Inside Scoop: Do you find yourself struggling to stay asleep because of the undeniable urge to snack? Here’s why it happens and how to curb midnight snacking for good.
This post was submitted by Saguren Redyrs, a personal trainer from South Africa .
If you find yourself struggling to stay asleep because of the undeniable urge to wake up and eat, you are not alone. This study investigated the correlation between sleep and appetite. They found that the appetites in healthy adults were highest before bed and lowest in the morning. This correlation is meant to help our bodies get all the nutrients in preparation for a forced fast during sleep. The sleep hormones that suppress hunger persisted even after waking up.
Why do I get so hungry after falling asleep?
There are two main reasons why this might happen. Firstly, you might not have fully satisfied your evening hunger before you fell asleep, or your circadian rhythm (the biological clock that monitors when you feel sleepy and when you are awake) could only prepare for deep sleep hours after you’ve hit the sack.
Is it bad to eat in the middle of my sleep cycle?
It is unhealthy to get up in the middle of the night to eat. This is because of the fact that you interrupt your sleep cycle and reduce the total amount of sleep that you get. A third of us aren’t getting enough high quality sleep as it is. Eating while you are supposed to sleep will decrease the amount of time that you spend sleeping, and interrupt its overall quality.
The four stages of sleep
Your body goes through four stages of sleep: light sleep (stage one and two), deep sleep (stage 3) and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. You are most likely to wake up during the first two stages of sleep. Your mind needs to pass through the first two stages to reach deep sleep – the stage where most physical repair occurs. REM sleep can only be reached after deep sleep. REM sleep is where your dreams occur and your brain needs this sleep stage to consolidate memories and adapt to mental stimulus.
Continuous sleep is needed for your body to get optimal rest and recovery. If you wake up in the middle of your sleep cycle, you interrupt the rest and recovery process. The interruption of quality sleep, met with the biological pressure of spontaneous digestion, can lead to digestive issues like GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).
4 WAYS TO CURB MIDNIGHT SNACKING
How do I stop myself from eating in the middle of the night?
As always, the best way to correct your sleeping patterns is to speak to your doctor or medical practitioner. There are lifestyles changes that you can make to help reduce the occurrence of getting up to satisfy your food cravings.
1. Eat a satisfying meal for dinner
Your body might feel deprived of nutrients before sleep and coerce you to eat more before deeper stages of sleep to meet its perceived nutritional requirements. It is better to eat a large meal closer to bed time than to interrupt your sleeping cycle for more food. Add foods that are high in fiber like oats, rich in lean protein like salmon, eggs and legumes as well as colorful fruits and vegetables. Fiber takes longer to break down in the gut and will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Here are some great high fiber meals that you can try.
There are also some foods and drinks like caffeine and alcohol that may disrupt your sleep, so try to avoid them.
2. Make your sleeping environment more conducive to good sleep
It is easier to fall asleep in cooler temperatures. Block out as much light as you can in the place where you sleep so that your brain recognizes that it is night time. Eliminate as much noise as possible (or look into using white noise to block out distinctive sounds). This can reduce the probability of interrupted sleep. If possible, use the room where you sleep for as little other daily activities as possible. If you watch TV or work in your room, your brain may associate that area with mental stimulation. Reduce the total amount of time that you spend in this room so that you begin to associate it with sleep. It is similar to how we need to use the bathroom whenever you enter one because of the strong mental connection.
3. Avoid electronic screens before bed
Your urge to eat in the middle of the night might be caused by the prolonged amount of time that it takes for your body to quiet down and enter deep sleep. A good bed time routine can shorten the length between getting into bed and reaching high quality rest.
Avoid screens that emit blue light. These include your phone, laptop and television set. The subtle blue light emissions help us to stay focused when using these devices, but they trick the brain into thinking that it is still day time. Using a phone before bed, for example, will have the brain play catch-up after you switch off all the lights. Many years ago, our brains could gradually adjust to the transition between wakefulness and sleep as the day slowly transitioned to night and natural lighting started to dim.
4. Relax and avoid mental stress in the evening
Cortisol is commonly known as the stress hormone. Its function is to prime your body for energy expenditure and physical exertion. Cortisol levels should be highest in the morning as your body and mind prepares for activity. It should taper off throughout the day and reach its lowest point at night time so that your body and mind can enter into rest and recovery. Cortisol increases appetite.
Try working through your stresses by writing them down on a piece of paper or imagining that they have gone far away from you. I mentally put my tasks in a box called ‘tomorrow’ when I find that they are interrupting my mental relaxation process. Engage in restful activities like reading a book, meditation or prayer or taking a long, hot bath.
Hot baths are actually very good at relaxing you and preparing your body for sleep. The heat stimulates a drop in your body’s core temperature and relaxes your muscles. A lower core body temperature is conducive to good sleep. This explains why it is so easy to fall asleep in winter but almost impossible to rest easy in the hot summer months.
Feel free to share this article with someone you know who struggles with eating in the middle of the night. By making a few easy lifestyle changes, the nightmare of midnight snacking can be a thing of the past. Do you struggle with midnight snacking? Which of these tips do you think will help you the most? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Saguren Redyrs is a personal trainer from South Africa who has taken to the online stratosphere to impact a wider audience. His has turned his focus from weight loss and muscle growth to incorporating simple lifestyle changes that can impact overall health in a meaningful way. He is the man behind the SA Spotters brand. You can read more of his work on his SA Spotters Twitter page or on his blog saspotters.blogspot.com.