How going to bed at 7.30pm could help you lose weight… and the mothers who have had startling results

It’s 8 p.m. After a long day of juggling work and family duties, it’s finally time to plop down on the couch in front of the television. And for many of us, that also means indulging in a therapeutic glass of wine and a snack.

However, that does not apply to Sarah Shah, who is already in bed. She follows a self-described early-bedtime “diet” – a strict routine that focuses less on improving sleep than on losing weight.

The 50-year-old mother of three says only by barricading herself in her bedroom at this early hour can she avoid the temptation of the dreaded late-night snack – a habit that has caused her to gain weight over the years . “My husband Nick’s security work often means he is away for weeks at a time,” says Sarah, from Swindon, Wiltshire. ‘And my daughters Eloise, 19, and twins Molly and Ruby, 18, are often busy after dinner – so I was often alone, opening a bottle of wine and eating whatever I came across.

‘I felt like I needed a treat, especially when I was feeling down. At first I tried to stop snacking using willpower alone. But the appeal of the kitchen cabinets turned out to be too great.

‘It slowly dawned on me that the only way to stop eating at this point was to go upstairs to bed – much to my family’s amusement.’ It’s likely that Sarah is depriving herself of the best part of the day – the time when you can unwind and relax or catch up on your partner’s day – but she says the positives outweigh the negatives. She lost three stone in eight months – from age 16 to 13 – and has kept it off. “I know people will feel like this is such an extreme thing to do,” she laughs. ‘And maybe that’s true. All I know is that I feel better and it’s working for me.’

But is it a step too far or has Sarah, a midlife and menopause coach, stumbled upon the simplest diet hacks?

Study: According to research, the more a woman eats after 6 p.m., the worse her heart health is, with a greater risk of higher blood pressure and body mass index. Pictured: May Simkin, 58

“Evening is an excellent time for snacking, especially for women,” says Dr. Daniel Glazer, a London-based clinical psychologist and co-founder of health technology platform UK Therapy Rooms. ‘The night offers the chance to finally relax. Activities such as watching television allow our minds to relax. But we still have mental energy left, and snacks fill that space with distraction and comfort.”

Treats like cookies, chips, and candy, Dr. Glazer explains, release feel-good brain chemicals dopamine and endorphins, which is why evening snacks like these can be so addictive. So it makes sense to avoid them in the first place.

According to research presented at an American Heart Association conference, the more a woman eats after 6 p.m., the worse her heart health is, with a greater risk of higher blood pressure and a higher body mass index. And a 2022 study found that eating late at night can increase how hungry we are when we’re awake and decrease how quickly the body uses energy when we’re awake.

Sarah had tried eating less sugar and more fruit, but without any noticeable weight loss; It wasn’t until she went to bed at 8 p.m. that the pounds started to fall off faster.

There are of course disadvantages. What about socializing? “People know me well enough to know that I am a day person,” she says. And when her husband finally comes home after weeks away? “Well,” she says with a glint in her eye, “I might stay up a little longer.”

As for the rules of the strict routine: Sarah has dinner with the family at 5 p.m.; if someone is late, she starts without them. “My family joke that it’s so early, it’s like tea time for toddlers.” At 6 p.m. everything is ready and the kitchen is tidy. By 7:30 p.m., she climbs the stairs, ready to unwind with a bath or a book before turning off the lights.

New habit: It wasn't until Sarah Shah, 50, went to bed at 8 p.m. that the pounds started falling off faster

New habit: It wasn’t until Sarah Shah, 50, went to bed at 8 p.m. that the pounds started falling off faster

Strict routine: After dinner, Jo Colley, 43, climbs the stairs at 7 p.m. and makes sure she's in bed by 7:30 p.m.

Strict routine: After dinner, Jo Colley, 43, climbs the stairs at 7 p.m. and makes sure she’s in bed by 7:30 p.m.

Doesn’t she miss meeting with her family – or catching up on the must-see box sets? “Not at all,” she says. ‘My girls do their own thing in the evening, my husband is often away so that works fine.’

In Sarah’s case, her weight started to gain after she had children, then went through early menopause at age 36. Now she is reminded of her purpose every night when she turns out the lights.

