By Isadora Baum
If you’re waking up in the middle of the night or bright and early in the morning with hunger pangs, it could be because of your food intake the night before, as well as a few other lifestyle factors. Perhaps you had a lack of sleep or didn’t eat a large meal before bed. Whatever the case, the next day might make that appetite higher than usual, where your hunger hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are too out of whack to keep that feeling of hunger at bay. Here are a few reasons why you might wake up so hungry, according to a dietitian.
Your Nighttime Meal Lacked Nutrition or Was Too Small
“If the last time you ate you reached for something high in starch or sugar that lacked fiber, protein, and fat, there’s a chance you experienced a blood sugar spike followed by a crash,” says Kelly Jones, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
Since you’ll already wake up with blood sugar on the lower end of normal, not eating enough at dinnertime or having poor eating habits can cause it to be even lower, leading to increased hunger cues so that you can bring those blood sugar levels back up to normal. Make sure to fill the plate with protein, filling fats and complex carbs high in fiber to keep hunger pains away right upon waking up.
You Didn’t Eat Enough All Day
Without realizing it, you may not have eaten enough the day before. “If you missed a meal or snack because your schedule was off, you hadn’t gone grocery shopping, or it was an intention due to dieting, your body still noticed and wants you to make up for it today,” she says. While small calorie deficits of 100-200 calories may go unnoticed, larger deficits impact your cravings and hunger cues and can even slow your metabolism if the deficit is consistent over time.
And you might notice weight loss and the slower metabolism, which can also come with other worries if it’s too much, so meet with a dietitian to figure out how many calories you should be consuming each day to keep weight, bodily functions and hunger in check.
You’re More Active
New job? Move to a new location? Get into a new workout plan? Change of seasons, or just a busy week? Even if you aren’t engaging in more planned exercise, increases in activities of daily living can sometimes have a large impact on energy expenditure, explains Jones.
“If you aren’t eating a bit more, your body may become stressed due to too large of a calorie deficit,” she says. You should eat more healthy fats, like avocado, nuts and nut butter, and olive oil, as well as protein, from hummus, Greek yogurt, animal protein, and plant protein, such as beans and legumes. Plus, don’t forget healthy carbs high in fiber, like whole-grain bread or crackers to use as a vehicle for those high-fat and high-protein foods.
You Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep
If you are getting a lack of sleep, your body wants you to be sleeping more and it will lead to more hunger pains the next day. “In an attempt to help you convert tryptophan into melatonin so you’ll feel sleepy and get back to bed, your body will release hunger hormones.This is because the production of melatonin requires some glucose,” she says. Make sure to get enough sleep each night, with 7-8 hours.
The brain burns a lot of energy each day and if you’re dealing with psychological stress, its energy needs may be in overdrive, which can lead to not sleeping at night or feeling hungrier in general. “Be sure to pause and enjoy adequate and satisfying meals and snacks during times of stress – it’ll help nourish your body and brain, as normal blood sugar levels can even help reduce release of stress and anxiety hormones,” she says.
If you’re feeling stressed out, try snacking on something nourishing to balance hormones and blood sugar. Go for a smoothie with peanut butter or other nut butter, fresh fruit and veggies.
You’re Drinking More Booze
“If you’ve been pouring a second glass of wine every night, or even having one regularly without a balanced meal, alcohol intake may be impacting your glucose metabolism, leading to hypoglycemia,” she says. Enjoy your alcohol with enough carbs, fat, fiber, and protein to slow alcohol absorption and lessen your chances of a poor blood sugar reaction. And drink in moderation (one or two glasses a day max), rather than too much each day or week.