Why you can’t resist heading to your fridge for a snack at 2am, and how to avoid it

We’ve all been there—scrolling through Instagram while in bed and craving a quick snack before turning in. But we often hear that midnight snacking is harakiri—a fabled one stop shop to setting back health goals and exercise gains. But what does eating at night really do to your body? We spoke to experts to find out.

How does midnight snacking affect your health?

Dr Manoj Kutteri, wellness director, Atmantan Wellness Resort, elaborates why eating past midnight directly affects your energy level and even impacts the ageing process. “You must remember that the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, in the body is the lowest during night time, and there is a higher concentration of the melatonin that determines the body’s circadian rhythm,” he says. Eating at night can bring the cortisol level back up, which can leave you wired and unable to sleep after.

“Snacking late at night will trigger more insulin production and these fluctuations in insulin can result in higher insulin resistance and decreased metabolism,” says Dr Kutteri. Delhi-based nutritionist Nmami Agarwal further explains, “Impaired function of insulin can increase the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Eating at midnight can also contribute to weight gain because calories consumed at night are more likely to be stored in the form of fat. This fact is also supported by a study conducted by American Journal of Clinical Nutrition—it says night time eaters consume 12 per cent more calories compared to those who finish their meals within stipulated time. It can also result in acid reflux and increased heartburn.” She says that knowing the source of the cravings can help to turn them on their head. “Sometimes you’re just bored or thirsty. In other cases, you’re loading up on sweets, junk foods or carbs and skipping out on fats and proteins, which can cause insulin crashes at inopportune times.”

“Apart from the long-term effects, rummaging for the leftovers in the fridge and sifting through the pantry for treats could lead to acidity, water retention and bloating the day after,” adds Goa-based nutritionist Harpreet Pasricha.

What can you eat instead?

“Eat a satiating dinner about 2.5 hours before you go to bed,” suggests Pasricha. She says that people should leave enough time between eating and laying in bed, because you’re likely to have acid reflux when you’re lying flat. She suggests nourishing and balanced snacks like watermelon feta salad, quinoa salad with tossed veggies, vegetable shashliks, roasted grams or fresh cut veggies such as carrots or cucumber with home-made dips.

Nutritionists also suggest foods high in tryptophan (like a handful of nuts or a piece of cottage cheese), which is the amino acid that helps stimulate the production of happy hormone serotonin, and sleep-promoting melatonin. Magnesium is a muscle relaxant, so foods rich in this mineral, like avocados and bananas, and melatonin-heavy foods like cherries also work well.

Doctors also suggest getting enough sleep in the first place, to help regularise the leptin and ghrelin hormones (the ones that tell you when you’re hungry or full), leaving you with the ability to make healthier choices across the board.

This is what you should snack on (if you really have to)

Pasricha says that if you really have to snack, convincing yourself otherwise won’t help you fall asleep faster either. “In case you’re working or studying late nights, and you generally have a habit of snacking to keep you up, be prepared with some healthy options that will not just keep you full, but also satisfy your carb cravings,” she suggests.

Agarwal suggests keeping foods like energy drinks, chips, frozen fruits or refined flour products far away, especially at night. She suggests making a glass moon milk, an elixir made of warm milk and a spice of your choice—ashwagandha or turmeric are popular ones. She confirms that fatty, spicy, sugar or acidic foods, as well as anything with caffeine or alcohol, can cause indigestion and keep you up longer than you need to be.

This article first appeared in Vogue


  • Aparrna Gupta

    Transitioning from crafting stories for The Asian Age and Bombay Times to setting beauty trends in Verve, Aparrna Gupta’s journey has always revolved around resonant storytelling. Her prowess in content creation is unparalleled, with articles featured in renowned publications like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, L’Officiel India, Lifestyle Asia, Elle, and Femina. She also excels in content ideation, trend identification, mood board creation, and product styling. Her expertise has proven invaluable to homegrown brands, enabling them to authentically connect with their audience.

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