particularly those with diabetes—experience nocturnal hypoglycemia or low blood sugar during the night however. This can disrupt sleep, and leave people feeling groggy and/or ravenous upon waking.

A few studies have suggested that a snack before bedtime may help prevent these changes in blood sugar by providing a little extra energy to help get you through the night and up and at ‘em in the morning.

“It’s really more about what you’re eating versus when,” says Niket Sonpal, a New York City-based gastroenterologist and professor of clinical medicine at Touro College.

Sonpal tells me that eating a large dinner right before bed can negatively affect cardiovascular health and lead to weight gain, while smaller amounts of nutrient-dense food have been shown to be beneficial for maintaining a healthy weight.

“Having a small, clean meal before bed can help regulate blood sugar levels that, for some, drop through the night, which leads to feeling very hungry in the morning,” he says. “

“Lean protein, fresh fruit, vegetable, or a handful of nuts is a great evening option before bed.”

…and boost metabolism

A study from Florida State University showed that fit college-age men who consumed a 150-calorie carb- and protein-rich shake 30 to 60 minutes before bed increased their metabolic rate. When researchers did the same experiment with young obese women, they saw improvements in blood pressure and metabolic function.

“If you exercise regularly, eating some small portions before bed can ramp up morning metabolism,”

Sonpal says. He suggests protein-rich foods because they may help aid muscle repair overnight.