August 06, 2021

They pop up when you are working late at night on a project. Or when you are watching a movie. Or just when you are winding down for the day. The really bad ones wake you up in the middle of the night.

Late night cravings. We’ve all experienced them for some reason.

You’ve probably read enough materials to know that late night snacking isn’t great for your metabolism, especially as you age. But your body doesn’t know that. It’s hungry when it’s hungry and you feel like you need to feed it whenever it wants, which can sometimes make you feel like you’re out of control.

Fortunately, there are ways to handle those late-night cravings. But in order to handle them, you first need to understand what is causing them.

Reasons for late night cravings.

Circadian Rhythms

One of the leading reasons for late night snacking is the circadian system being out of whack. These are the internal alarm clocks that tell you when you’re hungry or sleepy when to gear up or wind down for the day.

Generally, one of the triggers for the rhythms is light. Brighter light means it’s time to get moving, dimmer light indicates slowing down to get ready to sleep. This is something biological that goes back centuries and is inherent in our bodies.

It worked simply in the past when people were essentially led by sunrise and sunset. They didn’t have any other options. But, with the invention of artificial light, first by gas lamps and then electricity, those rhythms began to be altered.

Electronic Screens

Man at home eating a slice of pizza and social networking with a laptop late at night

We now have even more artificial light disrupting our rhythms. Phones, tablets, televisions…all provide light sources that can trick our natural rhythms. You’ve maybe read about how the blue light from smartphones and tablets can mess with your sleep patterns? Makes sense then that it can affect your eating patterns as well.

Nutritional Deficits

While circadian rhythms can be a complicated reason for late night snacking, there are other, simpler, reasons. One is that you didn’t eat enough during the day. The body knows what it needs to keep running. If you don’t give it enough during the day, it will tell you that it needs more…and that message comes across at night.

Along with not eating enough, eating the wrong things can also cause late night cravings. Junk food provides empty calories, so your body doesn’t feel completely satisfied. Feeding it more of the same perpetuates the cycle.


If you’re a night owl, you might find yourself wanting to indulge in late night snacks. This could simply be because you have nothing else to distract you. Your friends and family may be sleeping and there’s nothing good on television. Or maybe you’re reading a really good book and can’t put it down. Regardless of the reason, having very little else to distract you can lead to late night cravings.

Other reasons

Late night cravings are not confined to the above possibilities. There are several others, including bingeing disorders and Night Eating Syndrome. If you suspect either of these two, you should consult with your doctor right away, as they are indications of a more severe issue.

In fact, if you find that your late-night cravings have become chronic, you should talk to your doctor regardless. They can help you recognize methods to combat the urges. However, there are also a few things you can try on your own.

How to handle them.

It goes without saying that the first step to learning how to handle late night cravings is to identify possible reasons. Using the list above as a start, you can try to pinpoint what is causing you to late night snack. Once you have an idea of the cause, you can try potential solutions.

Set a routine.

Get those circadian rhythms back in sync by setting a schedule and sticking to it. The times don’t have to be absolute (you can use timeframes if that’s easier) but whether you say something will happen at 6:00 pm sharp or between 6:00 and 7:00 – set it and maintain it.

Limit extra light exposure

Within your routine, include a time that all artificial light gets turned off. That means once you have reached that time, there will be no checking your phone, no picking up your Kindle for one more chapter, no television, and no “last check” of emails or messages.

Yes, that might be a big ask. But you have to start somewhere. And getting your circadian rhythms back toward their natural flow could be a big step to handling those late night cravings.

Eat regularly.

Planning your meals throughout the day can ensure that you are reaching your nutritional goals so that your body feels full and happy by the end of the day. Reaching your caloric intake with healthy foods will help make that happen.

Spice it up.

Food that tastes better can be more satiating. While you’re planning, be sure to include protein in every meal and consider using spices and herb to increase the flavor content.

Engage your body

If boredom seems to be your late-night craving trigger, find things to engage your mind and body during the day. Pick up a hobby, read a book (a real one, not on your Kindle), start an exercise routine…whatever you need to do to keep yourself engaged throughout the day. This should carry you into the evening and give your brain less time to think about being hungry.

Identify and Address

If you have late night cravings, the first thing you need to do is identify possible reasons for them. Once you have done that you can take the necessary steps to end the urges. Regardless, improving your daytime habits can have a direct impact on how you handle the late night cravings.

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