The present study investigated whether whey (WH) protein, casein (CAS) protein or a carbohydrate placebo (PLA) consumed 30 min before sleep could acutely alter appetite or cardiometabolic risk the following morning. A total of forty-four sedentary overweight and obese women (BMI: 25·7–54·6 kg/m2) completed this stratified, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (WH: n 16, age 27·4 (sd 5·0) years; CAS: n 15, age 30·3 (sd 8·1) years; PLA: n 13, age 28·5 (sd 7·2) years). The participants came to the laboratory at baseline (visit 1) and again in the morning after night-time ingestion of either protein or PLA (visit 2). Visit 2 was conducted at least 48 h after visit 1. During visits 1 and 2, the following parameters were measured: appetite (hunger, satiety and desire to eat); resting metabolism; blood lipid and glucose levels; the levels of insulin, leptin, C-reactive protein, insulin-like growth factor-1, cortisol and adiponectin. Data were analysed using repeated-measures ANOVA. No group × time interactions were observed for the measured variables; however, a main effect of time was observed for increased satiety (P= 0·03), reduced desire to eat (P= 0·006), and increased insulin levels (P= 0·004) and homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance values (P= 0·01) after the consumption of either protein or PLA. The results of the present study reveal that night-time consumption of protein or carbohydrate by sedentary overweight and obese women improves their appetite measures but negatively affects insulin levels. Long-term studies are needed to evaluate the effects of chronic consumption of low-energy snacks at night on body composition and cardiometabolic risk.