You’ve heard the saying that you should never go grocery shopping while you’re hungry because you are more likely to fill your basket with piles of junk food and tempting snacks, but what about going to bed on an empty stomach?
Some people swear by the technique of stopping food intake at a certain time in the evening to boost weight loss. Often this technique is called “intermittent fasting,” and it involves restricting calorie intake to a specified period during the day.
However, new research and common sense suggest that going to bed with hunger pains might do more harm than good. In this article, we answer the question of is it okay to sleep when hungry and share our most helpful tips to avoid nightly hunger pains even if you’re on a diet.
Effects of Going to Bed Hungry
Have you ever skipped breakfast and found yourself desperately trying to resist the urge to devour the pizza and donuts in the company break room? It turns out that depriving yourself of food can make it more difficult to exercise good judgment in your food choices.
If you go to bed on an empty stomach and sleep for six to eight hours, you’ve deprived yourself of food to the point where the cookies on the counter sound like a logical breakfast choice. This could set off an entire chain reaction causing the cycle to repeat again and again. As a result, you’re more likely to gain weight.
Lose Muscle Mass
Even though our body’s metabolic processes slow down when we’re asleep, they’re still functioning. As we enter deep sleep, our body goes into full repair and restoration mode. This includes building muscle mass, converting protein to muscle, and repairing damaged tissues.
If we haven’t provided our bodies with enough fuel to do their jobs, we risk losing muscle mass while we sleep.
Remember, our body is running and needs fuel 24 hours a day, even when we’re asleep. While that doesn’t mean we should eat constantly, it does mean that we need to provide our system with enough fuel to carry out its duties.
While we’re asleep, we’re still performing numerous bodily functions, all requiring energy. Without some store of food-based energy to facilitate these processes, we run the risk of waking up still feeling tired.
By eating a light snack with high levels of protein or fiber in the hours before bed, you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed and energized than if you had sustained. A study by Florida State University’s Department of Nutrition found that not only does a light pre-bedtime snack improve energy, it can also boost your metabolism.
No one likes being “hangry,” that scary combination of hungry and angry. But by starving yourself before bed, you’re opening up the door for a hangry episode that can have detrimental effects on your career and relationships.
The scientific explanation for the effect that not eating has on mood has to do with fluctuating serotonin levels. When you go extended periods without eating, the resulting drop can make you extra grumpy. And you thought you were irritable in the morning because you needed a cup of coffee!
Eating a balanced diet, which includes regular meals, keeps insulin at normal levels. If you go to bed on an empty stomach, insulin levels drop. This is referred to as hypoglycemia. It’s dangerous for people with diabetes, and even in healthy individuals, it can cause problems such as headaches and dizziness.
Lack of Sleep
Low insulin levels negatively affect sleep. Also, being uncomfortable with a grumbling tummy will also prevent a restful night of shuteye.
Before going wild and emptying out your pantry, remember that balance is key. While you don’t want to feel like your starving, stuffing your face isn’t the solution, either. That can result in bloating, discomfort, acid reflux, and heartburn.
How to Avoid Hunger Pains at Night
Don’t Skip Meals
If you tend to feel hungry at night, the best advice we can give is to make sure you space your meals regularly throughout the day. This way, you keep your insulin levels stable and avoid nocturnal cravings to binge.
Eat Food Rich in Protein
A medium-sized dinner at a reasonable hour with a lot of protein will help you avoid hunger pains. Ideally, you’ll be consuming protein throughout the day, but at the very least, make sure your dinner has either a lean animal protein. Or if you’re vegan or vegetarian, include nuts, protein-dense vegetables and healthy fats like avocado to keep your metabolic processes on track.
Eat Solid Snacks
Foods packed with protein help fill you up and keep you fuller longer. If you’ve already had dinner but still feel a void, grab a (small) handful of nuts or a few strips of turkey jerky. It might be tempting to consume a protein shake, but it’s also important to keep in mind that drinking liquids before bed could make you feel the urge to wake up for a bathroom break in the middle of the night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to sleep on a full stomach?
While we don’t recommend sleeping on an empty stomach, we also suggest you avoid sleeping on a full stomach. It can have an adverse effect on your insulin levels, which spikes your blood sugar and can lead to weight gain. It’s not likely to kill you, but obesity puts you at risk for a whole host of other dangerous conditions.
Can this help you lose weight?
It’s not likely, but we need to look at other factors besides just going to bed hungry. If you’re trying to lose weight and you are also restricting calories, it’s logical that your stomach could rumble at night.
Instead of making the decision to go back to sleep and starve, make a concerted effort to regulate mealtime, so you eat plenty during the day and have a healthy dinner that’s not too heavy but still has a solid protein source.
The two proven ways to lose weight healthfully are exercise and a balanced diet. If you’re restricting calories during the day but feeling hungry at night, you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure in the long run.
We’re all busy, and scheduling time to eat isn’t always a top priority. If you find yourself feeling hungry at night, resist the urge to have a full meal right before bed, but also avoid depriving yourself of necessary nutrients. Remember, a small and healthy snack before bed when you’re feeling ravenous can help ensure you have a restful night and a happy and productive morning the next day.
Sources and References:
- Determining The Relationship Between Hunger At Bedtime And Sleep In A Large Population: Science To Empower Healthy Diet And Body Composition – reeis.usda.gov
- The Internal Circadian Clock Increases Hunger and Appetite in the Evening Independent of Food Intake and Other Behaviors – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Author: Sleep Advisor
Our team covers as many areas of expertise as we do time zones, but none of us started here as a so-called expert on sleep. What we do share is a willingness to ask questions (lots of them), seek experts, and dig deep into conventional wisdom to see if maybe there might be a better path towards healthy living. We apply what we learn not only to our company culture, but also how we deliver information to our over 12.7M readers.
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