The Habit That Makes You Eat More
New research provides even more evidence that staying up late can increase your waistline—but not for the reason you think
It might be hard to cut your nightlyDexter marathon short, but watch out—staying up late may do more than make you sluggish the next day.Cutting back on sleep increases the likelihood of indulging in fatty, high-cal fare at night, which leads to weight gain, finds new research.
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:
If you know you have a long night ahead of you, make sure to eat a healthy breakfast. Studies show that skipping meals during the day—especially breakfast—increases cravings for high-calorie, carb-rich foods at night. Moskovitz suggests pairing proteins with carbs—think eggs with whole-wheat toast or Greek yogurt with fruit—to keep cravings under control all day long.
Don’t mindlessly munch while watching the Kardashians
If you do get hungry, it’s OK to have a healthy midnight snack—just don’t eat it in front of the TV. Stuffing your face in front of the tube can lead to mindless snacking and decreases food satisfaction, which leads to overeating, says Moskovitz.
Keep treats out of the house
Skip the junk food and stock the kitchen with healthy fare like low-fat microwave popcorn, low-fat frozen yogurt, fresh fruit, and veggies. If your roommate, family, or S.O. keeps not-so-healthy snacks around, store them in hard-to-reach places. Research shows that we’re more likely to eat whatever food is easily accessible, so this will help keep junk food out of sight and out of mind.
If sitting around makes your stomach grumble, recruit your man for a late-night workout. Sex stimulates feel-good chemicals in the brain, which can block urges to snack or overeat, says Moskovitz. Is your partner out of town? Any exercise that gets your heart pumping (in or out of the bedroom) will help ward off the temptation for unneeded calories, so even just doing some jumping jacks or jogging in place can help.