Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 May

Dear Mark: Night Eating Syndrome

There’s nothing quite so powerful as the urge to eat. Being living organisms that require sustenance and nutrition, we find it difficult to resist. It’s not like smoking, or sex, or drugs, which you can technically avoid and still live, because they aren’t really required for an individual’s survival. No, food is an absolute necessity. So what happens when that basic human requirement for life – the need to eat something – conflicts with another important factor in health – the need to sleep? Today’s edition of Dear Mark deals with exactly that: night-eating syndrome, a real and extremely frustrating eating disorder in which the afflicted awaken during the night, compelled to eat everything and anything. As you’ll see from the following question, when you wake up at 3 AM with a raw, preternatural hunger gnawing at your very core, you’re probably not going to throw together a nice spinach, kale, and watercress salad in lemon vinaigrette and poach a few pastured eggs. You’re going to grab what’s available and what’s easy and what satisfies that carnal urge:

I have no problem eating healthy foods during the day. For some reason, I get up in the middle of the night feeling hungry, and eating whatever junk food (donuts, pastries) my family has in the kitchen. I’ve tried eating more during the day, but I give in to the craving 9 times out of 10. I’ve searched the blog, also tried eating more during the day, but this is the only thing I haven’t found an article on. Not sure if it’s a physical or mental issue. This is the only part of going Primal I’ve struggled with. Any suggestions on how to stop doing this? Thanks for reading.

Alexander

I did some digging around, and while experts have a pretty good handle on what’s going on – hormonally – with night-eating syndrome (PDF), they’re still trying to figure out the etiology, the cause of it all. From what we can tell, someone with night-eating syndrome has lower melatonin at night, which weakens their REM sleep. They have lower leptin, which is an appetite suppressant. Their ghrelin (an appetite stimulant) is phased forward by five hours, meaning they get hungry ahead of “when they should.” They have higher thyroid stimulating hormone (which is also seen in hypothyroid, as the thyroid is trying to “stimulate” more hormone production because it’s lacking). In response to a corticotropin-releasing hormone test, they release less cortisol, which suggests a depleted (overworked, overstressed) hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). They snack more throughout the day and tend to skip breakfast. Rather than eat solid meals, they graze. All signs seem to suggest that both troughs and spikes of their hormonal cycles are muted; since the body needs acute spikes and drops for proper functioning and signaling, this could pose a problem.

So while we don’t have the absolute cause pinned down, it seems like the HPA, or the stress response system, are involved. I do have some general advice. Some of these may not apply to you, but take a look and see if anything looks familiar.

Don’t fast and don’t skip meals. I know, I know. You just got done reading that long series where I touted the benefits of fasting, and here I go telling you not to do it. What gives? Not only do habitual night-eaters tend to avoid breakfast (which could just be a correlation), they’re also hormonally dysregulated, especially in regards to the adrenals. If you’re trying to fix an adrenal issue, you do not want to be skipping meals and playing around with fasting. Fasting is incredibly useful for the intact and the healthy, but it can do a number on people with messed up HPAs. Since nocturnal binge-eaters have a dysfunctional HPA (almost as a rule), that’s probably you.

Eat breakfast, and make it big. I suggest some sort of animal and a serving of fruit.

Eat meals, not snacks. Do three or four solid meals each day, instead of grazing.

Watch your fructose intake, particularly processed refined fructose, which can disrupt leptin.

If you’re training too much or too hard, either cut back or support it with adequate nutrition and recovery time. That means doing CrossFit once or twice a week instead of four or five times (or not at all). That means turning half of your long runs into long walks (or all of them). That means getting plenty of sleep, and if you have a bad night where you get just a few hours, don’t work out the next day (you’ll survive). If you can’t (won’t) cut back on the training, then you have to make sure you’re eating enough calories and enough carbohydrates. I don’t like the idea of filling up on carbs (and I train in such a way that doesn’t require a ton of them for that exact reason), but if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.

Turn off the electronics after dark, and use candles. Might I suggest playing board or card games with friends or a significant other, instead of video games or watching TV? There’s nothing like a game of Jenga by candlelight. If you’re going to use electronics or keep the lights on, get some blue-light blocking goggles. Blue light’s suppression of melatonin may not be causative in night-eating syndrome, but it certainly isn’t helping.

Consider light therapy, especially if you’re indoors during the day. We need exposure to bright light upon waking and during the day (just as we don’t need it at night), but indoor lighting simply doesn’t cut it. If sunlight isn’t an option, look into getting a lightbox. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and night-eating have a lot of crossover, and there have even been case studies showing that patients who suffer from both enjoy amelioration of their symptoms after employing light therapy.

Practice stress reduction or avoidance. Whether that’s avoiding chronic stress (desirable, but not always realistic), improving your reaction to stress, or developing coping mechanisms. Evidence points to a night eater having an over-stressed HPA, and more stress will only worsen the problem. Chris Kresser just wrapped up a 30-day “Best Your Stress” challenge, but you can still follow along and reap the benefits. Read through my previous suggestions for reducing stress as a starter, and consider meditation, too. One study found that a twenty minute muscle relaxation exercise performed daily was able to increase morning appetite and reduce late night eating.

Last, but not least, be honest as you appraise your lifestyle. Are you going to bed early enough? Are you reading this post at 12 AM in a dark room? Are you eating enough food (and the right kind) to fuel your performance? Are you training a bit too much, a bit too often, and should you perhaps tone it down and take some days off? Are you walking as much as you should? Are you reducing stress as much as you can?

While the reigning uncertainty with regards to the cause of this situation is frustrating, you can use this opportunity to try a bunch of different tactics. I hope it helps.

Readers, now it’s your turn. Have you dealt with this problem before? What worked and what didn’t? If you have any more advice, please leave it in the comment section.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I found that I wake up hungry at 2 am if i do not eat big enough dinner. It doesn’t matter what I ate during the day, if dinner was small, or too far away from the bedtime, i would wake up starved at 2 am. I never ate, just fought it and it went away in a couple of hours (which was about breakfast time for me). So, I started allocating my calories in such a way that I eat at least 50% of daily calories at dinner. I could never-ever skip supper without interrupting sleep. Now, when I wake up during the night, I just turn around and fall back asleep.

