Don’t Open That Fridge Or Pantry After 7:00pm
August 17, 2013

Don’t Open That Fridge Or Pantry After 7:00pm

When I am able to be in a natural rhythm, I tend to be a night person. I will stay up until the wee hours of the morn, sleep until late morning or early afternoon, and do it all over again. I still get my seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but I do so from about 4am (or so) to about 12pm (or so). However, the only time I am allowed to fall into my natural sleep pattern is during the summer because my job requires I be up early in the morning, so I force myself to go to sleep earlier so that I can get my full seven to eight hours of sleep…at least. But I miss my nights. I miss the peace and quiet of the night. I miss being the only one awake and active. I miss the moon.

One thing that I am conscientious of, though, when I am able to be a night owl, is what and when I eat. WebMD recently published an article about sleep, eating, and weight. The focus was on a study that looked at the effects of sleep on eating. What they found is that the night owl who gets less than the seven or eight hours of recommended sleep eats more unnecessary calories. Here is what the researchers did:

“The research team monitored the eating habits of about 200 people who, for five days straight, were kept up until 4 a.m. and then allowed only four hours of sleep. They remained in the lab the whole time, going through in groups of four or five at a time…

Subjects were allowed to eat whenever they liked, and trained monitors in the sleep lab maintained a running tally of the amount consumed and the times at which they ate…

Researchers then compared their calorie intake and weight gain to that of a control group allowed a good night’s sleep in the same lab with the same food availability.”

As you can see, the only difference here was the amount of sleep. Those in the control group, who got the recommended amount of nightly sleep, had eating habits that remained unchanged while those in the sleep-deprived group ate additional calories from 10pm to 4am, and they ate about 550 or more calories a night! That is striking. Really, the pounds could add up quickly in that case.

Just why does this happen? Well, according to WebMD, it is likely a result of hormonal changes. “They [sleep-deprived snackers] tend to experience an increase in their levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger cravings, and a decrease in levels of leptin, a hormone that makes people feel full.”

So, what can we night owls do? Well, first of all, make sure we are getting eight hours of rest, no matter what time we go to bed. This means we would have to have a schedule that would allow that. If we do not (and most of us don’t), then the other thing is to be aware of the fact that we will likely feel the cravings for fatty, high-calorie foods whether or not we are truly in need of the calories. If we are aware that our hormones are playing tricks on us, we can consciously make the choice to eat healthier foods or not eat at all. Of course, the latter is easy to say and not so easy to do, but if we want to avoid the extra pounds that late-night eating can put on, then we must be proactive about it.

I have been lucky in my life to not have the late-night munchies. I suspect that is because I have been able to get a good night’s rest even though I might be going to sleep later than everyone else. It also could be because I just was not allowed to eat after 7pm when I was growing up and that habit has stuck with me. Regardless, I am glad to know of this new study and its findings. Studies like this help to reinforce and educate on healthy living.

Image Credit: Kate Ignatenko / Shutterstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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