Going To Bed Hungry while Intermittent Fasting and Sleep – let’s cover this topic in and out! Maybe this situation sounds familiar: You are lying awake at night, unable to sleep, because of nagging hunger pangs. You have followed your intermittent fasting plan and your eating window ended hours ago.
Yet, your last meal just hasn’t held you over, leading you to wonder whether you should go for a late night snack and break your fast or try to ignore your hunger and force yourself to fall asleep. Although many people experience this, it can be an extremely frustrating circumstance to find yourself in.
Even for experienced intermittent fasters, this situation can still arise from time to time. It can be especially difficult if you are new to intermittent fasting, as your body is adjusting to eating all of its necessary calories within a much shorter window of time.
Even though the benefits of intermittent fasting range from lowered risk of heart disease to fat loss, it can be hard to stick with our fasting period when hunger pangs strike. So, why do hunger pangs always seem to strike right before our fasting period? And, how do we get better sleep while not breaking our fasting period?
To find a solution to those annoying, middle of the night hunger pangs, we must first understand the relationship between hunger, intermittent fasting, and sleep. Below, we will explore what hunger is, the relationship between hunger, sleep, and fasting, as well as the reasons you may feel hungry at night and what to do about it.
Hunger and Fasting
Before we talk about sleep, let’s review what hunger is and the role that it plays in our bodies. Hunger is an important function of our survival. It’s basically a signal that tells us it’s time to eat.
Even though hunger is often viewed as a nuisance, listening and responding to our hunger cues can make us more aware of what our bodies (particularly our digestive system!) need. It serves as a protective function, through the use of several different hormones, that our blood sugar levels have dropped too low (or preventing blood sugar levels from dropping to a dangerous level) and we need more caloric intake.
Similarly, there is a cascade of hormones that come into play after we have finished a meal, including ones that tell our brain that it’s time to stop eating because we are full.
While we won’t discuss every hormone involved in the hunger-fullness cycle, we will focus on two major players: ghrelin and leptin. You may have heard about ghrelin as it’s become a hot topic, especially around weight loss, over the last few years.
Ghrelin is fundamental to the hunger process because its release from the stomach triggers hunger as well as other hormones to do their job. For example, if low blood sugar is detected, ghrelin will work to suppress insulin levels in order for blood sugar levels to rise. Appetite control is closely associated with the amount of ghrelin that is released. Ghrelin’s job is to stimulate hunger while also promoting energy storage into fat cells.
Leptin, on the other hand, is the balance to ghrelin in that it signals to the brain when you are full. It’s released from fat cells and works to suppress appetite. Leptin also works to decrease hunger by telling you that you need to decrease food intake.
As with any hormone or metabolic process in the body, hunger hormones can become dysregulated. Ghrelin levels have been shown to rise during periods of stress leading to an increase in food intake, especially comfort foods containing higher calories.
With overweight and obesity, individuals can be resistant to leptin, even if leptin levels are high. This is part of the reason someone may not feel full after a large meal as the brain isn’t getting a signal to stop eating. This is a similar concept to insulin resistance.
Even though someone may be producing high insulin levels after a large meal, The mechanism that allows insulin to carry glucose into cells has been damaged and insulin is unable to do its job. Both leptin resistance and insulin resistance are thought to be part of inflammation associated with obesity.
Now that we know the role that hunger plays, let’s talk about how hunger changes during a fasting period. We know that ghrelin levels (the hormone that tells you it’s time to eat) will rise during a fasted state in order to promote food intake and fat storage.
This is why you might feel hunger pangs a few hours into your fasting period. However, ghrelin levels won’t always stay elevated throughout the entire fasting period, so it is possible to “push through” those hunger pangs and not consume any calories.
Ghrelin (and the feeling of hunger) is related to normal eating patterns, meaning that your body will expect food intake at certain times of the day if that is what it’s used to. So, if you are used to eating dinner every night at 7pm, ghrelin levels will automatically start to rise around this time. This is why it can be very difficult to start a fast because the body (and hormones) have been regulated to your normal schedule.