    I think the best way is to work with your hunger, but eat good food. I mean, if you have to eat a can of salmon at 2 am, is there any harm in that?

    leida wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I, too, have to be sure to eat a substantial dinner, not too early, and it must include a good portion of meat. If I don’t, I wake with an uncomfortable, gnawing hunger. This flies in the face of advice to make dinner your smallest meal of the day and not to eat too close to bedtime, so it’s good to read about some possible reasons for this phenomenon.

      Debra wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Problems like this and many others; reflux, bloating, bingeing, disappeared when I said goodbye to WHEAT (and to a lesser extent, sugar).

      Rich wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I am new to this site and to the Primal Blueprint but I work the oddest hours. I used to binge right before bed or wake up and stare at the ceiling thinking about food. I started taking melatonin. I do not know if this is against the primal ideas but it is natural to the human body. This is the only thing that has helped me with all my problems. I sleep, I don’t have hunger pains and I wake up refreshed. I apologize if this is not an option for the primal lifestyle.

      Jessica wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • Be careful with melatonin because it is a hormone. Your body may produce less melatonin as a result of steadily consuming external melatonin, thus creating a dependent feedback loop. Try taking 500mg of magnesium in place of melatonin before you want to sleep.

        liberty1776 wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • I have a similar problem, but I suffer from night hunger if at any point during the day I get severely hungry. So, if I end up having a late lunch and I get super-hungry before hand, it won’t matter how much I try and ‘make up for it’ by having a large dinner, I will have hunger pains that night and not be able to sleep unless I get up again and eat. I am of normal healthy weight btw, but this issue has plagued me for as long as I can remember. I wish I could have it resolved once and for all.

      Jen wrote on August 5th, 2012
      • Hello, I just read your comment on this website about your night hunger. I too suffer from this same problem. I was just wondering if you have found anything that has helped you overcome it. I hate waking and eating every night and have tried numerous things to control it, but have gotten nowhere. Any help would be great.
        Thank you for your time!!

        Ashley wrote on March 8th, 2013
        • im also a night eater but i eat in the dark bec im ashamed of myself.im going to try hypmotist on the 7th of nov to see if he can stop it

          jan wrote on October 24th, 2013
        • I have had what is called Night time eating syndrome. I have had it all my life and I am 67. My mother also had it. I have 25 more pounds to lose and this eating at night has stopped me getting the weight off. I don’t think there is one thing that can help it. I have tried it all.

          Anne wrote on March 11th, 2014
    • Hi there

      I’m just finding this site and I see that most of the comments are about 2 years old. Just want to add my bit. I thought I was the only one in the world suffering from this. I am happy to see there is actually a name for it and that other people experience it too (misery loves company I guess :-).) I have however figured out a way to overcome the problem. I find that foods rich in protein (which keeps us feeling full longer) eaten before bedtime is quite helpful. If you’re not allergic to peanuts, eat a handful of these. If you are an apple is very good for staving of those hunger pangs during the night. I’ve also found that rubbing Vicks vapor rub on my stomach also helps to keep me asleep. Hope these (that have been working for me) will help others. Sleep well and happy dreams!

      Maria wrote on May 23rd, 2014
  2. I occasionally get this sort of thing and a couple of teaspoons of almond butter right before bed seem to help quite a bit. Walnuts might work too (or perhaps better) since they are supposed to have a greater effect on ghrelin than almonds are.

    Michael C wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I also have tried the spoonful of peanut butter before bed & that seems to do the trick.

      Carolyn wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • I thought peanut butter was evil?

        Gydle wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • I don’t know about “evil”, but peanuts are a legume, so I consider them unhealthy and don’t eat them. Plus they are gross unless cooked and salted.

          Laurie wrote on May 11th, 2012
        • LoL! why you said that peanut is evil? it is very nutritious. You must search in the Google what are the nutrients of peanuts.

          james@ceilingfaninstallation wrote on May 12th, 2012
  3. Mark, I really appreciate you taking the time you took to put this together, I wasn’t sure how soon, or if you would be able to, because of how many emails you must get, but I literally just did an exaggerated fist pump in the middle of the street when I saw the title of today’s Dear Mark! Thanks again!

    Alexander wrote on May 7th, 2012
  4. This is my number one biggest problem. And I don’t fast anymore because of this.
    I eat perfectly healthy throughout the day then I toss and turn in bed even though I’m not hungry but I know I’ll be sedated once I have food (mainly already prepared high carbs) in my stomach. I felt like a mess. I sometimes still do if I skip out on meals.

    Jen wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I struggle with the same issue. For me, it is part of an addiction cycle. The high carb food causes a “buzz”, relaxes me, and then I fall asleep. The latest research shows that the substance itself doesn’t CAUSE the addiction. Trauma and pain are at the root of it and I agree.
      Sometimes I really am hungry and have to go get a small protein snack, or I will never fall asleep.
      For me, eating enough at meals, shutting the tv off, and getting exercise helps.

      Laurie wrote on May 11th, 2012
    • jen, I have the exact same problem. I am petite; used to be very lean at 8% body fat…which I guess I couldn’t sustain for longer than 2 yrs. due to big hunger, yet in my attempts to stay…and then return to lean, having gained about 10 lbs. of pure fat, I have developed this cycle of super clean primal eating during the day and then hunger driven carb and fat seeking at 1 am.this has led to an unwanted fat gain of 10 lbs. what is the answer:? more carbs during the day? or maybe… I feel that I should just NOT eat any snacks after dinner, because they seem to spike my desire to eat and eat and leave me insulin high…

      diane wrote on August 9th, 2013
  5. I’m curious how this relates to pre-sleep hunger. I find that I always struggle between 8 and 10 PM after a dinner at 6 PM.

    Sometimes my stomach is actually growling painfully, but often it is just a mild hunger that keeps me from reading, or watching a hockey game, or going to bed. I can’t seem to fall asleep if I am hungry either.

