Taking care of your body should be simple, right? All you have to do is eat healthy food, stay hydrated, and get enough rest, and everything should be just fine. Everything is all nice and dandy when you stick to this routine. However, when you don’t, things get crazy fast.
Why Do I Wake Up Hungry?
Do you ever have one of those episodes where you wake up with a ravenous hunger? The hunger is so bad you think you’re starving, but then again, you’re sure you ate the previous night. So what makes your body act like this at the least convenient times? Let’s find out.
You’re Not Eating Enough During The Day
Going to bed hungry is not the brightest of ideas. This comes as no surprise. If you don’t eat enough food during the day, it follows that you may end up getting hungry at night. That’s the short explanation. Here’s the longer, scientific one.
Dietary guidelines, issued between 2015-2020, recommend the ideal daily caloric intake for moderately active adult men and women. For men, the figures stand at 2000-3000 calories per day, while for women, it’s 1600-2400 calories (1). If your total caloric consumption is lower than this, chances are you’ll wake up hungry at night or in the morning.
See, your body needs energy, and hunger is how it signals you that it’s not getting enough. If you find yourself getting hunger pangs in the dead of night, it’s your body trying to communicate. It turns out you may just need some extra calories to replace the existing deficit created by your body burning more calories than it gets.
You’re Overeating Before Bed
Okay, so not eating enough during the day will make you wake up hungry. Now, will overeating before bed also make you hungry? It doesn’t make sense, or does it? Here’s why you can get hungry after eating before going to sleep.
Taking too much food, especially those high in sugar and starch, will cause erratic spikes in your blood sugar. This triggers your pancreas to release insulin that instructs your cells to absorb blood sugar. When your blood sugar levels drop, you start feeling hungry.
Additionally, studies indicate that it is generally less satiating when you eat at night. This is in comparison to eating in the morning (10).
Scientists recommend eating small nutrient-dense meals of lower than 200 calories before bed (10). Simply put, you need to balance your food intake during the day if you want to be satiated throughout the night. Avoid any extremities like too little during the day and too much before bed.
You Changed Your Exercise Routine
When you start working out more, chances are that you’re burning more calories. That’s because exercise generally uses up more energy than other activities. When you don’t make up for this deficit by eating more calories during the day, you’ll wake up hungry.
Additionally, when you replace your routine, you may experience a similar effect. This is despite no significant increase in your physical activities.
Now there’s no doubt that working out is good for your health. However, it can also be the answer to the question, “why do I wake up hungry in the middle of the night?” So, whenever you change your workout routine and intensity, ensure you also make a caloric adjustment.
You’re Not Getting Adequate Sleep
Sleep plays a major role in your overall health and well-being. One of the things that your sleep pattern affects is your appetite. According to this study, disrupted sleep patterns can cause an increase in your appetite (7).
Lack of sleep has also been associated with increasing levels of ghrelin in your body. Ghrelin is the hormone that produces hunger (7). This can create a domino effect where you wake up feeling hungry both at night and in the morning.
Also, insufficient sleep has been linked to poor blood sugar control (7). A few nights of inadequate sleep can significantly disrupt your blood sugar level, triggering hunger in the night or morning. So if you’re ever wondering, “why do I wake up hungry in the morning,” this may be your answer.
Night Eating Syndrome
Let’s say you’re maintaining a good diet during the day, and you’re getting enough sleep. You’re now wondering, “why do I wake up hungry at night?” There is a chance that you have a disorder under the diagnostic category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED). This disorder is known as the Night Eating Syndrome (6).
The National Eating Disorders Association labels OSFED as a serious and catch-all category, including night eating syndrome. This syndrome makes you frequently wake up with the burning urge to eat at night (6). Further research is, however, still in progress to determine the best treatments for this condition.
You’re Exerting Yourself Too Much Before Sleep
Sure, working out can help your body control sudden blood sugar spikes. How? Your muscles absorb sugar from your blood, ergo the reduced blood sugar levels. However, when you exercise intensely before going to bed, your blood sugar levels will crash.
Having low blood sugar levels will produce a counterproductive effect. Since your body won’t be satiated, you’ll wake up to get some food, hence gaining the calories you were trying to lose.
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Stress is one of the most prevalent causes of food cravings. Here’s how that happens.
When you’re stressed out, hormones like cortisol are released into your body. Stress then triggers your body’s fight or flight response. Large amounts of sugar are released in your blood for quick energy. In response, your body produces insulin that lowers your blood sugar levels that can ultimately make you hungry.
So if you’re asking yourself, “why am I always hungry at night?”, it may be because you’re stressed out. Exercises like meditation, yoga, and breathing routines can help you relax and keep your blood sugar levels steady after a meal.
Your body is good at communicating what it needs and when it needs it. However, some of these signals are often misunderstood. For example, there’s dehydration.
Thirst or dehydration can make you lethargic, a feeling you can misinterpret as hunger. So when you wake up feeling hungry, try taking a glass of water to be sure you’re just not thirsty. Also, make sure that you are hydrated throughout the day.
