I'm only semi-ashamed to admit that it's likely I'll take a bite of something small before bed tonight, and every night thereafter. In my defense, for every article you find online that shames snackers for grazing before bed, there's another that pardons the practice. The general consensus among experts is that you probably shouldn't eat right before you go to sleep. However, if you somehow always end up being hungry before bed, there's a liable reason.
Registered dietician Jessica Brewer tells Elite Daily that increased hunger is a sign that your internal clock is ticking:
A recent study found that the body's internal clock, the circadian rhythm, increases hunger and cravings for sweet, starchy, and salty foods in the evenings. This may have helped our ancestors store energy to survive longer in times of food scarcity.
If you find yourself desperate for sustenance around the time you'd normally hit the hay, be mindful of your cravings and allow yourself a small snack that's delicious but nutritious, so that you're not only satisfying your tastebuds, but fueling your body, as well. To curb nighttime cravings before they surface, here are a few reasons why you're feeling hungry at the worst possible time, and how you can cope.
It's most likely that you're not getting the proper nutrition throughout the day.
If you're consistently starving by bedtime, you might want to reconsider the food choices you're making throughout the day.
When a patient comes in complaining of late-night cravings, I always have them look back at what they ate earlier in the day. Often times they are missing key nutrients from their daily intake, and maybe even their overall diet. Make sure that you have at least three meals a day containing some form of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. This will keep sugar and hormone levels stable throughout the day, which will decrease hunger and reduce cravings.
If you have trouble keeping track of your noms throughout any given day, start keeping a food journal to stay on top of it all. Focus on hitting all of your macro and micro nutrients. If any of these are lacking, you may have found the root cause of your midnight snacking.
Pay attention to your internal clock, and adjust accordingly.
Becoming ravenous at night could have less to do with what you're eating, and everything to do with when you're eating. If dinner is at 5 p.m. and bedtime is at 10 p.m., it's no wonder you're rummaging through the fridge at this time.
Owner of Mumbai-based nutrition counseling center Scale Beyond Size Tehzeeb Lalani told The Huffington Post,
We often hear that we shouldn't eat after 6 or 7 p.m., but what's left out of this wisdom is lifestyle customization. Instead of eating six to seven hours before you plan to hit the sack, move back dinnertime a few hours. Finish your dinner at least two hours before bedtime to allow for proper digestion.
Stress can also cause emotional eating, in which case you'll want to try to resist snacking and relax instead.
When emotions run high, comfort food is a quick and easy solution, but the calming effects hardly last more than a few minutes.
According to nutrition and holistic health coach and author of Nourish to Flourish Suzanne Jezek-Arriaga, stress makes “your cortisol level go up, which will make you hungrier and make your blood sugar and insulin levels rise.”
If at the end of the day, your mind is buzzing with to-do lists and work responsibilities, curb your impulsive sugar cravings by taking a warm bubble bath, reading a book, or meditating. Your brain is on overdrive, so in reality, it's your mindset that needs soothing, not your stomach.
There's also a good chance you're just bored.
I'm the type of person who is always go, go, go, so when there's nothing on the agenda, I'm likely to graze just because it's something to do. Apparently, I'm not alone in this.
Experts report that when your dopamine neurons are low, hunger runs high. Susan Carnell, Ph.D., and research psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, told Psychology Today,
It's possible that when we're in a malaise, so are our dopamine neurons. When we boredom-eat what we're really doing is trying to wake them up so we can feel excited again. And in the absence of more stimulating fare—or a handy dopamine neuron-stimulating electrode in our brain that we can trigger with a lever when we fancy a thrill—food starts to look like a pretty effective way of doing this.
Eat healthy throughout the day, and never feel bad about treating yourself to something sweet. Balance is key, but so is listening to your body.