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How Late-Night Snacking Sabotages Weight Loss and Brain Power

How Late-Night Snacking Sabotages Weight Loss and Brain Power

The comic strip character Garfield loved his midnight snack. That obsession was memorialized in a song from his 1982 TV special, Here Comes Garfield: “Around midnight, when everybody else is sacking, he’ll be snacking/Now does he regret it? Yes, he feels so very blue/And when he gets too round, he tries to cut down/But only for an hour or two.”

If you’re trying to lose weight, you might regret late-night snacking for more than an hour or two, according to a recent study in Cell Metabolism. Researchers divided mice into five groups, controlling the time and amount each group ate. The only group to lose weight was the one that ate a lower-calorie diet during the time they were normally active and awake. Those who ate during their usual resting time didn’t lose weight.

And your brainpower could suffer from eating at the “wrong time” too. Another mouse study found that those who only ate when they’d normally be sleeping performed worse on memory tests and showed changes in the area of their brain associated with learning and memory.

Those same effects from eating at the wrong time definitely apply to people: disruptions in your circadian rhythm (your internal clock) damage your cognitive health and your metabolic processes. Late night eating is one way of throwing off that clock.

Your best bet—have your last meal at least three hours before bedtime, wait 12 hours before eating again and have your largest meal of the day at lunchtime.

Medically reviewed in September 2019.

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