It seems there’s some truth to the saying “never go to bed hungry.”
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The Hunger-Sleep Connection
Studies have discovered a link between hunger and sleep quality. In particular, being hungry can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep and decrease the overall duration of sleep (1, 2). It makes sense that if you’re hungry, your brain will want to wake you up to search for food.
If this is a recurring problem for you, it can have a significant impact on your health.
How to Fall Asleep If You’re Hungry Before Sleep
The obvious solution is to eat more during the day. However, if you’re unable to afford enough food, there’s no shame in seeking assistance from local food banks. But in situations where you unexpectedly find yourself hungry before bed, here are a few strategies you can try.
Most Importantly: Don’t Stress
Few things disrupt sleep quality like anxiety. Focusing on your hunger will only make it more uncomfortable and difficult to fall asleep. Instead, take a mindful approach. Acknowledge that you’re hungry but remind yourself that the hunger will diminish and you’ll be able to eat tomorrow. Don’t let hunger worsen your sleep.
Have a Quick Snack of the Right Kind
If possible, have a small snack to alleviate your hunger. However, avoid eating too much as consuming food right before bed can negatively impact sleep. One study suggests that the best foods to eat at night are small, nutrient-dense, low-energy foods or single macronutrients, rather than large mixed-meals. Opt for something easy to digest, like a banana or a slice of bread. You don’t need to eat until you’re “full,” just enough to make you comfortably satisfied. Keep in mind that it takes about 20 minutes for food to affect your hunger levels, so be patient after eating.
Reduce Your Exposure to Blue Light at Night
Although not a major concern, minimizing exposure to blue light may help if you frequently experience hunger at night. Blue light, commonly emitted by screens (TV, computer, phone, etc.) and certain types of lighting such as LED bulbs, is known to cause insomnia symptoms and hinder falling asleep.
While research is limited, one study suggests that limiting blue light exposure can reduce hunger (4). It appears that blue light may suppress the hormone leptin, which signals satiety. Although the results weren’t statistically significant, the effect was noticeable, warranting further research. Reducing blue light exposure at night is already a part of good sleep hygiene, so it’s worth considering. You can achieve this by using software like night shift, wearing blue light glasses, or simply dimming light sources in the evening.
Eat More Fat During the Day
Studies indicate that high-fat diets are more satiating than high-carbohydrate diets (5). While you don’t need to adopt a ketogenic diet, increasing your fat intake during the day can help you feel fuller for longer. However, avoid consuming a significant amount of fat close to bedtime, as it takes longer to digest and can hinder falling asleep.
Summary: Sleeping While Hungry
Hunger is uncomfortable and can make it harder to sleep. Not only does it delay falling asleep, but it also increases the likelihood of early awakening. While I understand not everyone has the luxury, the most straightforward solution is to eat more during the day. If you find yourself very hungry at night, have a light and healthy snack, and refrain from fixating on your hunger to prevent anxiety.
- Sleep quality and perceived stress as related to hedonic hunger among university students: A cross-sectional study.
- The quality and duration of sleep are related to hedonic hunger: a cross-sectional study in university students.
- The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspectives.
- Hunger hormone and sleep responses to the built-in blue-light filter on an electronic device.
- The Effects of a Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet and a Low-Fat Diet on Mood, Hunger, and Other Self-Reported Symptoms.