Being hungry in the night is a common problem and one that many of us deal with. Even if we have managed to be strict and maintain a good and healthy diet during the day, when it comes to the night it is easy to let that slip and plenty of us have found ourselves raiding the fridge in the early hours. But what causes this, and how can you prevent it? Here we will answer both of those questions.
Why Am I Hungry at Night?
There are plenty of reasons that you might be hungry during the night and plenty of reasons that it gets so hard to resist that cake. The main reasons are biological. During the very early hours of the morning – around 4am – our body sugar drops as does our body temperature. We should of course be asleep at this time so it doesn't matter, but if you're awake then your natural reaction is going to be to want to restore that balance and this will leave you searching around the kitchen for a quick glucose fix. Your body will also need energy just to keep you warm at this time and that means sugar too.
At the same time when we sleep our body goes through a number of repairs – it repairs wounds, it encourages growth and it builds muscle. This is an 'anabolic' state meaning that it is rebuilding the body using foods (mostly proteins) as the building blocks. This is the opposite of a catabolic state, which means burning food in order to provide energy and our usual function. As a very general rule, the day is considered a catabolic period and the night anabolic. Therefore it stands to reason that our body would crave savory foods in order to provide that protein – those amino acids – to perform those jobs.
There are more factors involved here too though. For instance there's the psychological one – where during the night we tend to want 'comfort foods' and also because there are fewer distractions as it gets later and everyone goes to bed. Then there's the fact that no one can catch you and that you can get away with sneaking around in the kitchen without being caught with your hand in the cookie jar (though that can of course happen). Lastly there's the very simple matter of length – the night represents going a much longer period without food than you ever have to during the day, and if you're awake this is then going to feel like a problem.
What Can I Do About It?
That's all very good and well, but if you are right now suffering from the problem it won't on its own be enough to help you. The question is, what will help you? Here we will look at some strategies that can aid you in overcoming your night time hunger.
One solution is very CBT-esque in its approach. Here you need to change the way you think about being hungry. Normally we think of this as an undesirable state and as something that we need to change as soon as possible. Thus as soon as the hunger pangs set in, we find ourselves raiding the kitchen in search of something to satisfy that craving.
In reality though if you are trying to stick to a diet then that hunger pang is actually a positive experience that should tell you that your starvation is doing something and is working. Your grumbling stomach is your body searching for carbohydrate sources from elsewhere and that means that it will be burning your fat stores. In other words, when you feel hungry you are losing weight, so learn to think of this as a good thing and not as something that causes you to break your promise to yourself.
Make it Hard
As mentioned, part of the reason that we end up eating at night is simply because it's much easier to do so – there's no one thee to catch us red handed so there's less guilt. Then there's the fact that you have little else to do when you're tossing and turning at night which makes the prospect of heading downstairs to grab a bite to eat even more tantalizing. In other words then this is often a crime of opportunity and if you remove the temptation then this is a quick way to make yourself safer from midnight snacking. There are a few ways you can do this – such as locking the doors to the kitchen and giving someone else the key, or such as setting up CCTV so that people can check it for you in the morning (shame is one of the best motivators to stop). You can also get devices designed specifically to prevent you from raiding the fridge – for instance that attach to the door and set off an alarm when you try to open it. Others lock the fridge on a timer so that you literally cannot open it unless it's time.
Go to Bed Early
As mentioned another motivating factor when it comes to midnight feasts is boredom – mixed with the fact that you won't have eaten for a long time. During the day you tend to have a space of only a few hours between meals and snacks, but by night you are suddenly expected to go eight to twelve hours with not a bite. If you're awake this can of course be painful and your mind is sure to drift to this point. Instead then, get an early bed time and it will seem as though there's a smaller gap between meals. That said it's a good idea to leave at least two hours before you sleep after eating as this will give your food time to digest which can otherwise disturb the quality of your sleep.
Eat a Big Meal
Eating a big meal is another good way to make sure that you don't start to go hungry too soon. Make sure that your last meal before bed is a hearty one that leaves you feeling satisfied and consume lots of complex carbs – these release energy gradually for hours after you've eaten them so it will prevent you from having a sugar dip while you're trying to get to sleep.
Our emotions often play a part in unhealthy eating habits – and often people will eat for the dopamine release that is created because of its antidepressant qualities. If you feel emotionally vulnerable then this is likely to be worst at night and that explains partly why we tend to raid the fridge. If this is the case then you will only be likely to move onto other vices if you manage to stop eating late. You need then to make sure that you get to the route of the problem if you think this is why you're eating and that could mean visiting a therapist or someone similar.
Get Into a Routine
Our body loves routine – and at the moment that's probably part of the problem in that you are heading for bed but your brain is expecting food because that's what it normally gets – you're almost classically conditioned like Pavlov's dogs to associate bed time with snack time.
Replace Your Meals
If you've tried all these methods and you're still finding yourself raiding the fridge every night, then you will likely be at your wit's end. You'd be surprised at just how inventive the human mind can be when it's trying to get to food, and even with a locked fridge you can find yourself raiding hidden stashes, eating unusual things from the cupboard or driving out to get a kebab.
Rather than going cold turkey then, why not try compromise? Lock the fridge or set up the camera, and then leave on the side a plate of raisins or something else that will quell your hunger without adding too many calories or too much cholesterol. As long as it's easily available it will help to prevent you from going on a midnight drive to get something more filling.