June 19, 2015
1 min read

Eating more during late-night hours may increase likelihood of decreased attention

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People who avoid consuming food late at night may reduce the risk for concentration and alertness deficits that accompany sleep deprivation, according to study results presented at SLEEP 2015.

“Adults consume approximately 500 additional calories during late-night hours when they are sleep restricted,” David F. Dinges, PhD, director of the Unit for Experimental Psychiatry and chief of the division of sleep and chronobiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a press release. “Our research found that refraining from late-night calories helps prevent some of the decline those individuals may otherwise experience in neurobehavioral performance during sleep restriction.”

Dinges and colleagues followed 44 participants aged 21 to 50 years for 4 days to determine if refraining from consuming food during late-night hours would affect cognitive function during sleep restriction.

The researchers permitted each participant to consume food and water without restrictions during the day, followed by 4 hours of sleep each night for 3 nights. The researchers then split the participants, and allowed 20 participants to continue eating and drinking without limitations. However, the researchers restricted the remaining participants to only consume water from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. when they went to sleep.

Participants completed objective assessments of vigilant attention, working memory and cognitive throughput, as well as subjective measures of sleepiness, stress and mood each night at 2 a.m.

The researchers identified very few differences between the two groups during the first three days of the study in terms of cognitive function as well as measures such as sleepiness. However, on the fourth day, participants in the restricted food group performed better than those who were allowed to eat during the vigilant attention test (P < .05).

The researchers, however, did not notice a difference between participants in working memory, cognitive throughput, or sleepiness, stress, and mood. – by Ryan McDonald


Dinges DF, et al. Abstract 0317. Presented at: Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC Meeting; June 6-10, 2015; Seattle.

Disclosure: Dinges reports receiving compensation from the Associated Professional Sleep Societies LLC, for serving as editor-and-chief of SLEEP.