The hormones that drive hunger may naturally shoot up at night, according to new research in The International Journal of Obesity.
For the study, a small group of 32 obese men and women were asked to fast during two different time periods—starting at 9 a.m. and and 4 p.m.—before consuming a light liquid meal. Then, researchers tested their hunger hormones and asked them to describe thier hunger and stress levels.
The results? Those who fasted at night had much higher levels of ghrelin—a hormone that signals hunger in the body. Elevated ghrelin levels were also correlated with stress. These new findings support the idea that our circadian rhythm plays a role in regulating our appetite throughout the day. While it's unclear whether the participants' hormone levels were driven by their weight, or their weight was in part due to their hormones, the study's researchers say that the results can be applied to anyone—regardless of body size.
“We definitely know that this pattern of hormone responses increases the risk of overeating in the evening, as opposed to the morning,” Susan Carnell, Ph.D., a study author, tells The New York Times.
If you too find yourself routinely opening the ice cream drawer at 10pm, there are a few ways to regulate ghrelin levels and break the cycle of overeating. For starters, you can ease up on your fruit consumption at night. Fructose (the sugar in fruit) has been correlated with higher ghrelin levels, so opt for a more savory dessert when possible.
Since ghrelin levels are also dictated by the body's stress levels, establishing a soothing nighttime routine can help you kick cravings. Get into the habit of turning your phone on airplane mode a few hours before bed, diffusing some calming essential oils in your bedroom, and finishing your day with a gratitude practice or relaxing meditation. Finally, Carnell recommends putting an “eating curfew” into place—a time to wind down, turn off the kitchen lights, and brush your teeth.
Did you hear about the latest research on what happens to your hormones when you exercise? Check that out here.