We’ve all been there. It’s 11 p.m., you’re snug in your bed, and you’re finally mid-“drifting off to dreamland” when your stomach starts grumbling. And with that, you’re awake; awake and contemplating whether it’s worth it to get out of bed for a pre-slumber fridge raid, or whether the smarter option would just be to ignore your hunger pains and try to make it to breakfast.
While popular diet and weight loss doctrine tends to support the latter – those late night calories don’t always agree with the waistline, after all – the healthier option might actually be the former. Well, kind of. You don’t want to go for a full-on raid of the fridge, per se, but a healthy snack to appease your stomach might be the answer. Here’s why.
Going to sleep hungry means that you’re going to lose sleep.
Of course, there’s the actual conscious loss of sleep that comes from getting in bed hungry, i.e. the tossing, turning, and inability to fall asleep altogether. But even once you do manage to doze off despite your hunger pains, assuming that you actually do, you’re still not really going to get the deep, quality sleep that you need. This is because hunger keeps your brain alert, which means it doesn’t have a chance to recuperate the way it normally would during sleep if you’re hungry.
You’re going to lose muscle, too.
Trying to sleep off late-night hunger pains is also, and maybe a little more surprisingly, going to be responsible for making you lose muscle, in addition to sleep. Why? Because an empty, hungry stomach at bedtime is likely to get in the way of your body’s ability to convert protein to muscle, including the rate at which it does so. Plus, in the case that going to sleep hungry is leaving you seriously lacking in necessary nutrients, your body may resort to breaking down the muscle you already have in order to give you fuel.
Given the negative consequences of going to sleep hungry, the most obvious fix is simple: if you’re hungry at night, eat. Again, this doesn’t mean that you need to have an all-out feast to satisfy your stomach, especially since going to bed super full isn’t really any better than going to sleep hungry. What you can munch on, though, is a small serving of nutrient-rich pistachios or satiating cottage cheese, or any number of light snacks that help you fall asleep.
Plus, to better address hunger pains in the long run, turn your attention away from what you can eat at night to help alleviate your hungry and focus instead on your food choices during the day. Avoid skipping meals throughout the day, as this is likely to contribute to late-night hunger. You’ll also want to make sure that each meal you have is balanced and includes healthy servings of protein, vegetables, and other essential nutrients. This will help keep you feeling satisfied late into the night without the help of a pre-bed snack.