We’ve all been there before. It’s 10pm, you are about to get into bed and call it a night. But as you lay there in the darkness, your stomach starts to growl, and before you know it, you are finishing off a bag of potato chips. If you experience hunger at night, this article is for you.
Your initial urges may be to ignore the hunger and fall asleep, but that is just covering up the bigger issue. It’s important to discuss why you are hungry at night as well as how to stop being hungry at night.
Why you feel hunger at night
Let’s start by discussing why you feel hunger at night. By figuring out why you are hungry, we can better know how to prevent that hunger.
1. Not eating enough throughout the day
The first reason is that you aren’t eating enough throughout the day, simple as that. Perhaps you are purposely restricting your caloric intake in pursuit or weight loss. Or maybe you have not been eating enough due to being more active, being on medication that suppresses appetite, or have been undereating due to stress.
Whatever the reason is, hunger is your body’s way of telling you that you need more calories to fuel your body. Even if you feel like you’ve been eating plenty, it’s going to be a good idea to take a step back and really evaluate if you’ve been eating enough.
2. You went too long without eating
Another reason may be that you went too long without eating. When was your last meal? How big was that meal? If you had dinner at 5pm and it’s now 10pm, that’s 5 hours without a meal, so of course you are going to be hungry.
Along with this, if you have only had two meals throughout the day, you are likely undereating, unless these were pretty huge meals. This can also make you hungry at night simply because you didn’t eat enough throughout the day.
3. Restriction of certain foods
It’s also possible that the hunger you are feeling at night is more emotional than physical. If you have strong cravings for particular foods at night, this may be the case.
If you are restricting or trying to avoid certain foods, especially hyperpalatable foods like desserts, salty snacks and fried foods, you will crave them more. So, if you notice that the foods you avoid are the foods you crave at night, then restriction of these foods is the likely cause of you feeling hungry at night.
How to stop night hunger
1. Start eating enough during the day
The first step is to ensure you are eating enough throughout the day, simple as that. I recommend starting off by ensuring you are eating every 3-4 hours throughout the day. This could look like breakfast at 8am, lunch at 12pm, snack at 3pm, dinner at 6pm and another snack at 9pm.
Another tip is making sure you have a source of carbohydrates, fats and protein at each meal and snack. An example of a good meal would be brown rice (carbohydrates), chicken breast (protein) and veggies cooked in olive oil (fat and some carbohydrates).
Along with this, make sure you are eating a big enough portion. If you notice you are hungry 1-2 hours after a meal, you likely didn’t eat a large enough portion or the meal or snack didn’t have enough protein and fat to keep you satisfied.
If you are in a caloric deficit to lose weight, it may be a good idea to reduce the deficit so it is more manageable. If you are eating 500 calories less than what you burn, and you are constantly hungry and irritable, try reducing the deficit to 200 or 300 calories and notice if your symptoms improve.
2. Start reintroducing off limits foods
Next, it’s important to reintroduce foods you have been restricting. I know this may seem weird, but eating those foods in moderation will help reduce cravings at night time (and also make you a happier person)!
I know it may seem intimidating to eat certain foods that you have been avoiding for a while. It’s important to remember that no one food causes disease or makes you fat.
There is a lot of nutrition misinformation out there that may make you feel like you can’t eat certain foods. But when you look at the research, it’s clear that what matters is your overall diet, not specific foods you are eating.
So of course focus on eating mostly nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low fat dairy and whole grains. But don’t feel like eating some fun foods like cookies or potato chips makes you unhealthy. Focus on eating these foods in moderation vs. completely cutting them out of your diet.
3. Add in a snack after dinnertime
Finally, adding a snack in after dinnertime can be very useful if you get hungry at night. Focus on having a source of carbohydrates, fats and protein in the snack to keep you full.
An example would be crackers with cheese and grapes or a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey.
Adding in a little snack can make a huge difference, and you will likely find that you aren’t so hungry when you wake up as well!
Tackling night eating myths
Does eating at night make you gain weight?
One common myth I hear is that eating at night makes you gain more weight. This simply isn’t true. What matters is your overall caloric intake. It doesn’t matter if you eat 2000 calories in one meal or spread out among 5 meals.
That being said, if you are hungry at night, you don’t have to feel guilty for eating. Having a snack at 8pm or 10pm won’t matter. A calorie is a calorie.
What if I have indigestion or acid reflux at night?
If you have indigestion or acid reflux it’s best to wait 2-3 hours after eating before laying down in bed. But, if you are starving right before bed and have to eat something, it’s not the end of the world. Just try to sleep in a more upright position or sleep on your left side.
Are there any foods you should avoid at night?
If you don’t have any digestive issues, then there are no foods in particular you should avoid at night. But if you struggle with acid reflux, along with trying not to eat too soon before bed, it also may be beneficial to avoid high fat or acidic foods like oranges or tomatoes before bedtime.
That being said, everyone is different, which means the foods that trigger acid reflux are going to be different for everyone. Some can tolerate tomatoes fine, others can’t. If you aren’t sure how to know your triggers, it may be helpful to keep a food diary.
Summary: How to stop hunger at night
To sum everything up, you are likely hungry at night before you aren’t eating enough throughout the day, you are avoiding certain foods or are going too long between meals. You can avoid being hungry at night by ensuring you are eating enough, reintroducing off limits foods and adding a snack before bed.
And finally, it’s important to note that eating at night won’t make you gain weight and there are no foods you should avoid in particular unless you have acid reflux or indigestion.
I hope this article was helpful. If you struggle with overeating or binge eating at night, check out my online course and counseling services!