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September 7, 2022

Frustrated with Your Late-Night Longing for Food?

ThedaCare Registered Dietician Says Try a Hunger Check to Avoid Snacking

Research continues to show excessive eating at bedtime results in weight gain and could keep you up at night with heartburn, so what’s a person to do to stave off the hunger pangs? 

“Sometimes hunger at bedtime is more of a head hunger and comes from boredom or a stressful day,” explained Lori Knapp, a registered dietician with ThedaCare Medical Center-New London. “Health experts recommend doing something to keep your mind busy – go for a walk, do a puzzle – something more than just watching TV. Sometimes we are just tired, so going to bed a little earlier might help avoid hunger.” 

Knapps says you should first do a hunger check before you open the fridge and cupboards. Ask yourself:  

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

“Sometimes we thing we are hungry when really, we are craving more fluids,” she said. “Our brains can confuse mild dehydration for hunger. Additionally, studies have 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 consume food.” 

Knapp said if you are truly hungry, it can be hard to sleep, so having something small can help.  

“A snack before bed is fine for most people,” she said. “I would recommend sticking to minimally processed, nutrient-rich foods.” 

She explained foods high in protein or vegetables are your best options in feeling 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 humus   

Even with healthy choices, she suggests eating 1-to-2 hours before bedtime, especially if you have acid reflux. Snacking could cause heartburn.  

Whether truly hungry or not, Knapp explained people should avoid foods high in carbohydrates.  

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

While too many of those pre-pillow snacks might leave the scale inching upward, keeping your hunger and cravings in check can help you stay healthy and sleep soundly.

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. 

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.