Dietitians offer up simple solutions for how patients can prevent waking up in the middle of the night hungry.
If you’re waking up feeling hungry, Katherine Metzelaar, RDN, owner of Bravespace Nutrition, says that it’s likely because you didn’t eat enough food throughout the day. “Being restrictive or having restrictive eating habits—like forgetting to feed our bodies or following a strict food schedule, like not eating after a certain time of day—throws us off,” she says.
Intuitive eating is one way around this: Feed your body when it wants to be fed. “That might mean not going more than a couple of hours, four to five max, without food,” says Metzelaar. Feel out what habits make you feel most energized and satisfied. “Getting plenty of proteins, healthy fats, and especially complex carbs throughout the day is equally important. A mix of vegetables, whole grains, and starches that are all carbs is a great way to keep energy levels up,” she adds.
Metzelaar says that your body’s ghrelin levels, a hormone that signals that you’re hungry, tend to drop when you go to sleep. “This is because your body wants to signal that there is no need for food through the night so that you’re able to get the highest-quality rest, which means without interruptions. It does this by increasing leptin levels—your fullness hormone—as you sleep,” Metzelaar says. “However, when someone isn’t fed enough throughout the day or has last eaten five hours before bed, they are likely going to need food again. Not eating enough can naturally cause the continuous release of ghrelin because the body doesn’t have enough sustainable energy met from food, which can wake us up. That’s why it’s important to eat enough during the day to not throw off hunger hormones that surge while sleeping.”