On the wall is a photo of her and husband Nick, 55, taken five years ago when he was awarded an OBE for services to the police. And while the framed photo is a source of pride, it also serves as a salutary reminder of Sarah’s weakness for those evening bowls of chips or plates of salty cheese slices.

‘I hated having my picture taken; I was a size 20 and about 16 stone. I just felt terrible,” says Sarah. ‘But the photo reminds me of what late-night snacking can do to your body. And why I’m not about to let myself become like that again.’

Jo Colley, 43, from East London, uses the same solution for evening snacks, but her nighttime routine starts even earlier. After serving dinner to her children Reggie, nine, and Heath, eight, Jo climbs the stairs at 7pm and makes sure she’s in bed by 7.30pm. ‘Part of my problem is that I work from home and my office is right next to the kitchen,’ says Jo, who runs children’s online learning resource company My Little Learner.

‘It’s hard enough during the day not to just get up and eat something, but even worse in the evening when I’m craving chips, salty cheese or something savory.

‘We eat dinner as a family between 5.30pm and 6pm and I find myself snacking on leftovers or chips as soon as I clean up the kitchen. It was more of a habit than hunger. I had gained about five or six pounds – not much, but I felt it was visible and I really didn’t like it.

‘Unlike ten years ago, when I could get away with it with a little care, that just hasn’t happened in recent years. So now I put the kids to bed, kiss them goodnight, then stay in my bedroom and don’t come out. I mainly read; my husband Alex might work until 9:30pm, and I might be asleep by then.

‘The most important thing is that I don’t come back down until seven o’clock the next morning. It keeps me away from the food – and I lost those extra pounds in six weeks. Do I feel like I’m missing something or like I’m sleeping my life away? Not really and in winter the appeal of the electric blanket certainly helps. Just like keeping off extra weight, of course.’

Does this mean she and Alex, 41, are missing out on time together because she’s sleeping?

Jo says no because they both work from home – Alex runs a luxury branding agency – so they spend a lot of time together during the day.

But is it possible to escape evening snacking without having to hibernate?

Robbie Puddick, a registered nutritionist at the NHS-backed Second Nature, believes it’s all about rethinking behaviour.

“The next time you’re watching TV and you’re craving chocolate, pause the show, go into the kitchen and make some herbal tea,” he says. “You can also take away the cue completely by doing something other than watching television, such as calling a friend or planning your weekly meals.”

But Jo claims her method leads to better sleep as well as weight loss: ‘I woke up all night and realized that eating before I went to sleep could cause my blood sugar levels to rise and fall.

“So now I avoid all that. Plus, when I go to bed, I now have time to read – something I never really did before.

‘I relax relaxed, my sleep quality is much better and I’m also a size ten!’

May Simpkin, 58, a nutritionist, started her early bedtime regimen to support intermittent fasting – a weight loss method that works on the principle of only eating food in a small window of time during the day. This extends the period that your

the body burns the calories consumed during your last meal, making you more likely to burn fat.

The mother-of-three, whose children are all in their 20s, lives in Surrey with retired husband Guy, 62, and puts her trim size 10 down to this discipline.

It may take steely determination to go to bed early every night, with the rare evening off for a special occasion, but May says it’s a relatively simple way to maintain her slim figure.

‘I started intermittent fasting five or six years ago because I wanted to stay slim as I got older. I decided to eat twice a day: lunch around 1:00 PM and dinner at 6:30 PM, skipping breakfast completely. This way I can fast for a long time. Sometimes I get hungry – and the only way to avoid the temptation is to go to bed early. So after dinner is cleared away, I announce the kitchen is closed and head upstairs around 8pm.

‘Admittedly, it was difficult at first. Especially since I had Guy munching on snacks downstairs in front of the TV.”

Surely such a self-enforced divorce has a devastating effect on a marriage? May claims it has its benefits. ‘I work from home and Guy is retired, so we spend a lot of time together. When I go to bed, I give myself permission to say the day is over. Job done.

‘And I go to bed early enough that I still feel full from dinner – which, since I work as a nutritionist, will be something healthy but hearty, like chicken stir-fry.

‘But at 7.30 pm the dishwasher is on and I’m gone! I think time alone is so good for both of us too.”

May enjoys a herbal tea and takes a soothing bath before sinking into the sheets.

Tempting snacks out of sight and out of sight, she dreams away long before her belly rumbles – and sleeps her way to a slim figure.