    I always tend to lean towards nuts and nut butters around this time, or perhaps a tbsp of coconut oil. Just something with some substance to it … I tend to crave meat (but rarely have anything appealing at that time). cold chicken breast always sounds boring at this point.

    Helj wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I’ve had similar issues with hunger pains before bed also. I used to try to eat dinner 2 or 3 hours before I go to bed. I would try to fall asleep but end up tossing and turning. After trying to sleep for an hour or so I ended up in the kitchen for a night binge. Now I have dinner or a nice snack about an hour before I try to fall asleep. Carrots or avocados have been my go to.

      I also take ZMA before I go to sleep which is a Zinc and Magnesium supplement (Helps me sleep deeply and another plus is that I have some WILD dreams). So I try to avoid any nuts or seeds before I go to bed. I’ve read that nuts and seeds are high in phyates which can prevent your body’s ability to absorb Zinc and Magnesium.

      Brandon wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • This is my problem, too. I eat a LARGE dinner, and yet i feel i must eat a few hours afterwards. I often feel that if i do not eat something shortly before going to bed that i will not be able to fall asleep.

      Perhaps Mark could touch on this. I wonder if he snacks before going to be or generally how long before going to bed he avoids food.

      Neil wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Same problem here.

      I figured out that this problem is related to my circadian rhythm. When I’m able to let my body live its natural circadian rhythm, I tend to fall asleep at 2-3 am and sleep until 11 am. As every other employee, I have to get up early, so my working hours collide with my sleeping pattern (I have to go to bed although I’m not really tired and I have to get up when I’m not really awake).

      As a logical consequence, I’m not at all hungry in the mornings (I always skip breakfast), but I’m hungrier in the evenings which often collides with the time I have to go to bed in order to get enough sleep for the following working day. Oh, how I love weekends/free days where my eating habits fit my sleeping patterns perfectly…

      Isabel wrote on May 8th, 2012
      • Wow, you just described me perfectly. I’ve been blaming food addiction 100%.
        But on weekends, when I follow my own schedule, I don’t have the same problems.

        Laurie wrote on May 11th, 2012
      • Boy! I couldn’t have described my situation any better. Please post any solutions you find helpful in trying to quell pre-sleep hunger and/or tricks to fall asleep earlier (even midnight or 1am would be welcome). I will do same if I find anything. Based on the above posts I am considering giving Melatonin or a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement a try. Thanks.

        Derek wrote on May 16th, 2012
    • Try Gaviscon or something similar. I’ve been reading about how that gnawing ‘hunger’ pain is actually reflux. It’s working for me :)

      Coulinjo wrote on December 16th, 2013
  6. Obviously trying to prevent the waking up in the first place is the best approach but….

    Ever try ‘baiting’ yourself with something more primal? Eating a rotisserie chicken with my bare hands is always something that makes me feel a little more Grok-like, and I almost always end up doing that on days where we fail to plan our meals and I can’t wait any longer to eat.

    Just a thought.

    Dan wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • That’s not a bad idea. If there’s rotisserie chicken hanging around, that’s as quick and easy to grab as any donut.

      I don’t have this problem, but I am a leftovers queen. I have two bags of homemade beef jerky and a three-pound roast beef in my refrigerator… and it’s just me and my husband!

      Deanna wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • I was just thinking that having a snack pre-prepared and just waiting to be shoved into your mouth at breakfast would be a good strategy for at least evening out the doughnut’s quick advantage.

        Kelekona wrote on May 8th, 2012
  7. Interesting that there seems to be a correlation with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have SAD and I don’t feel compelled to eat at night, but 4-5 dark months out of the year, I wake up at 5am and can’t go back to sleep. I fall asleep on the couch around 9:15pm. Very frustrating. It’s definately light-related because just in the past two weeks, I’m blissfully sleeping in until the sun wakes me (around 6am-ish). I’ve often wondered if there is something else going on, like my metabolism is looking for food and my whole internal clock is just off-kilter.

    BootstrapsOnMyFivefingers wrote on May 7th, 2012
  8. I’ve not had a problem with night eating, but I love the suggestions. I need to print them off and review my progress on each periodically. Great suggestions!

    Missy wrote on May 7th, 2012
  9. I feel for Alexander.

    While I often have no problem getting to sleep on time, I often wake up at 2 or 3 am….but never hungry. If I couldn’t get back quickly, I’d resort to popping half a benedryl and doze off again.

    However, in the course of going Paleo, I decided to try a new approach to getting back to sleep: having a tablespoon of coconut oil. It works like a charm and I’m usually back fast asleep within 15-20 minutes.

    I’m learning—I think—-that fast falling blood sugar is the cause of hunger and wakefulness at night and drowsiness during the day. I could be wrong, but it certainly seems that way to me. And now I never dread waking up at night….cause a little coconut oil or other fat source like olive oil, buts me back in dreamland pdq.

    Wonderful site Mark. Am so grateful for the good info here.

    Webutante wrote on May 7th, 2012
  10. It means a lot for me to read this. My night binges have gotten better over the past year that I have been primal (I think partially because there is no bad stuff in the house to gorge on). But even when I don’t end up eating, almost every night I wake up ravenous at around 2 or 3 am and at least stare at the frige, fighting temptation. Night binging has been a big issue for me for as long as I remember. And I too tried all that eating more during the day, and all the normal advice to avoid being hungry at night. I just thought I must be weak. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me waking up every night feeling starving, when other people around me don’t seem to have this problem. It at least makes me feel better that I’m not alone, and that it’s not a character flaw.

    MrsStorm wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • me too. exactly what you said. i have tried everything. i did a ton of internet research about 5 or 6 years ago but didn’t find much. seems to be more awareness out there now- so this is the beginning of my second attempt to get better. reading that others suffer gives me a sort of hope i didn’t have before.

