Sleep Care

Late Night Cravings Linked to Sleep Cycles

Have you ever had that late night craving for some ice cream before bed? Or woke up in the middle of the night, only to find yourself rummaging through the cupboards for some potato chips? Chances are, you have…but why, and how bad can late night snacking really be?

Eating late night, before bed, or in the middle of the night can have negative effects and helps contribute to obesity. The human body breaks down nutrients differently depending on the time of day. For example, if a lot of calories are consumed right before bed, the calories are not burned off due to the inactivity of an individual while sleeping. The lack of burning off the calories taken in helps contribute to weight gain. Recently there has been a study conducted by Dr. Steven Shea, Frank Scheer, Ph.D., and Christopher Morris, Ph.D. to help shed some light on how and why this happens.

RefigeratorThe study observed 12 non-obese, healthy adults for 13 days. During this 13 day trial, the participants were kept in a very low light laboratory with scheduled times for eating and sleeping. The researchers found that an individual’s circadian rhythm plays an important role in the hunger process. The circadian rhythm regulated the hunger of the individuals. The test subjects felt least hungry in the morning and most hungry

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at night. Dr. Scheer stated, “By the end of this long protocol, all of the participant’s meals and activities were spaced evenly across the day and night, allowing examination of the true internal circadian effects on appetites, while controlling other effects on appetite including the amount of food recently consumed.” So, what is the circadian rhythm? The circadian rhythm is the physical, behavioral, and mental changes that follow the light and dark phases of a 24 hour cycle. Circadian rhythm is why at night, in the darkness a person feels drowsy, and in the morning when waking up to daylight they feel alert. An individual’s circadian rhythm also controls melatonin production which is the hormone that makes someone feel drowsy and tired. This study leads to the conclusion that the internal circadian rhythm causes appetite to be at its highest in the evening and causes the urge to consume high calorie meals, larger than any other meal throughout the day. While this may have been beneficial to early man, today’s modern era is another story. Steven Shea, Ph.D. is quoted

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circadian system also likely plays a role in today’s obesity epidemic because it intensifies hunger at night.” By not being active in the evenings after consuming a larger, higher calorie meal and by not receiving enough sleep, the odds of weight gain greatly increase. Shea went on to say, “Our study suggests that because of the internal circadian regulation of appetite, we have a natural tendency to skip breakfast in favor of larger meals in the evening. So, it seems likely that the internal circadian system helps with

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efficient food storage. While this may have been valuable throughout evolution, nowadays it is likely to contribute to the national epidemic of obesity.” It is recommended in order to maintain a healthy weight to always consume breakfast. In fact, the majority of one’s calories should be consumed during the day, with a lighter meal in the evening. Consult your physician with any dietary concerns or questions you may have. Once you kick late night snacking to the curb, your body (and scale) will thank you!

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