What your body tells you when you wake up hungry


WWaking up in the middle of the night happens to all of us from time to time and it is relatively easy to close our eyes and return to its sleep cycle. Waking up with a voracious, growling stomach is a bit of a different story – while nothing hits quite like a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly at 2am, it’s downright annoying to have to get out of bed and try to find your jam jar when you should get something much needed shuteye.

That being said, if your body awkwardly makes you wake up or you get interrupted over several nights due to hunger, it is certainly nothing to (ahem) lose sleep over. According to dietitians, this may just be your body’s way of telling you that you might want to start introducing a snack or a small meal into your routine before bed. But to really get to the bottom of preventable things that could happen during the day – from not eating enough protein to facing elevated levels of stress – that can make you wake up voracious, we have used a few RDs for explanations and solutions. Read on to learn why you might wake up hungry in the middle of the night and how to solve it.

What your body is trying to tell you when you wake up hungry, according to dietitians

1. You may need to eat more consistently throughout the day (with an emphasis on complex carbohydrates)

If you wake up feeling hungry, Katherine Metzelaar, RDN, owner of Bravespace Nutrition, says it’s probably because you have not eaten enough food during the day. “Being restrictive or having restrictive eating habits – like forgetting to feed our body or following a strict meal plan, like not eating after a certain time of day – throws us off,” she says.

Intuitive eating is a way around this: Give your body food when it wants food. “It might not mean walking more than a few hours, max four to five, without food,” Metzelaar says. Find out which habits make you feel most energetic and satisfied. “Getting lots of protein, healthy fats and especially complex carbohydrates throughout the day is just as important. A mix of vegetables, whole grains and starch, all of which are carbohydrates, is a great way to keep energy levels up,” she adds.

Learn more about intuitive eating from a dietitian by watching this video:

Metzelaar says that your body’s ghrelin levels, a hormone that signals that you are hungry, tend to drop when you go to sleep. “This is because your body wants to signal that there is no need for food through the night, so you are able to get the highest quality rest, which means without interruptions. It does this by increasing leptin levels – your fullness hormone – while you sleep, “says Metzelaar. “But when someone does not get enough during the day or has last eaten five hours before bedtime, they will probably need food again. If you do not eat enough, it can naturally cause the continuous release of ghrelin because the body does not have enough sustainable “energy absorbed from food, which can wake us up. That’s why it’s important to eat enough during the day so as not to release starvation hormones that rise while you sleep.”

2. You may experience low blood sugar

In addition, when someone does not eat enough, it can lower their glucose levels, which can make it virtually impossible to sleep through an entire night without getting hungry. This is because their glucose – also called blood sugar – has dropped too low and the body wakes up because of this, ”says Metzelaar. This is far more serious (and a harsh reality) for those who have diabetes, but can also affect some people without the condition.

Having a snack before bedtime can prevent this, Metzelaar says, such as a well-balanced goodnight snack with some protein, carbohydrates and fat. Think: almond butter and banana on whole grain toast, yogurt or cottage cheese with berries or hummus on biscuits. Metzelaar reaffirms the importance of getting a sufficient amount of food during the day to keep blood sugar levels stable.

You train – probably in the evening – without refueling sufficiently afterwards

“A strenuous workout, especially a workout done in the evening, can significantly utilize the fuel reserves,” says Michelle Ricker, RDN. “If you do not fill up sufficiently after a workout – at all times, but especially those who exercise at night – you may find that hunger wakes you up later while you sleep.”

The best bet is to focus on eating more when you finish your workout, and Ricker highlights both carbohydrates and protein as important nutrients you should include in your post-workout snack. “Carbohydrates help restore glycogen energy storage, and if it falls too low, it can signal hunger to your body. Protein not only helps with muscle recovery, but with feeling more satiated,” says Ricker. Research also shows that foods with tryptophan , melatonin and phytonutrients are associated with better snooze quality.

Regardless of physical activity, Ricker adds that it is important to make sure that your evening meal has both complex carbohydrates (think beans, vegetables and whole grains) and protein no matter what. “A meal high in carbohydrates can help bring about sleep, but the protein is important to make the meal more filling over a longer period of time,” she says. Ricker also recommends limiting foods that can alter sleep – especially anything with caffeine or a lot of added sugar – in the evening.

4. Stress takes a toll (and brings your gut microbiome out of balance)

“Melatonin, a hormone that your body naturally produces to control your sleep-wake cycle, is triggered by the onset of darkness and is usually secreted by your brain around bedtime to help you sleep,” Ricker explains. “If your natural levels of melatonin fall – for example, those who work night shifts, or people who struggle with sleep due to stress or jet lag – you may have trouble either falling or staying asleep.”

When sleep deprived, Ricker says we also tend to have elevated ghrelin levels and even more stress, which can bring your gut microbiome out of balance. “Keep stress down to avoid ruining your good gut bacteria. This can be done by adding fermented foods, increasing your fiber intake and reducing your consumption of sugar, processed foods and fried foods, especially before bedtime,” Ricker says. reach out for this melatonin smoothie.

5. You may need more vitamin D.

Vitamin D comes naturally from sunlight and foods. And if you do not get enough, your circadian rhythm (aka sleep patterns) can be thrown off. “Vitamin D also helps regulate leptin levels, which can affect your appetite,” Ricker says. “To increase your intake of vitamin D, try eating more of the primary food sources, such as seafood, mushrooms and fortified dairy products.”

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