      Heather wrote on January 24th, 2013
  11. Well, I have difficulty falling asleep – except when I can’t stay awake between 6-8 pm. I never get more than 3 hours of sleep total. I have tried all of the sleep hygiene protocols. When I eat at night, it isn’t normal hunger. It’s almost as if my brain is misinterpreting sleep hunger as food hunger.

    I walk until I can’t because of pain. I never wear myself out to the point of being able to sleep.

    I appreciate this post as far as it is able to go. It confirms that I’m doing pretty much all that I can do and am controlling everything possible. The problem is that for those of us with extreme stress/sleep problems, there doesn’t seem to be any permanent solution, and primal living doesn’t do it, either.

    It’s miserable feeling fatigued, not being able to think clearly or concentrate or comprehend. Essentially, life is crap, even with a healthy diet and activity. And no, it doesn’t get better.

    aek wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I found huge improvements when I started taking magnesium, and squatting. And also eating a big breakfast. I think there is something that changes your hormones when you keep doing these things.
      Do you lift heavy things often? It will take time to resolve ,but keep pushing. I know how you feel, it is miserable not to sleep well. I’m not there, but even that first 10% of sleeping better, meaning one night in a month, is better than 0 nights of sleeping well in a month.

      LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • Done all of that – still do, in fact. Tweaked foods, took melatonin, meds, eating windows, sleeping (ha) times, light, noise, temp, etc, etc. This has been going on for more than 7 years now. Nothing has made the slightest difference.

        aek wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • Have you tried iron supplements or tyrosine?

          I have terrible sleep problems – eight continuous hours of sleep used to be a rare thing, even if I was completely exhausted. Tyrosine helps some, but it gives me headaches.

          I’ve been told many times that I’m not anemic, but when I tried iron supplements my sleep problems improved quite a bit. Sounds odd for someone who eats lots of red meat, but somehow I need it. I’m not hungry as much at night either.

          Moe wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • Mark has a section where he says taking melatonin can actually be bad for sleeping problems. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/before-you-close-your-eyes-make-sure-theyre-open/

          I guess that makes you feel better huh? Sorry. So, the other thing I can recommend for you is a litvinov, and the Leptin reset. But again, these are your self-experiments, and maybe you’ve tried these all in combination, all at once. I think it’s really hard to isolate variables. I’m still trying.
          1) If you google Litvinov, this is what you’ll find:
          “Eight reps of front squats with 405 pounds, immediately followed by a 75-second 400-meter run. Repeat this
          little combination for a total of three times and go home, thank you. Let’s just stop here and marvel at what
          Powell observed. A 196-pound man front squatted 405… eight times!”

          http://www.t-nation.com/…/the_litvinov_workout

          Obviously I’m not litvinov and I scaled it down for myself. But I don’t see how you can do this workout (increase it to 6 times if you must) and not sleep well at night.

          2) I also took some 5-HTP, experimented with Seth Roberts’ suggestions (eating tons of animal fat – Yes, taking Vitamin D/getting sunlight early in the morning-no, looking at talking heads-haven’t tried it, being on my feet 9 hours a day – Yes, works!: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=self-experimenter-free-from-insomnia)

          Again, this is what worked for me. Eating pork belly fat I slept really well, but also not until I did the Leptin Reset for a while, and even so I still take 20-30 minute naps in my car… Even though I never really wanted to eat so much so early in the morning, with a HUGE breakfast, I was really starting to sleep better. And also, yes, taking LONG walks. I mean, 3 hour walks, but sometimes 5 hour hikes. I never sleep better than when I am out camping.
          Just remember that what’s normal one place is anathema to another set of people….and somewhere there is someone out there who suffers from the same sleep issues.

          LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • Have you tried 5HTP and GABA before bed? That worked for me very well. I sleep fine now when nothing worked before.

          Barbara Hvilivitzky wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Whoa. Have you got bad teeth by any chance? Like root canals and dodgy fillings? Just a suggestion here but consider looking in to the toxicity of root canal’d teeth and chronic pain. At 39yrs I’ve recently had both two root canals taken out following the W.A. Price protocol and the difference in back pain is genuinely astounding. My depression has well and truly left me too. Life is awesome free of pain and dental junk. Even with a great diet, if you have chronic pain stemming from chronic toxicity, all you can do is remove the source. Simple diet alone won’t cut it. It’ll help, but there’s no single solution. Check it out. Can’t hurt to research it huh.

      http://www.toxicrootcanals.com/the-link-between-root-canals-and-chronic-fatigue/

      http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig5/mercola78.1.html

      http://www.gersonhawaii.us/articles/gersonarticle03.html

      ces wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • (p.s. Mentioned to Aek because I could only sleep for about four hours from 1am till c.5am each night for YEARS with chronic back pain, anxiety and depression. Teeth are gone, back pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety all gone.)

        ces wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Aek-
      I know this is a late comment but I just found this site! It sucks doesn’t it? I’ve struggled with this since I can remember and even tried every type of natural sleep aid I could find, along with a few not so natural… Then I found out I was pregnant so everything got worse! I’m lucky if I get an hour or two a night but usually I’m not that lucky! However, I have found two things that have helped… Ish… I know it’s controversial and not sure how it fits in with this site, but mmj oil was the first snd only thing that’s ever allowed me to have an actual nights sleep and not wake up, or just get up, starving! The oil taken in small doses won’t get you “high” and will just relax your body. However being pregnant I’m no longer taking the oil so what has started helping now, where I at least get some sleep every night is going gluten free. And not just mostly gluten free, but completely!!! I’ve been off for almost a month and noticed I was getting sleep after about 2 weeks. Now it’s still only a few hours a night but it’s better than nothing! I hope this helps or you figure something else out! Please let me know if you do!

      Heather wrote on August 5th, 2012
  12. I bet it’s a salt craving. I find if I don’t eat enough Himalayan sea salt during the day, I get salt cravings at night. Since I figured it out, I just eat a pinch of salt and the craving goes away.

    Mark wrote on May 7th, 2012
  13. How about taking melatonin? I have a problem with eating at night (but after dinner, not waking up. I just feel so hungry at this time) Melatonin supresses hunger so I take one at about 9pm and the hunger goes away, then I get tired about 10 pm and go right to sleep. I would try this and the other suggestions to eat some fat/nut butter before bed (maybe an hour before with the melatonin?) Good luck.

