Why eat dinner early?

For the first time, my energy levels have been amazing six out of seven days this week! My Garmin watch Body Battery has been at 90 or above. And I hit 100 for the first time.

This is great news and a huge achievement for me. But what happened on that seventh day, you ask?

I ate dinner late. Dun dun duuuuuuuun.

Here is a graph of my energy levels in the last seven days, illustrating what happened:

But Chris, is eating dinner late really that big of a mistake?

I’m glad you asked. Honestly, I didn’t think so until really rather recently.

A strange pattern had begun to emerge in my sleep data. Some nights I could sleep for a long time but still wake up tired with a low body battery. And some nights I could have short, interrupted sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and with a high body battery. What was going on?

The largest, strongest correlation seem to be with my heart rate variability. I had to do some investigation, but it turned out that I have an unusually low HRV. So then I researched how to improve my HRV. Most people recommend high intensity exercise which I will go into more in another post. But I found one article that talked about how eating dinner earlier helped improve HRV scores at night. That article referenced a book, The Longevity Paradox by Dr. Steven Gundry, where this former heart surgeon discusses the role of the glymphatic system in our sleep and energy.

The glymphatic system is so interesting, I think it deserves a post of its own. For now, let me just say that eating dinner five hours before I go to sleep has made a big enough difference in my energy that I can’t go back. I’ve tried. Twice. Since I started eating dinner early two months ago, I’ve taken off two separate weeks to eat dinner with my family late and all my stats dropped – HRV, sleep score, body battery. I can also tell the difference in my brain fog, creativity, and mood. It’s weird.

Now, I will say, this hasn’t been easy. My family does not enjoy eating dinner without me. At first, I just sat with them a talked while they ate. But it made my family uncomfortable enough that my wife suggested I place my lunchbox in front of me and load it while they ate dinner. My interaction with the food and having something on the table in front of me made them comfortable enough to overlook the awkwardness of the situation.

However, that still leaves me with my discomfort. It isn’t easy to overcome 48 years of dinner habits. My bedtime is 9 PM which means I have to pack lunch and dinner to take to work, and eat dinner at my desk between 3PM and 4PM. My family eats around 7 PM, so I’m usually not hungry by then. But I’m also dieting, so sometimes I’m starving. Sitting at the dinner table, watching them eat a fresh, hot, homecooked meal can make me cranky. I’ve snapped at least once in the past couple months and my wife had to call me out on it. This isn’t easy, but it’s getting easier (for all of us).

On a side note, we realized that my wife (who has amazing energy) has always done this. She is a night owl (I’m an early bird). So eating dinner for her at 7 PM is five hours before her bedtime. It isn’t for me or the kids. However, we are just experimenting with my energy for now. Once I am certain about what works for me, we will try it with my son (and maybe my daughter, but her energy seems better than his).

Our understanding of the glymphatic system is still really new. It wasn’t even discovered until 2013. So I expect science will continue to refine our ideas about this subject. I look forward to learning more about it, but for now, I can state from personal experience that it has made a major difference in my energy levels. At this point, I would wager this has been one of my top five levers for improving my energy.

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