Eating Late at Night Has its Health Risks — Including Cancer

It may be tempting to sneak a snack after dinner. Or, for those who work long hours, you may find yourself eating dinner just an hour or less before you go to bed. But doctors have long suggested eating late at night can be bad for your health. It’s true: Eating at night has its health risks, and now, doctors think that cancer may be one of them.

Junk food

You may want to cut back on the midnight snacking. | Mukhina1/iStock/Getty Images

Eating at night can lead to weight gain

You may hate to admit it, but there’s a good chance you’ve been guilty of having a “midnight snack” after dinner. But studies suggest that eating late at night can lead to excess fat storage and weight gain. When you eat too soon before you go to bed, your body might store those calories instead of burn them. Rather than turning those consumed calories into energy, your body goes to sleep and decides to store them as fat instead. Over time, this can lead to weight gain, which can cause a slew of problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and even heart attack or stroke.

Plus, other studies have shown that the body processes food differently at different times of day. People often eat few calories for breakfast and lunch, then suddenly become binge eaters during and after dinner. But doctors suggest instead that “front-loading” calories, meaning eating more calories during the day instead of restricting, helps to prevent those binge eating moments at night. A study that divided overweight people into early eaters and late eaters found that those who ate more food at an earlier time lost more weight than those who ate later.

While weight gain has commonly been a side effect of eating late at night, it’s the health risks that come along with weight gain that put you at risk. Besides heart disease or heart attack, problems such as diabetes, sleep apnea, liver disease, and more can all come from gaining too much weight. And though a snack late at night every once in a while isn’t terrible, forming a habit of eating meals right before bed or snacking nightly can lead to big health problems down the road.

But doctors have discovered another health risk with late-night eating: Cancer

According to a new study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, people who eat dinner earlier in the evening or wait at least two hours before going to bed after have a lower risk of developing cancer. The cancers involved in the study were breast and prostate cancer, and the results showed that those who ate dinner before 9 p.m. had a 20% lower risk of developing breast or prostate cancer compared with those who ate dinner after 10 p.m.

The researchers suggest that the timing of when we eat and sleep affects our body’s ability to metabolize food. And this study isn’t the first of its kind. In 2015, a study out of the University of California at San Diego found similar results when it compared eating times with breast cancer rates.

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