    K wrote on May 7th, 2012
  14. The only time I find that I eat at night is when I’m pregnant. I figure it has a lot to do with the fact that I can’t eat much because there’s not much room with a baby growing, I’m also nine months pregnant. I usually only go for whole milk or deviled eggs in the middle of the night. Plus, being so far along, I wake up at odd hours in the night anyways. This is normal as it is my body’s way of prepping me for night feedings. I’d say if you are pregnant, go for a full fat high protein snack if you need it in the middle of the night. Avoid ingesting any carbs as they won’t help you get back to sleep.

    Jana wrote on May 7th, 2012
  15. I’m surprised f.lux (http://stereopsis.com/flux/) wasn’t mentioned since it helps reduce monitor blue light which should result in higher levels of endogenous melatonin.

    Supplementing with melatonin is also a great idea. Especially since our modern lifestyle is filled with light in the evening which leads to lower than normal levels. Any melatonin would work but I’ve had the best quality sleep with this one (http://tinyurl.com/amzn-melatonin). Optimal dose is 3-9mg taken 1-2 hours before bed.

    I find most sleep disorders have to do with stress, spending time on the computer/devices before bed, and overall poor lifestyle. So I agree with Mark on having a holistic solution. I’d also recommend improving your sleep hygiene/bed time routine which I talk about here (http://swolept.com/posts/the-most-important-thing-that-you-suck-at-sleep).

    Swole Mike wrote on May 7th, 2012
  16. I found the leptin reset to be somewhat helpful in this respect. I would get so hungry right before bed, and then I never slept well after that. So the Leptin Reset – Eating a big breakfast (he calls for 50 g of protein! or however much you can stomach, + fat), and not skipping meals, helped me with that. When I have disordered meal times, I find that I don’t sleep as well. Also if I exercise too close to bedtime, I would wake up in the middle of the night hungry. I think there are some people who have good sleep habits, and who can play with intermittent fasting, and their workout times. Their leptin and ghrelin seem to be in order. I, on the other hand, experience sleeping issues and inordinate amounts of hunger, and what seems disproportionate to the experiences of others. Just try eating three meals a day, and incorporating a lot of protein for breakfast. But above all, self-experiment. If eating a huge breakfast doesn’t work for you, then ask yourself if you are on a regular schedule – eating meals at around the same time every day and in bed by around the same time every night. I agree that Intermittent Fasting is not for you. I’ve also read on some of the message boards that 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin synthesis, can help with binges? So basically, Self-experiment, self-experiment, self-experiment.

    LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
  17. Alexander, I also forgot to ask if you have always had trouble sleeping or if this is recent since you’ve started the Primal Blueprint? I have always had trouble sleeping and still do. So as to not stress about it, I remind myself that this problem didn’t crop up overnight and it won’t fix itself overnight. If you happen to get up 1 night per week or even 4 nights per week, that’s still better than 7/7 right? Give yourself some credit when you get through the night without waking up hungry – the first time it happens, you’ll be like, “wow! is that the kind of sleep everyone else gets?” I still struggle with it – but I think you have to persist. And you’re not abnormal – lots of cultures have “first” sleep and “second sleep.” Mark wrote an article on it somewhere in here, where between the two you would get up and socialize, and maybe even eat or drink a little before going back to sleep.

    LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • LJ, I have struggled with it, since before going Primal, I think it’s a combination of everything Mark said, especially stress.

      Alexander wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • I hear you Alexander! The stress of going to bed, knowing you’re going to wake up in a couple of hours sucks. Do you keep a record of what you eat, when you eat, and your activity level, versus when it happens, or does it happen every single night? Tracking is really helpful. And also, for me – recording not just what I ate but how I feel after what I ate – did I have gas/upset stomach? Do I feel overfull eating X, Y, Z? It sounds crazy but you have a ton of serotonin and dopamine producing systems in your gut- much, much more than your brain (this via the book Lights Out, that everyone is always talking about). I found that when I paid more attention to my digestion (for example, drinking less water at meals, because I found that can affect your stomach acid), and started supplementing with Magnesium and fish oil, and also eating a lot more animal fat (pork belly!) that all of those had a beneficial effect on my sleeping patterns. I wish I knew which one, exactly, and I know, it sounds crazy… I think people like us have the hardest time having “success” being primal, because if you can’t fix a sleeping problem, then nothing else really matters.

        Sorry to ask this again – but have you tried the Leptin Reset? the 50+ grams of protein at breakfast? And again, the problem didn’t happen overnight, so it won’t fix itself overnight. I think you and me and all the other sleep disturbed have to be patient, and not push too hard on finding a “solution”. There isn’t one – it will be a gradual improvement I think… and PS – The best week of sleep I’ve had in years I had when I wasn’t working out. Just whatever you do, record the experiments- and stick with going to bed at the same time! (That’s the hardest for me)

        LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve considered it, I’ll look into it more. If you can read my comment I posted at the end of the feed, any input is appreciated.

          Alexander wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • Also – I’m pretty young (in my 20s)…I think that also leads you to sleep stress/disturbance. You want the good food, the friends, you’re worrying about your job. or maybe that’s at every age? But I find the best way to relax is a routine. I’m sorry you suffer from this.

        LJ wrote on May 7th, 2012
        • I actually did read that article, but for some reason, forgot about it. I just reread it, thanks for your help!

          Alexander wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Yeah, I agree. I used to wake up every night to eat without fail. Now it happens only 1-2 nights a week. It still feels like I’m back at square 1 when it happens, but I have to remind myself that it’s a-lot better than it used to be.

      I feel like it does have a lot to do with routine. I do shift work (fingers crossed for not much longer as I have nearly finished my studies). When I am always on the same shift I can get into a routine of sleep/wake at the same time and I wake less in the night and sleep better. But when my shifts are changing between AM and PM I notice this always disrupts my sleep and I seem to get up hungry during the night and eat anything and everything available.

