How To Prevent Nighttime Cravings

Nighttime cravings can make it difficult to stick to your diet and get adequate rest. A small meal or snack is likely beneficial, but large mixed meals, such as steak with rice or pasta, may result in weight gain. When you eat food late at night, your body is more likely to store it as fat, according to an article in The Washington Post. Additionally, late-night food intake is less satiating than eating at an earlier time. This habit can also interfere with your sleep, making it even harder to maintain your weight.

Researchers suspect that our circadian rhythm may be responsible for nighttime cravings. As it turns out, humans are "programmed" to crave sweet, salty, and starchy foods after 8 p.m., according to clinical evidence presented in the journal Obesity. The body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, does more than just regulate the sleep-wake cycle—it also has a direct impact on hunger and appetite. Other factors, such as sleep deprivation, can further increase hunger, energy intake, and food cravings, suggests a 2019 study featured in the journal Nutrients.

The question is, what can you do about it? On one hand, you don't want to go to bed feeling hungry. On the other hand, you may have trouble resisting the urge to snack on chocolate and other palatable foods, so you choose not to eat all. With that in mind, here are some tricks to curb late-night cravings and keep hunger at bay. 

Fill up on protein

For starters, add more protein to your diet. Milk, poultry, Greek yogurt, nuts, cottage cheese, and legumes are all great choices (per Harvard Medical School). High-protein foods increase satiety and keep your metabolism up, making it easier to maintain a healthy weight, explains a 2012 review published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Moreover, protein can improve your body composition, or fat-to-muscle ratio, and prevent metabolic slowdown while on a diet.

Also, it's perfectly fine to eat a high-protein snack or sip on protein shakes at bedtime. This habit can speed up post-workout recovery and help you burn more calories in the morning, according to clinical research published in the journal Nutrients. Ideally, opt for foods and beverages rich in casein, a slow-digesting protein. Depending on your preferences, you could have a glass of milk or a small serving of cottage cheese before heading to bed. Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products contain casein, too, notes BetterMe

Eat a balanced breakfast

The research on breakfast is somewhat conflicting, but most experts agree that eating in the morning can benefit your health. For example, a 2018 study found that breakfast consumption improves satiety and appetite control. As the scientists note, this dietary habit may also help reduce late-night snacking and curb the desire to eat high-carb and high-fat foods in the evening. What's more, it can improve sleep quality and help you doze off faster.

Another study, which was conducted by the University of Missouri, reports similar findings. Researchers say that eating a high-protein breakfast can curb hunger and keep you full longer throughout the day.

Need a quick boost of inspiration? Try poached eggs with veggies, high-protein pancakes, Greek yogurt with almond or peanut butter, spinach frittata, or porridge with walnuts and chia seeds. If you're in a rush, make a sandwich with whole grain bread, salmon, greens, and cottage cheese. Alternatively, reach for a protein shake before heading to work. 

Change your bedtime routine

As mentioned earlier, sleep deprivation can affect appetite and food preferences. Skimping on shuteye also increases cravings for high-calorie foods and throws your metabolism out of whack, leading to weight gain, according to 2013 research published in Nature Communications. One way to avoid these problems is to hit the sack earlier. The Cleveland Clinic recommends going to bed around 10 p.m. or early enough to make sure you get seven to nine hours of sleep.

Also, it's important to create a bedtime routine. Sleep Foundation recommends you turn off your smartphone and other gadgets and try to relax. If you're feeling hungry, eat a light snack or drink a glass of water. Another option is to meditate for a bit, read a book, or take a warm bath before going to bed. Meditation and other mindfulness-based practices can help you fall asleep faster and wake up more refreshed, suggests a 2014 study featured in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. What's more, mindfulness meditation may reduce food cravings almost immediately, according to a 2018 research paper published in Clinical Psychology Review.

Last but not least, stop watching TV before bed, as this habit promotes overeating and mindless snacking. On top of that, it increases the desire to eat high-calorie foods, says a 2007 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. If you can't fall asleep, experiment with imagery techniques, deep breathing, or journaling to calm your mind and stop racing thoughts.