Have you ever craved pizza or ice cream late at night, but you already ate a full-balanced dinner? Our hormones that drive hunger actually increase at night according to a new study.

In this study, they asked 32 people to fast at either 9 am or at 4 pm. After the fast, they were given a light liquid meal and their hunger hormones were tested. They were also asked to detail their feelings of hunger and stress. The individuals who fasted at night had higher levels of a hormone called ghrelin, which is a hormone that signals hunger in the body and high levels are tied to stress.

The New York Times interviewed Susan Carnell, Ph.D and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She explained that these hormone responses increase overeating at night. She also explained that it’s not 100% clear if these hormones are the cause of binging at night or if they are tied to an person’s eating habits. However, repeated behavior can get you stuck in an unwanted cycle.

Look…we all have had a craving for ice cream while watching a movie at night. That is very healthy, natural behavior. However, if you find yourself routinely eating at 10 pm after having a well balanced meal it might be hormonal or something more. If you think it is just a hormone imbalance, there are several ways to to help regulate ghrelin:

#1. Try to not eat a lot of fruit at night. The sugars in fruit have higher ghrelin levels. If you are craving something sweet, have dessert in moderation.

#2. Build a healthy routine at night. Take a bath with lavender salt or an essential oil. Read a book or try a soothing meditation. Try to put your phone away and stop checking emails an hour or so before bed.

#3. Sometimes it can be helpful to brush your teeth after your last meal and agree to not eat past a certain time. 

Overall, it can be tricky to understand hunger cues and if the feeling is really about being hungry or about something emotional. Try journaling when you are hungry at night to see if you are craving a piece of pizza more for the feeling of comfort rather than actually being hungry.

If you feel it is more than a hormonal issue, you might be right. You should talk to a professional. You might have an eating disorder called Night Eating Syndrome.

NES is a condition that is tied to sleep problems along with overeating at night. Individuals who struggle with night eating can be overly anxious at night, which can increase hunger hormones. To calm the anxiety, someone with NES will eat to numb themselves which can help them fall asleep. If you struggle with eating too much consistently at night and feel completely out of control, you might have NES. Night eating syndrome is a combination of an eating disorder and a sleep disorder. You are not alone and there is a path to recovery.