      I also have type 1 diabetes and I have noticed that the worse my control of my diabetes the worse this habit becomes. The habit actually began when my blood sugars used to go low in the night. The it seemed like my body just decided that it NEEDED to eat at this time to prevent going low. Primal eating has really helped make control easier for me.

      Also I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but I noticed in the past (not so much these days) that the more I tired to stop eating during the night, the more unaware of what I was doing I would become hardly remember eating when I woke up. These days I am usually aware of what I am doing and if I get up I tend to eat pretty primal foods (can of tuna/mince/fatty food) so I guess thats better than before.

      But someone wrote above that you just need to experiment with what works for you and I would say this is very important advice because I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution to this problem.

      Sarah wrote on September 26th, 2012
  18. “Don’t turn the lights on, tonight I want to see you in the dark”.

    Sounds like the munchies, I suggest less cannabis unless it’s medicinal.

    Alexander wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • This is so interesting. Esp the comment about blood sugar dropping in the night. My migraines come on at night (I wake with them) which my neurologist could never figure out. Maybe this is what’s happening (although I never wake up). I can try a T of coconut oil before bed. And I just bought something called Black Seed Oil (nigella sativa) which is said to help migraines – so maybe some of that too! Hmm…going to have to think about this one – maybe I can fix what has been a HUGE problem in my life – thanks all!

      Kelly wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • Magnesium is supposed to help with migraines, too.

        Tina wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • I also had this problem with waking up in the night with migraine-like headaches, or I’d wake up with one in the morning, early. They are called hipnic headaches and supposedly have no cause. When I started eating very low carb, and using intermittent fasting they went away. As well when I stopped taking 5HTP and GABA for sleep they lessened. I’ve just started taking 5HTP again and they have not started up again but I’ve continued with the intermittent fasting so maybe that has helped.

        I do take magnesium before sleep with a big dollop of yogurt and a big splash of heavy cream too – maybe a factor.

        Barbara Hvilivitzky wrote on May 8th, 2012
  19. Thanks for this Mark. I really appreciate. I for one have found some help combining the Primal/Paleo lifestyle with 12 step programs for compulsive overeating. If anyone needs more help with food, they can seek out http://www.oa.org.

    Michael wrote on May 7th, 2012
  20. I have been doing primal since January. I was doing really well with 3 meals, until I started playing with fasting…long story short, it led to bingeing and weight gain. Recently, the doctor told me that my adrenals weren’t working, hormones totally crazy. Today, I decided to go back eating 3 meals a day and forget about fasting. Thank you for your timely article, I feel better knowing that i’m one of those people who should not play with fasting (and it is okay) :)

    TinaP wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Maybe once you get your homones in check, you will be able to do a 16 hour fast one or two days a week, including the 8 hours you sleep the night before. Adrenal issues are controversial. Adrenal fatigue likely is not a real syndrome. From what I’ve read, the issue is much more complicated. I believe it is more an issue of HPA dysfunction, than simply having adrenal fatigue. I’m not sure if your doctor was specifically talking about adrenal fatigue or not, sorry if he wasn’t. There are some good discussions about fatigue over on MindandMuscle.net.

      Morgan wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • You are right about the HPA dysfunction. Adrenal fatigue was just part of my problem:( Thanks for the link, I will take a look at it. I have been doing 16/18 hour fast for about 3 weeks, that’s when the bingeing got out of control:(

        TinaP wrote on May 7th, 2012
      • Morgan, why in the world would you suggest she go back to what clearly caused her problems to begin with?? Every indication is that Primal works best for her without fasting. Can’t understand why she should risk it again when the effect of fasting impacted her so negatively the 1st time around.

        Phil wrote on May 16th, 2012
  21. Is it that bad to night eat? I would say 2 out of 3 nights I wake up once or more, have a protein shake or some leftover meat and go back to bed. Helps me to sleep like a baby!

    Ben Gordon wrote on May 7th, 2012
  22. A great wholemilk yogurt, like Hawthorne valley, or Erivan, with maybe a little buckwheat honey or some frozen berries, is a great late night snack.

    As long as we keep it fairly healthy, I don’t think it’s a big deal for many of us that feel the need to have a bite to eat shortly before bed to comfort our tummies.

    Morgan wrote on May 7th, 2012
  23. I don’t have problems with night cravings, but I did used to wake a lot because of arthritis pain and what I found really helped were Lifewave sleep patches. This is a nanotechnology patch that works on stimulating acupuncture points that helps produce more melatonin and keeps you sleeping deeply all night. Certainly I’ve found they work very well for me. If they work so well on helping you sleep through pain, they might let you sleep through food cravings as well. Might be worth trying.

    Joanna wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Thank you for your input. I’m going to look into those patches. I haven’t slept well in nearly 20 yeas because od chronic pain from Lyme Disease. I actually sleep on a heating pad set on high, and I wake up within 2 or 3 minutes of it turning off every hour. So I wake up and have to fall back to sleep hourly. Talk about bad sleep. And I have permanent burns from the heating pad all over my back and hips to prove it!

      Decaf Debi wrote on May 8th, 2012
      • I have fibro pain as well – have you tried a heated bed pad? I got one for Christmas and it has been a real life saver, as it is basically a body-sized heating pad. And you can get them where each side has its own controller, so your bed partner doesn’t have to have it on at all. I have hardly used my heating pad at all since I got it.

        Cat wrote on May 12th, 2012
  24. I used to have this problem too, which my doctor suggested was due to blood sugar dropping during the night. She told me that it’s especially a problem for carbohydrate sensitive individuals. It happened both when I was eating a high-carb and low-carb diet. When I was eating a high-carb diet, the drop in blood sugar followed by the spike is what would wake me up. When I was eating low-carb, I wasn’t eating enough carbs at dinner to get me through the night. But I noticed this was only a problem when I drank coffee, which can cause larger fluctuations in your blood sugar. Because I love coffee and need sleep, I’ve increased my carb consumption to a level where I don’t have symptoms of carbohydrate sensitivity and I can sleep!

