We are all pretty familiar with the cravings for some not-so-healthy snacks late at night every now and then - but if your body is giving you hunger cues at night every night, there may be more to blame than just an unyielding case of sweeth tooth.
So what could be the cause?
Back in 2013, research teams from Oregon Health & Science University and Harvard University began a study to determine whether your tendency to eat more at night has anything to do with your circadium rhythm (aka your body's internal clock). Published in the journal 'Obesity', the study found that if you're always hungry at night no matter how much or when you've eaten throughout the day, it could be a reflection of your ancestors' eating habits.
According to 'Prevention', the study involved a group of volunteers who were housed without any TV, cellphones, internet or contact with any visitors for two weeks. The lights were dimmed so the participants couldn't tell what time of day it was. These conditions effectively reset the body clocks of the participants. Participants ate the same mixture and amount of food at regular intervals while they were awake.
Throughout their stay, their eating and sleeping habits were monitored. The findings showed that participants were always hungriest at night time, regardless of when they slept or woke up.
So while you can't really fight genetics, Dr Steven Shea, Director for the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University and the lead researcher in the study suggests that you should try and wake up earlier and go to bed earlier to avoid late-night snacking - the less nighttime hours you’re awake, the less you’ll be tempted.
You can't totally blame your ancestors though - your own eating habits could well be the cause. Jessica Rosen, a certified holistic health coach and co-founder of Raw Generation, says that per ancient Ayurvedic Medicine, your body functions best when it gets the bulk of its nutrition before 2pm - when your body and mind are working their hardest and need the most fuel. So if you're craving food late at night this usually means you haven't nourished your body with essential vitamins and minerals earlier in the day.
If you're craving sweet treats, it's thought that our bodies are deficient in magnesium, and craving cheeses and meats are from iron and calcium deficiencies. “The healthiest and fastest way to get an optimal amount of minerals is to drink green juice with as much dark green leafy vegetable juices like spinach, kale, or collards as you can comfortably drink" Rosen suggests.
So basically making sure you eat a well-balanced diet, providing your body with all the nutrients it needs during the day can help to combat those late night cravings.
If you have to eat at night though, it's best to trade your sweet or salty treats for something a little lighter. Snacks tend to be heavily processed, making them difficult for your body to break down overnight. So turning these in for light snacks that will still satisfy your cravings such as cottage cheese and fruit, apple slices dipped in peanut butter or carrots and guac is a good idea according to Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
Well there you have it - try and set your body clock to wake up earlier and sleep earlier, eat a well-balanced diet throughout the day, and if you must snack at night, make sure it's good for you! That should help you combat those late night cravings!