The Habit That Makes You Eat More
For the study, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine followed a control group of 27 participants who went to bed at 10 p.m. and another group of 198 who went to bed at 4 a.m. They found that the sleep-restricted subjects consumed about 550 calories—a good portion of which came from fat—after their well-rested counterparts had gone to sleep. After five consecutive nights of limited rest, participants in the second group had gained an average of more than two pounds.
Night-time munching happens for a few reasons, says lead study author Andrea M. Spaeth, MA, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. For starters, the longer you stay awake, the more time you have to eat. But losing sleep also appears to increase the desire for high-fat and high-calorie foods. Although it’s unclear why you get these cravings, calorie-dense foods are almost always available these days—so it’s easy for people to overindulge, says Spaeth. It’s also possible that willpower diminishes in the wee hours of the night, making it difficult to say no to pleasurable, fatty food, she says.
Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CDN, owner of Manhattan-based practice Your New York Dietician, who was not involved with the study, agrees. “People often associate being home at night with feelings of comfort, causing them to care less about the consequences of their not-so-healthy food choices,” she says. While it’s best to get a good night’s sleep, that may not always be possible. When you can’t get to bed at a reasonable hour, Moskovitz suggests these four simple ways to ward off late-night cravings: