The 5 Worst Foods to Eat After 8 P.M.

You probably spend a lot of time thinking about what you eat. Reading food labels, counting calories, checking fat grams, measuring portion sizes—it's all important. But do you also consider when you eat? Smart snacking isn't detrimental to your diet, but too much post-dinner noshing and wee-hour refrigerator raiding could not only lead to weight gain, but could also keep you from getting the quality sleep you need to be fit, healthy and well-rested. 

Some evidence has shown that nighttime eating—particularly higher-fat foods—can disrupt sleep patterns. And low-quality slumber does more than just leave you crabby and unproductive the next day: Over time, it can also increase cravings for unhealthy foods and the likelihood of weight gain.

Of course, there will inevitably be times when a crazy schedule, evening workout or prime-time social event makes it difficult to avoid eating later than you'd like. And it's not always a bad thing, as long as you're truly hungry and aren't stuck in an unhealthy habit of eating at night.

"Most people are active during the day and need fuel during the day," explains Kimberly Gomer M.S., R.D., L.D.N., the Director of Nutrition at Pritikin Longevity Center + Spa. "The habit of eating after dinner can be a way to decompress from the day—but there are times when we don’t necessarily need fuel, just relaxation. That’s when it can cause trouble for a good night's sleep. On the other hand, if you took a spin class after dinner, then came home and wanted a snack because you were hungry, you shouldn't hesitate to have a healthy snack."

5 Foods & Beverages to Avoid After 8:00

Although mealtimes can fluctuate, experts say there are certain foods that should be contained to daytime hours. When you do decide to indulge after dinner, try to steer clear of these eight notorious sleep-wreckers.
  1. Soda and coffee: A good night's sleep is an important ingredient in successful weight loss, and downing a cuppa joe or cola with caffeine before bed could put your shuteye in jeopardy. Steer clear of stimulants after mid-afternoon, or eight hours before you plan on hitting the sack. Try sticking to non-caffeinated tea or water instead.
  2. Burgers and other red meat: Meat (especially lean meat) is a great source of protein, but it's also high in fat, which means it digests slowly. Eating a burger or steak late at night can cause bloating or stomach pains as your body works into the wee hours to break it down, which can interfere with sleep. "Animal fats in large amounts put people at risk for elevated cholesterol and heart health risk," adds Gomer, who recommends steering clear of high-fat meats and cheeses before bed.
  3. Sugary foods: That slice of cheesecake or cookie may seem like the perfect way to cap off the evening, but it could also cause your blood sugar levels to spike just before bed, which could make it difficult to drift off to dreamland.
  4. Fried Foods: Again, fat doesn't make for a good bedtime companion, and fried foods are full of it. Plus, they take longer to digest, which can cause sleep to suffer. Instead of potato chips or French fries, try chips made from apple, kale, zucchini or soy.
  5. Spicy Foods: Adding a little heat to your meals could have some health benefits, but if it's too close to bedtime, it could also cause bloating, heartburn and indigestion, which aren't conducive to a good night's sleep. 
Evening eating isn't always bad, as long as you're not snacking mindlessly or choosing high-fat, high-sugar foods that could cause blood sugar spikes or sleep disruptions.