Summer was amazing because of . . . food! Aside from all the fresh veggies in my garden, I was enjoying lots of neighborhood barbecues, goodies at the farmers market, late-night trips to the local ice cream shop, and s'mores by the campfire. I got in the habit of eating past 9 p.m., right before I got into bed. Before the Summer, I rarely ate past 7 p.m., so it was a big difference.
Eating more foods I wasn't used to and eating up until I went to bed added a little extra Summer fluff, but what I really noticed was that I was sleeping like crap. Eating so close to bedtime left me feeling bloated, and I'd often wake up several times a night because of stomach pains.
What Doctors Say About Sleep and Eating
Dr. Rizwana Sultana, MD, said "the last big meal of the day should be at least two to three hours before going to bed." Before the Summer, I practiced intermittent fasting, eating from noon or 1 p.m. until 7 p.m. and was in bed by 9 p.m.
What I Did
In the Summer, I became more relaxed with my intermittent fasting schedule. I was used to eating in a six- or seven-hour window during the school year, but once I started eating later during the Summer, I was actually doing 15:9 and eating from noon until 9 p.m. Something needed to change because I was feeling terrible and not like myself.
I thought I'd do a little experiment and see what would happen if I stopped eating three hours before bed, as recommended by Dr. Sultana. Since I go to CrossFit, run, or do yoga early in the morning, I'm in bed by 9 p.m., which meant I needed to stop eating by 6 p.m. every night. I did this for the entire month of September.
I also went back to eating in a six- or seven-hour window, since that's the IF schedule I preferred. I'd eat lunch around noon, have a snack around 3 p.m., and finish dinner by 6 p.m. It was a little hard at first to have that 6 p.m. cutoff, but it made me realize how much I was unnecessarily eating after dinner while cleaning the kitchen and making the kids' lunches. Sometimes my workouts were so intense that I'd be hungry before noon so I'd eat at 11 a.m., but I was strict about that 6 p.m. cutoff.
Did Not Eating Three Hours Before Bed Help Me Sleep Better?
Yes! After that very first day, I had the most rested night of sleep I had had in months. I forgot how amazing it feels to get a full night of good sleep. After that first week, I was dealing with hardly any pain or tummy issues while sleeping, and I also woke up with less bloat.
Did Not Eating Three Hours Before Bed Affect My Morning Workouts?
Getting a good night's sleep also helped me perform better during my morning workouts. I obviously had more energy (duh!), but I also noticed that I felt more confident and happy. When your stomach bothers you throughout the night and you wake up bloated, you don't really feel 100 percent. I felt like a different person this past month!
Did Not Eating Three Hours Before Bed Affect What I Ate?
What you eat before bed can definitely affect how you sleep, explained Mattress Firm's sleep health expert, Dr. Sujay Kansagra, MD. He said that fatty or fried foods are best to avoid late at night since these foods tend to stimulate the production of acid in the stomach, which can spill into your esophagus and cause heartburn that will disrupt your normal sleep cycle.
I found high-sugar foods had that effect on me; those were the foods I was reaching for in the Summer nights. Having that 6 p.m. cutoff naturally helped me not reach for as much crap! It helped me get back into a healthy eating pattern, not only when I was eating but also what I was eating.
Will I Stick With It?
I feel so much better eating this way that I'm naturally inspired to keep it up. During the week, this schedule feels totally easy to stick to. On the weekends I like to have a little more flexibility since I go to bed an hour or two later, which means I may extend my eating window and stop eating around 7 or 8 p.m. — it just depends on how I feel. But I still try to stop eating three hours before bed because it just makes such a huge difference in how I sleep and how I feel the next day.