Hunger and Sleep
We know that getting enough sleep is a vital pillar to our overall health and wellbeing. A good night’s sleep can make all the difference to take on the day’s tasks. In recent years, there have been more studies that show high quality sleep plays a crucial role in everything from sharper memory, lower stress levels, and even better immune function.
So, let’s circle back to our initial dilemma of being unable to get to sleep (or wake up in the middle of the night) because of hunger pangs. We now know a little bit about how the hunger cycle normally works and even changes in a fasted state.
But, there is also another factor that comes into play that can influence hunger- our natural circadian rhythm. For the average person, our natural circadian rhythm falls into a normal sleep-wake cycle of sleeping at night and awake during the day. Our bodies have a biological clock to accompany our circadian rhythm which affects things like hormones, body temperature, eating habits, and sleep patterns.
One study showed that our circadian clock has an outside influence on our hunger hormones. This study demonstrated that hunger hormones peaked in the evening, right before sleep, and dipped in the morning. This can explain why some may feel extremely hungry at night and not feel as hungry in the morning or at the beginning of an eating window.
We all want to improve our sleep quality as much as we can, as this can lead to greater energy levels, lower stress levels and even less food cravings. Just as important as getting enough hours of sleep, is going through proper REM sleep. And, the best way to do that is to ensure you have uninterrupted sleep. This is why waking up with hunger pains can be very detrimental to our sleep quality.
If we want to avoid waking up in the night with hunger pangs, we need to take a look at why we may have hunger pangs in the first place.
Here are a few reasons as to why you may feel hungry at night:
- Inconsistent meal schedule. Since hunger hormones fluctuate based on your eating habits, if you skip a meal during the day or have a small dinner when you normally have a large one, then this could be a reason for waking during the night.
- Eating fewer calories than you should. If your goal is weight loss, you may be intentionally cutting back your calories in order to lose weight. But, each person needs a base amount of calories to perform daily tasks, and if those calorie needs are not met, it will leave you with hunger pangs at night.
- Meal composition. What you eat during the day affects how hungry you may feel at night. If you are eating nutrient dense and fiber-filled balanced meals, then you are less likely to experience hunger cravings.
- Less activity. In the evening, we typically wind down from a long day and become less active versus during the day. That means there is more time to think about food (or lack thereof). You may feel hungrier at night because there is less to do or less on your mind.
Intermittent Fasting and Sleep
There have been claims that sleep is the secret weapon for successful fasting windows. Since most people include the long periods of sleep as part of their fasting window, it can be easier to stick with the full fasting window without breaking your fast. Plus, the hours of the day that you are most awake can be reserved for your eating window.
We know that intermittent fasting can improve things like risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin sensitivity and long term weight gain, but it can also promote better quality sleep. By entering a fasted state, it strengthens the body’s circadian rhythm. For more information, check out Why Intermittent Fasting Can Help with Better Sleep.
Here are a few simple ways to go to bed hungry while intermittent fasting:
- Drink water. Sometimes, what we think may be hunger pains could actually be our body’s way of telling us we need more liquids. Make sure you are drinking as much water as your body needs (both during your eating and fasting windows) to get better sleep.
- Balanced meals. Take a look at your first meal and last meal of your eating window. If it is carb-heavy or highly processed, then this may be affecting your hunger hormones leading to increased hunger at night. Aim for good quality lean protein, like eggs or chicken, high quality fats, and fiber-filled carbohydrates at each meal to keep you full throughout the night.
- Listen to your body. If you are consistently waking in the night from hunger pangs, then it may be time to reevaluate your intermittent fasting schedule. You may need to adjust the hours during which you are fasting or ensure you are consuming enough calories within your eating window.
Conclusion – Going To Bed Hungry while Intermittent Fasting and Sleep
I’ve found personally that intermittent fasting has helped my sleep! try to eat late enough in the day so you don’t go to be hungry if possible. That should solve your issues.
The next time you feel hunger pangs while trying to go to sleep, remember that it’s okay to push through the hunger or break your fast with a high quality snack if you need to.
The important thing is to listen to your body while keeping your health goals in mind. Understanding the reasons for why you may experience going to bed hungry while intermittent fasting is an important step towards finding a solution. This way, you will know exactly what to do when night time hunger strikes.