    Elisa wrote on May 7th, 2012
  25. VERY interesting. I work from home a have a (potentially?) bad habit of waking up around 8AM but not eating breakfast until around noon. At that time it is usually a hearty meal of eggs and bacon or some other meat. Despite being a ‘meal’ person rather than a grazer throughout the day, I am surprised to often find myself ravenously hungry between 10PM and ~12:30, my typical bedtime. Fruit and nuts are almost always my go to in these times.

    That said, I have never actually woken up from hunger. I have no problem losing or maintaining weight. I have no issues with stress or agitation. And the only reason I stay up this late, is because primal eating has turned me into a ~7 hour a night sleeper. I wake up fully energized and typically can’t sleep longer even when I try.

    So like Ben Gordon, I question if this eating pattern, especially the late night binge snacking, is really so bad or worth worrying about. I and most who know me concur that I look and feel like I am getting younger with each passing day. Or is this not worth worrying about until it reaches a more extreme state like that described in the original post? I only ask because Mark does seem to have me pegged with his comments about skipping breakfast and staying up late. Any input is welcome and appreciated. Thanks in advance fellow cavepeople!

    Deuce wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I kinda agree with your post Deuce. I notice that the more I worry about eating during the night the worse it gets :/ I mean eating a yogurt or a can of tuna at 2am isn’t really that unhealthy if it helps us sleep better.

      Sarah wrote on September 26th, 2012
  26. I believe Julia Ross’ “The Mood Cure” addresses this as well. It may have something to do with Serotonin levels? Don’t quote me on that. Most of the book can be found in Google Books, but be sure to check it out from the library or buy it to get the whole story.

    Shebeeste wrote on May 7th, 2012
  27. I have been looking everywhere for an answer to this for years. My diet and lifestyle is very solid. High quality foods from high quality sources all the time. Train hard and get plenty of rest. Bed early all the time, and usually sleep well, except… I usually wake about 2 hours into my sleep in desperation mode for simple sugars. I mean desperate, I am just compelled to cram bad food in my mouth. Nothing but sugars will do. As a firefighter who previously worked in an insanely busy hall for years, I assumed it was because my body had become used to having to get up and go in a hurry from a sleeping state. I have been in slower halls for the last 5 years and that has not changed at all. I do not know if it is mental or physical, but I need to fix it. All of the suggestions in the article and and comments I have followed consistently for years. Please, does anyone have any other suggestions?

    Ryan wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Ryan –

      Some things that have worked for me (but not completely sustainable, ymmv) are:

      try to eat a simple diet (similar to wholehealthsource’s low reward meal diet) where you eat only a few foods. your hunger cravings drop like a rock and can lower your cravings at night. this has worked for me (not 100% but this has brought me the most recent success)

      i believe non-fasting does help, though I cannot say that with 100% conviction. plus, i know its hard to break the cycle of wake up at 2am, eat, then wake up at 7am, and eat breakfast. you just aren’t hungry. usually i’ll try to work into it, starting off small (1-2 eggs for breakfast) and work upward.

      i did notice much less hunger when taking 3 servings of protein shake (with 2 towards closer to sleep time, maybe 6pm & 1030pm). it would blunt hunger a LOT and prevent the eating.

      i like someone’s suggestion above of eating oil prior to sleep, esp coconut oil (as a method of combating the drop in blood sugar) i’m going to try that out.

      also, i’m sure you have but if not, make sure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and comfortable.

      Evan wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • You say you’ve tried everything in the comments but have you tried the recommendations in the Mood Cure, per my above post? Here’s the quiz:

      http://www.moodcure.com/take_the_mood_type_questionnaire.html

      It *is* low Serotonin, according to Julia Ross, that affect the eating in the middle of the night thing.

      Eating primal will get one very far but some of us still have problems with our neurotransmitter receptors for whatever reason and need additional help. The book covers diet, which is almost primal (some non-gluten grains), but most important is supplementing with amino acids.

      Shebeeste wrote on May 7th, 2012
  28. I don’t think anyone should ever worry that they don’t sleep a full 8 hours a night. Sleeping this long is quite a recent occurrence.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

    If you can’t get the full 8 hours in one go then maybe focus on on splitting it out during the day (power nap, siesta etc)

    Working all day then getting a mandatory 8 hours before getting up and doing it all over again is pretty far removed from primal.

    Tony wrote on May 7th, 2012
  29. I’m wondering, if the same advice is suitable for emotional eating? I’m an occasional (becoming more frequent) emotional eater and I think I can use some of the above advices in these terms. I’m thinking of forming a diary on this site in the forum section to help me with transition and occuring prblems …
    Thanks for the article, I find most of the content on the site useful. I am grateful for this site and it’s eye opening “wisdom”. :) Thank you, Mark, I would love to participate in this project somehow. If starting a journal is one of the options, then I could as well do so.

    masage wrote on May 7th, 2012
  30. try taking just a little (1/4 to 1/2 tablet to start) of melatonin – this has helped my whole family – including my child – through some stressful potentially-sleep-loss times – also, it was encouraging to see that melatonin is one of 3 substances that actually breaks down BPA – that nasty hormone disrupter that kids get overdoses of by their exposure to almost everything they touch(plastic of course…)

    we have also found that – contrary to a fearful expectation of dependence – the melatonin supplementation when stopped does not cause a problem – but them we always keep the doses very low and only when necessary –

    good luck–

    ravi wrote on May 7th, 2012
  31. Great info! It makes sense to be related to stress and not sleeping well. Personally since I started eating a Paleo diet and eliminated gluten I sleep through the night. Thanks again

    Wendy Bottrell wrote on May 7th, 2012
  32. Hubby has taken sleeping pills for 35 years. We’ve tried to get him off several times and his body is resistant to unassisted sleep nearly to the point of psychosis.

    Of course, when you’re on any drug that long, your body gets used to it and it stops working as well. So, they switch him up between five or six different drugs. One of them messes with his hunger signaling big time and he will not only eat when he wakes in the middle of the night, but he will sleep-eat. He generally grabs the first thing he sees, so before I go to bed I’ll make sure there is a veggie-heavy salad all prepped and in that spot for him. That’s helped a lot.

