“Why do I crave sweets in the middle of the night?”
As the clock strikes midnight, you’re in bed. You feel like you could sleep for days, but your stomach is suddenly calling out for something sweet–something that’s not on the menu.
Why does this happen at night?
To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at what happens before and during our late night dessert cravings.
There are a few common sense reasons behind late night cravings. After we talk about why cravings happen at night, we’ll talk about how to beat them back!
Why do I wake up wanting something sweet?
1 – Blood Sugar Crash
One of the most common reasons that you wake up in the middle of night wanting something sweet is due to a blood sugar crash.
In one study, for example, sleep researchers with the US National Library of Medicine monitored clients’ blood sugar levels while they slept.
When the clients woke up in the middle of the night, the sleep researchers were able to clearly identify the problem being crashing blood sugar levels.
When clients suddenly woke up with sweet cravings at night, their blood sugar levels had fallen off the cliff.
Why do crashing blood sugar levels wake you up at night?
When your blood sugar levels are low, your emotional brain turns on.
Your emotional brain is what I call your “Survival Brain”.
Your survival brain thinks you’re running out of fuel, so it wakes you up and gives you food cravings for something sweet.
Sweet foods are easily digested into fuel, so that’s why your brain goes for sweets, instead of something else like chicken that takes longer to digest.
2 – Loss of Willpower in evening
We spend our days using up mental strength and willpower.
By the time evening rolls around, we’ve spent so much of our energy that it feels like there’s none left to actually cook something nutritious and nourishing.
So many people wake up at night wanting something sweet because they used all their willpower during the day and had no energy left to prepare a balanced meal.
Have you ever come home from work totally exhausted and stressed out?
Then your stress and racing mind, along with general fatigue, blocks out your hunger?
In this state, it feels like you have zero energy to make a nutritious meal. Eventually you pass out until …
Your blood levels crash. Now we are back to point one, but with a little more clarity.
Consequently, your only option seems to be opening the freezer and eating whatever’s inside.
This is one reason why you crave sweets in the middle of the night!
3 – Stress
But why don’t you eat enough during the day?
If you eat regular nourishing meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner then your cravings for sweets in the middle of the night will diminish!
But often people lose track of what they eat and, as a result, sometimes they under eat.
Other times people don’t realize how much energy they burn through stressful thinking and worrying about deadlines.
Perhaps the most common reason is simply being busy.
You have a bagel and coffee for breakfast. For lunch you have a few bites to eat but you sometimes skip eating a good lunch because of meetings.
Instead you sustain yourself with a bar and more snacks throughout the day.
And then you wonder why you eat so much at night?
You’re undereating during the day!
The problem is stress.
When we’re stressed out, our bodies release cortisol. Cortisol blocks hunger and cravings and instead allows us to keep pushing to finish that workload!
So when you finally sit down to dinner at the end of a stressful day, your body’s response is: Why does this person want something in my belly right now?
I’m not ready for food yet. Ahhhhhh!!
And then later on at night when your blood sugar goes low, the survival part of your brain goes:
What if there isn’t enough food? I need to make sure that every cell in my brain and body has so many calories that must come in through my mouth!
Your stress hormones block your “I’m hungry” signal during the day because deep inside your brain believes that these deadlines are more important than eating.
Until … You crash into bed with no energy and your blood sugar levels are low.
See how this all comes back to hunger?
4 – Troubles sleeping
Of course, if you’re sleeping poorly and waking up in the middle of the night, this will contribute to midnight snacking too!
This is because if you don’t sleep well, your blood sugar levels will also take a hit.
Your cortisol has been pumping all night as you experience the physical effects of stress and worry from tossing and turning.
Plus, the next day you’re super tired, which makes you more on edge.
In fact research shows that even one sleepless night can have dramatic impacts on our hormones and appetite control!
So next time you’re having trouble sleeping, remember that it’s not just about getting more hours under your belt.
It’s also important to make sure you are able to sleep well!
Sleeping is critical for blood sugar levels and controlling hunger hormones!
Cravings for sugar dramatically increase on a poor night of sleep!
How Do I Stop Sugar Cravings at Night?
Here are some tips to stop craving late night sweets!
For Blood Sugar Levels:
- Eat more during the day and less at night -Eat real nutritious meals with protein, vegetables and healthy carbs (like sweet potatoes)
- Don’t wait until you feel hungry to eat
- Prepare food ahead of time so it’s ready when you don’t have energy or motivation!
For loss of willpower:
- See if you can go on a walk while taking a phone call (my #1 tip!)
- Delegate tasks so you don’t have to do everything yourself
- Put your phone in another room when you get home from work!
- Practice self-compassion so that you don’t feel like everything depends on you
- Prioritize sleep! Even if it’s just for one night, make sure you get a good night’s rest
- Schedule time to relax or take care of yourself without feeling guilty. You deserve to feel better!
- Practice meditation and mindfulness techniques that help you during the day too. Why not start now?
If you’re not sleeping well then work on getting better sleep with these late night tips:
- get dark shades for your room
- switch off all screens an hour before bedtime
- try a relaxing bath or reading instead of scrolling through social media
- try eating earlier so that there is more time between your last meal and getting into bed
Do vitamin deficiencies cause sugar cravings?
I know it’s tempting to say your sugar cravings are caused by a vitamin deficiency.
Wouldn’t it be nice and easy if I just told you your sugar cravings were all caused by lacking Vitamin C?
If Vitamin C was the cause of your sugar cravings, all you would need is more oranges.
Nice and simple and easy to fix!
Unfortunately, sugar cravings are complex.
Normally in terms of weight loss you’re given a simple tool like a diet. But then this diet ends up being terrible for your long term health and weight.
Same thing with vitamin deficiency. It’s more holistic than missing vitamins.
A combination of stress, not knowing how to handle stress, and not being connected to your body is causing your blood sugar levels to wildly fluctuate.
We all know that feeling of having to use willpower to get through the day.
The willpower route has consequences. The stress and blood sugar crash can wear down your defenses, leading you to need more rest than ever before. But you’re too stressed to rest!
This just makes matters worse because then you zonk out at night only to wake up craving sweets!
Luckily, there are ways we can help with these problems without resorting to medication or supplements.
For example, getting plenty of quality sleep at night will give you a better chance of fighting off exhaustion throughout the day (and getting up out of bed in the morning).
Or you can start with self-compassion so that you naturally rest more throughout the day.
This blog post has given you some tips on how to avoid these consequences of low blood sugar levels – which is important because the effects will only compound over time if they’re not addressed.