When you have trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night, you may sometimes start eating at night. This bad habit is not without consequences on health and weight but there are tips to limit nighttime cravings and avoid putting on weight without realizing it.
Why are we hungry at night?
If you can’t sleep because you’re hungry or you rush to the fridge when you unintentionally wake up, you probably have Night Cravings Syndrome. Long considered a myth, research has shown that it is a real eating disorder.
In 2014, a study(1) conducted in collaboration between Chinese and American universities has shown that genes are responsible for these night cravings. These are the PR1 and PR2 genes, linked to sleep and sleep disorders respectively. The authors of the study introduced these genes into mice and switched them off one after the other. When the PER2 gene is turned off, hunger prevents the mice from sleeping. When the PER1 gene is turned on, fatigue is felt more quickly.
These two genes are important and in most people, they synchronize to prevent nighttime cravings and promote falling asleep. But if one of the genes fails, the syndrome develops. However, the study also showed that this syndrome did not cause weight gain in mice…
The consequences of night cravings
Weight gain in humans, on the other hand, seems to be a significant consequence of night cravings. In their study, the researchers hypothesized that easy and constant access to food was the most important factor. Eating at night is fattening for one simple reason: the body is programmed to run at a slower rate during this period, and this involves the metabolism and digestive system.
Beyond simple weight gain, this syndrome has above all not negligible consequences on the quality of sleep. Untimely awakenings tend to disrupt the internal clock and cause poor sleep. In the long term, poor sleep has consequences on cardiovascular activity and the risk of heart disease increases more and more. If stress and insomnia are the consequence of nocturnal hyperphagia, the situation can worsen quite quickly and it is important to take a few simple measures.
How to stop eating at night?
The first thing to consider to regain quality sleep is to address the cause of insomnia. If this is impossible, then force yourself to adopt new habits to sleep back each time you wake up.
To avoid as much hunger as possible in the middle of the night, eat dinner about two hours before your usual bedtime, and force yourself into bed. Reading a book you like can help you fall asleep and some herbal teas are also relatively effective. Remember to go to the bathroom before you go to sleep and avoid drinking too much fluid.
If despite your efforts you wake up in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep because you are hungry, prepare a large cup of very hot green tea. Feeling hungry is sometimes a bad signal sent by the brain. The warmth of the tea can reduce or eliminate it. If you are still hungry, avoid all sweets and turn to food that you can’t eat compulsively: eat leftovers or make your toast.
These tips may not necessarily prevent you from eating at night, but they will prevent you from gaining weight over the months and adding to the stress of insomnia.
Also read: Weight gain and fatigue: is there a link?
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