    Mamachibi wrote on May 7th, 2012
  33. If you sit in front of a computer a lot, f.lux is awesome:
    http://stereopsis.com/flux/

    It adjusts the blueness of the monitor according to the time. I’ve been using this for a year now and it is definitely better for the eyes.

    martinus wrote on May 7th, 2012
  34. When I lived with my parents I often stayed up late and ate at night. During school time I’d generally stay up close to midnight. I stayed in my room using my computer (often playing games or watching DVDs) and exercising.
    When I wasn’t in school anymore I’d often stay up until 3am or so, sometimes even staying up all night or staying out most of the night and going to bed shortly before or after it got light out. Some of these nights I stuffed myself to an inhuman capacity but generally just wanted a big bowl of something to keep snacking on and something to drink like tea or milk.
    I still eat too much at night sometimes. The intestinal traffic and how it feels the next day are always punishment enough to skip a meal or so the next day.

    Animanarchy wrote on May 7th, 2012
  35. Thank you for clarification around fasting and adrenal fatigue. Two years after my onset on adrenal fatigue, I still cannot skip a meal. I’ll have poor sleep and increased anxiety as a result. Great tips in this post! Many have helped my healing tremendously.

    Joy Dvorak wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • I read that vitamin C and B5 help the body to break down adrenalin. I take these every night before bed with melatonin and for me it works great. I sleep better and don’t feel wasted the next day like I do if I take a sleeping pill. My wife has tried this and it works well for her too.

      Craig wrote on May 7th, 2012
  36. Don’t fight it! The BEST thing about grain free is guilt free, consequence free, eating in front of the TV after dinner later at night. Every night around 9:00 PM I have to eat or else I won’t sleep well. This is usually what I eat: cheese melted in the microwave on a paper plate, or cream cheese from the container, or peanut butter from the jar. Ahhh, peanut butter. For evenings when I’m plagued by rabid carb cravings, the peanut butter satisfies without going too far off the deep end.

    (Yes, I know the debate rages on that peanut butter is technically a grain, and it has sugar,and um, hydrogenated oil – but c’mon, it’s 1,000 times better than high carb desserts, pastries, candies, etc. OK, OK, OK I confess, I still eat peanut butter at some point every day and I am smaller than I’ve been in decades because I shun all other grains…Whew…)

    Paula wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Peanuts are a legume actually. I eat almond butter or pastured butter as a nighttime snack. :D

      Shebeeste wrote on May 7th, 2012
  37. I wake up often at night. I don’t feel hungry but used to have a hard time getting back to sleep. Then I learned zazen or breathing meditation. This almost always works, i.e. concentrating on my breathing. It was the thoughts and worries that kept me awake. Zazen loosens the grip of these and my body takes over. I don’t know if this will help those who are hungry but suggest it in case it does.

    Craig wrote on May 7th, 2012
  38. It sounds to me like your body getting the jitters about going from carb-burning to fat-burning metabolism. Granted this was mostly pre-primal for me, but I ate according to Protein Power more or less for years. If the carbs snuck back in, I’d have to do a carb detox. I would feel like I was dying, literally STARVING, even though I just ate. The best way I found to get past that was to allow myself to eat if I felt hungry even if I ate 20 minutes ago, but to eat protein and fat. No carbs. In a couple of days, I would settle back into a regular diet. I’ve gone through this cycle probably seven or eight times over the past ten years. It’s worked every time. Don’t beat yourself up, just eat the right things. After the first time, I got through it no problem because I knew once I switched over to fat-burning, I wouldn’t even care about the crap I shouldn’t be eating. Hope this helps!

    Cheri wrote on May 7th, 2012
  39. Mark, Thanks for the article and especially the very good journal link. Are you aware of any links between NES and nighttime sweating? Are they connected by hypothalamic disregulation? I overtrained and underate my way into oblivion last year and NES and sweating (profuse, bed soaking) were the two of the most prominent symptoms.

    Jordano wrote on May 7th, 2012
  40. Mark~
    I suffer from an eating disorder bulimia, and I for the life of me can’t stop! I have tried diets and eating small meals but being in collage my diet consist of sugars and carbs…I ate a steak for the first time in MONTHS and felt satisfied and didn’t binge.
    Please help me if you can I am desperate!!
    Thank you

    cindy dupuy wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Cindy, what I wouldn’t give to have been told in college what I’m about to tell you.

      YOU KNOW THE ANSWER. The steak has already spoken. Sugar IS the cause of your bulimia. Right now, write down a plan to be able to get meat & eggs & natural fats in your diet. Sell your books, buy them used, live with a friend, sell your cousin, just do it.

      Then get up tomorrow morning and eat a HUGE FREAKING breakfast. All protein and fat. 3 eggs, four pieces of breakfast sausage, at least 50g of protein. Eat a nice piece of meat for lunch (and a big old salad if you like). Repeat lunch for dinner. Then next morning, eat the big freaking breakfast again, followed by another moderate lunch and dinner.

      If you feel you must have sweets or carbs, do it at the end of one of these meals, not in between. And no matter if you end up bingeing, even a few weeks into not bingeing at all, go ahead and have your next meal. It’s the best thing you can do to prevent another binge. DO NOT SKIP MEALS.

      Sweet Cindy, please go into the forums here at Mark’s Daily Apple and search on my username. Find my journal and start reading, especially from March 2011 to November 2011. MDA + big protein breakfast has ended my decade-long eating disorder and given me my freedom back. This can happen for you, too – it’s under your control. Resisting sweets, when they’re talking to you all day long is not under your control, but I have just given you the keys to TURNING OFF THEIR VOICES so you can go about your days in peace without any thoughts of food.

      Go. Do it now! Come post in my journal and tell me how it’s going!! I’d love to help you troubleshoot the issues that arise with the college scenario.

      MamaGrok wrote on May 7th, 2012

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