By Isadora Baum
Waking up hungry isn’t typically a cause for concern. If you’re fueling your body properly, it’s actually pretty normal to feel a little bit hungry. But, if you’re waking up in the middle of the night or bright and early in the morning with hunger pangs, your body might be trying to tell you something.
We chatted with registered dietitian Kelly Jones to find out why you might be waking up so hungry — and what to do about it.
1. The last thing you ate wasn’t super healthy.
“If the last time you ate, you reached for something high in starch or sugar that lacked fiber, protein, and fat, there’s a chance you experienced a blood sugar spike — followed by a crash,” says Jones. Since you already wake up with lower blood sugar, poor nighttime eating habits can cause it to be even lower. Those hunger cues? That’s your body telling you to bring those blood sugar levels back up to normal.
What to do: Fill your plate with protein, filling fats and complex carbs high in fiber — first thing in the morning, and for your last meal of the day.
2. You didn’t eat enough yesterday.
Without realizing it, you may not have eaten enough the day before. “If you missed a meal or snack because your schedule was off, you hadn’t gone grocery shopping, or it was an intention due to dieting, your body still noticed and wants you to make up for it today,” says Jones. While small calorie deficits of 100-200 calories may go unnoticed, larger deficits impact your cravings and hunger cues and can even slow your metabolism if the deficit is consistent over time.
What to do: Keep your pantry stocked with healthy snacks — and, if you’re out and about, throw some in your bag as well.
3. You’re more active than usual.
Have you started a new workout routine? Or maybe all those afternoon sanity walks are adding up. Even if you aren’t engaging in more planned exercise, increases in activities of daily living can sometimes have a large impact on energy expenditure, explains Jones. “If you aren’t eating a bit more, your body may become stressed due to too large of a calorie deficit,” she says.
What to do: Eat more healthy fats, like avocado, nuts and nut butter, and olive oil, as well as protein. And, don’t forget healthy carbs that are high in fiber, like whole-grain bread or crackers to use as a vehicle for those high-fat and high-protein foods.
4. You aren’t getting enough sleep.
Not getting enough sleep can often lead to hunger pains the next day. “In an attempt to help you convert tryptophan into melatonin, so you’ll feel sleepy and get back to bed, your body will release hunger hormones,” Jones says.
What to do: Make sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night!
5. You’re stressed out.
The brain burns a lot of energy each day and if you’re dealing with psychological stress, its energy needs may be in overdrive. This can lead to not sleeping at night (see above) or just feeling hungrier in general.
What to do: “Be sure to pause and enjoy adequate and satisfying meals and snacks during times of stress,” says Jones. “It’ll help nourish your body and brain, as normal blood sugar levels can help reduce the release of stress and anxiety hormones.”
6. You’re drinking too much alcohol.
If you’ve been pouring a second glass of wine every night, or even having one regularly without a balanced meal, it could be a problem, according to Jones. Alcohol intake can impact your glucose metabolism, leading to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.
What to do: Enjoy your alcohol with enough carbs, fat, fiber, and protein to slow alcohol absorption and lessen your chances of a poor blood sugar reaction.