It May Be Metabolic Health Conditions
Diabetes, for instance, affects how your body regulates its blood sugar levels. A case in point is type 2 diabetes. This condition makes your cells unresponsive to insulin (8). As a result, sugar is not absorbed in your cells; therefore, your body doesn’t get the energy it needs. This ultimately leads to increased feelings of hunger.
Obesity also has a similar effect. It makes it harder for your body to use insulin in regulating your blood sugar levels. Hyperthyroidism is also known to increase your appetite that can lead to late-night snacking (8).
Medications You’re Using May Be The Culprit
Certain kinds of medications have been linked to increased appetite levels. By extension, they may make you wake up with ravenous hunger. You may even feel unwell sometimes, along with the raging hunger. If you’ve been thinking, “why do I wake up hungry and nauseous?”, it may be a side effect of your medication.
Some of these medications include:
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Antiseizure drugs
- Some antidepressants
- Some diabetes medications like insulin
If this is the case for you, seek your physician’s advice.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
PMS is known to affect your physical health and behavior before the onset of your period. Additionally, it can also affect the balance in your hormonal levels. Sugar cravings are a common symptom and can be accompanied by fatigue, changes in sleep, and bloating.
So if you notice a difference in your appetite or wake up hungry at night, it may be due to PMS.
Most women experience increased appetites during pregnancy because of increased energy needs. If this is the case, waking up hungry shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, you also need to ensure that your late-night snacking doesn’t lead to excessive weight gain.
In some cases, late-night hunger during pregnancy can be a symptom of gestational diabetes. This is a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated during pregnancy. Most of the time, the condition resolves itself after the birth of the baby (2).
Eating healthy meals and avoiding going to bed hungry could help with late-night hunger. A warm glass of milk or a high-protein meal should do the trick.
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What To Do About It?
Waking up hungry in the middle of the night or the morning can be triggered by several things. It can be hard to pinpoint the real cause of it immediately. Therefore, you may have to try a trial and error approach to the cause of your experience and how to change it.
If you suspect that you have a medical or mental health condition that is causing you to wake up hungry, speak to your doctor about it. Otherwise, here are some things that you could try to help you deal with waking up hungry.
Research shows that relaxation techniques can help you overcome nighttime eating syndromes caused by stress (5). Stretching, hot baths, and meditation can be particularly useful if you want to de-stress.
Eat Regularly During The Day
When you take your meals at planned intervals throughout the day, you help keep your blood sugar stable. A stable blood sugar means a constant supply of energy, which goes a long way to solve your late-night hunger problem. Also, studies show that people with regular meal schedules have better appetite control (3).
Monitoring your daily caloric intake can also prove to be beneficial in tackling late-night hunger. Strive to meet the minimum recommended guidelines based on your age and activity levels. Finally, if you’re used to eating early in the evening, pushing your mealtime back a little later should do the trick.
Eat More Protein
Different foods affect your appetite in different ways. Protein increases your satiety, helping you stay full throughout the day and night. Additionally, eating high-protein meals frequently can reduce your cravings and your desire to eat at night (9).
The increased satiety may be why you wake up feeling full in the morning. If you’ve been on a high-protein diet and thinking, “why do I not feel hungry when I wake up?”, you have your answer – it’s because of the protein.
Dispose Of Any Junk In Your House
Eating high-sugar junk food at night is one of the reasons you may wake up feeling hungry. It doesn’t make things any easier if they are within reach. So, replace them with healthy snacks like fruits and berries. These are satiating foods that will power you through the night.
Develop And Stick To A Routine
Some of the reasons that can make you wake up feeling hungry are inadequate sleep and meals during the day. When you structure your sleep and eating times over the day, chances are you’ll be less hungry at night. Enough quality sleep is crucial in managing your late-night hunger episodes.
Scheduling your sleep and eating time trains your body to create a distinction between the two. So when it’s time to sleep, you’ll do just that, not eat. On scheduling your sleep, try getting a minimum of 7 hours of sleep time every night. This is what your body needs to properly function and stay healthy, according to the CDC (4).
Your body can help you do amazing things when it’s properly taken care of. Also, things are generally better when you’re in your top form. However, things can get quite unpleasant quickly when your body needs something. It doesn’t get any easier since your body can vividly communicate these needs regardless of the time or place.
Feeling and waking up hungry can be very inconvenient. That said, it’s important to note that this is your body communicating a need or a problem. Trying out these methods can help you address them and reclaim your uninterrupted sleep time.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (n.d., health.gov)
- Am I at risk for gestational diabetes? (2012, nih.gov)
- Eating patterns in patients with spectrum binge eating disorder (2010, nih.gov)
- How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2017, cdc.gov)
- Night eating syndrome: effects of brief relaxation training on stress, mood, hunger, and eating patterns (2003, pubmed.gov)
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder (n.d., nationaleatingdisorders.org)
- Sleep Restriction Enhances the Daily Rhythm of Circulating Levels of Endocannabinoid 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2016, pubmed.gov)
- Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy (2015, nih.gov)
- The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men (2010, nih.gov)
- The Health Impact of Nighttime Eating: Old and New Perspective (2015, nih.gov)