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Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?

by
author image Nicole Langton
Nicole Langton has been a professional writer for over 10 years. She began writing for a natural health company where she developed a deep interest in nutrition and natural treatments. Langton earned a Bachelor of Arts in east central European studies as well as a certificate in English language to teach to adults.
Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?
Late-night snacks aren't always unhealthy. Photo Credit Justin Geoffrey/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Frequently getting out of bed for a late-night slice of cake or bowl of ice cream may not be great for your waistline, but eating late at night isn't always unhealthy. Making healthy food choices at night is important for more than just nutrition, though. The type of meal or snack you choose and when you eat it may affect your alertness or ability to sleep.

Weight Gain Risks

Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?
Regularly eating when your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, tells your body to sleep could lead to weight gain. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

Regularly eating when your circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, tells your body to sleep could lead to weight gain, suggests a study published in Obesity in 2009. In this study, mice that received high-fat food during their normal sleeping time gained significantly more weight than mice that received the same type and amount of food during normal waking hours. Shift workers' tendency to be overweight helped spur interest in the effect of eating during natural sleeping time, according to the study's lead author, Deanna Arble.

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Timing Your Meals and Snacks

Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?
Finishing the day's last meal or snack at least two hours before you go to bed gives your body time to digest the food. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Ideally, you should eat at least every four to five hours throughout the day so you're less likely to be hungry at night. Sometimes, though, you may need to eat late to avoid going without food for too long. If you ate dinner at 8 p.m. and plan to stay up until 2 a.m., you'll need a snack or light meal around midnight. Finishing the day's last meal or snack at least two hours before you go to bed gives your body time to digest the food. If your body's digesting food while you sleep, it has less energy to repair and restore itself as it should. This means you may sleep poorly and wake up tired.

Healthy Late-Night Snack Foods

Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?
Instead of grazing on sweets, fast food and packaged snacks, have a small balanced meal when you feel hungry at night. Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images

Instead of grazing on sweets, fast food and packaged snacks, have a small balanced meal when you feel hungry at night. Healthy late-night snack options include apple slices or celery sticks with peanut butter, a whole-grain English muffin topped with tomato sauce and cheese, half a sandwich or a small bowl of whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk. If you plan to stay up doing something mentally challenging, like studying, include some protein, such as meat or beans. Protein will help keep you alert.

Avoiding Insomnia

Should You Eat if It Is Late & You Are Hungry?
You may need to make some changes to your late-night eating habits if you often experience insomnia. Photo Credit Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

You may need to make some changes to your late-night eating habits if you often experience insomnia. In this case, just before bedtime, eat a light snack high in carbohydrates, but low in protein. Such foods increase production of the brain chemicals serotonin and melatonin, which are associated with sleep. Granola, whole-grain crackers or toast with jam are good choices. Avoid drinking fluids close to bedtime, though, to reduce the chance you'll need a midnight trip to the bathroom.

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