Eating or snacking last thing every night for eight weeks can affect your sleep pattern, and increase levels of glucose (blood sugar) and insulin, precursors of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart problems. It's also harder for our body to metabolise fat, and that, together with raised insulin levels, means we put on more weight.
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania were surprised by the metabolic changes in two groups of volunteers, one of which had its final meal or snack by 7pm, and didn't eat again until 8am the next day, and the other ate up to 11pm.
The sleep patterns of the late-eaters were also disturbed, and this, too, had an impact on their health, the researchers said.
Eating earlier also helps establish positive metabolic signals, such as ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, and leptin, which helps us feel full. These hormones were released earlier in the day when the volunteers were finished eating by 7pm.
Eating our last meal or snack earlier in the evening is one lifestyle change worth making, the researchers say.