A Case of the Midnight Munchies

Chinese Takeout

There seems to be no escaping it.  A late night study session turns into a late night snack session.  Is it hunger?  Or simply a craving triggered by the three thousand word paper due at 8am.  While the science of cravings remains elusive, a recent study may give us some clues into why we desire that fourth meal during the midnight hour.  Research conducted by Ohio State University found that cravings of sweet, salty, and carb-laden foods might spike in the evenings.  With the tendency to stay up later than your body intends, the cravings intensify.  Understanding your cravings is the first step to curbing them.  

  • Get enough sleep. There is an old saying that a late night craving may simply mean you need to go to sleep earlier. If you are depriving yourself of those precious zzzz’s, hormones may trigger cravings for high calorie sweet snacks that may have you reaching for that pint of Häagen-Dazs.
  • Manage stress levels without food.  Big exams, presentations and papers can all leave us in a state of panic.  Foods such as chocolate and carbohydrates have been linked to a release of feel good hormones.  Stress in your body can trigger a craving for these self-medicating foods.  Find new ways to relax through breathing, calming teas or exercise.
  • Eat regular meals to avoid hunger.  Starting your day with a balanced breakfast has been shown to reduce late night eating. In addition, skipping meals may lead to binging.
  • Reach for high quality snacks.  Protein before bed may help you sleep better.  Almonds, milk and yogurt will satisfy your craving and improve your rest.  Do not rule out chocolate all together.  This sweet treat in moderation is loaded with feel good polyphenols and antioxidants.  Choose a high quality dark chocolate to enjoy all the benefits. 
  • Avoid diet fatigue.  Eating the same thing, limiting whole food groups, or depriving yourself of a treat can cause a loss of control.  Although research is not there, some suspect a craving may be your body’s way of asking for a specific nutrient.  Evaluate your diet and ensure you are including a colorful selection of fruits and veggies along with enough complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. This will leave you feeling satisfied and full.

LeeAnn Kindness is a graduate student at Drexel University majoring in human nutrition. She plans to become a registered dietitian.

Photo Cred: Reina Nicole Hayashi, Dollar Photo

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