Why do we Crave Midnight Snacks?
We have all been there. Coming back to your dorm at 11:30, or sitting in your room late at night and spotting the bag of chips in your cabinet. You aren’t really that hungry, but your stomach is telling you that you have to eat the food. This midnight snacking, as it turns out, is not about you being hungry at all. In fact, researchers studied the neurological satisfaction of food during different parts of the day. The results show that people enjoy food less in the evening and at night. That explains why when having a midnight snack, it is more like a midnight meal or a midnight bag of Family-Sized chips.
What causes this incessant need to snack in the middle of the night?
A recent study found that late night snack cravings are a result of the body’s circadian system. This acts as an internal clock for the body and controls when the you performs certain habitual tasks. For example, if you are used to waking up at 8am everyday, even without an alarm clock, your body will wake you up at 8am out of habit. Eating snacks at night has become a habit dating back to our ancestors. Back in the day, people would eat huge meals at night in order store energy during a famine. This habit has now been brought down to us in the form of midnight snacking. We aren’t hungry at all, it is just your mind playing tricks with your stomach.
Why do we only crave fatty foods?
During different times of day, we crave different foods. Studies have shown that between the hours of 12am-4am, the majority of the food we crave is fatty or greasy. This is due to the fact that our bodies are craving fast, energy providing calories. French fries, ice cream, and burgers are key foods that can provide quick energy late at night. One reason that our body craves this quick energy source is because of the decrease in the hormone cortisol. At night, when our body thinks it is time for bed, our liver decreases the amount of this hormone because it does not think it will need very much energy left in the day. When we stay awake though, this is when our need for energy is not met, because of the decrease in cortisol, and we turn to high calorie foods to help regulate.
How this Affects People
Midnight snacking is one of the main causes of obesity in America. This is due to the fact that the amount of calories consumed at night, cannot be burned overnight. Unlike eating during the day, your body is able to burn a majority of the calories consumer in daily activities. It is true we burn calories when we sleep, but not enough to burn off all of the snacking the occurs late at night. In fact, wrestlers have been known to skip breakfast and have a larger meal at night in order to store the fat and nutrients rather than burn the calories throughout the day.