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How to Cope with Nighttime Hunger

Last updated: September 7, 2022

Overeating before you head to bed could have you packing on the pounds or tossing and turning with indigestion. So how do you prevent weight gain and heartburn while satisfying those hunger pangs? 

“A snack before bed is fine for most people, but you should stick to minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods,” says Lori Knapp, a ThedaCare registered dietician. 

Foods high in protein or veggies are your best options to help you feel full at night — whether you’re struggling to fall asleep or you wake up with the “midnight munchies.”  

Here are some healthy snack suggestions: 

  • Yogurt with berries 
  • String cheese 
  • Nuts (¼ cup) 
  • Celery with peanut butter 
  • Vegetables with hummus   

But before you open the fridge and cupboards, do a hunger check and consider an activity other than eating.   

“Sometimes hunger at bedtime is more of a head hunger and comes from boredom or a stressful day,” says Knapp, who works at ThedaCare Medical Center-New London. “Go for a walk, do a puzzle. Do something to keep the mind busy — something more than just watching TV. Sometimes we are just tired, so going to bed a little earlier can help avoid hunger.” 

But Knapp adds there are times we are truly craving food in the evening hours, so ask yourself:  

  • Did I eat enough during the day? 
  • Did I get enough sleep last night?  
  • Did I have enough to drink during the day?   

“Sometimes we think we are hungry when really we need more fluids in us,” Knapp says. 

Our brains can confuse mild dehydration for hunger. Also, research has shown a lack of sleep can trigger an increase in the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, increasing the urge to eat and decreasing a feeling of fullness when you do.  

But Knapp says if you are truly hungry, it can be hard to sleep, so having something small can help. However, she suggests eating one to two hours before bedtime, especially if you have acid reflux, which can cause heartburn.  

And whether you’re truly hungry or not, Knapp says it’s best not to eat high-carbohydrate foods in the evening.  

“I recommend avoiding carbs such as chips, ice cream or other snacky foods. These foods, which are high in unhealthy fats and added sugars, trigger cravings and overeating. They make it easy to exceed your daily calorie needs,” she says.

Maintaining a healthy weight is vital to overall health.

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Tags: carbohydrates emotional eating nighttime hunger protein snacking Weight Management

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