We all know the feeling: It’s getting late. You already ate dinner — possibly even dessert! You’re getting bored at home and the midnight cravings start to creep in. Not just any cravings, either — you want something greasy and salty to snack on.
Or maybe you’re driving home from an after-work event or drinks with a few friends. You think you might want a little something to snack on when you get home and start settling in. The golden arches of Mcdonald’s can be seen lighting up the next exit and you decide you want to stop and just get a side of french fries to hold you over.
First of all, you’re not alone. Studies show that between the hours of 12 a.m. and 4 a.m., our bodies crave mostly fatty, greasy foods.
This seemingly innocent craving, however, could be ruining your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
It’s normal to crave something to snack on later in the evening.
Research shows that when we stay up late, or aren’t getting enough sleep, our brain’s sensitivity to food smells increases. A study conducted by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago confirmed this when participants who slept only four hours showed greater brain activity in response to food smells compared to when they’d slept a full eight hours.
“When tired, participants showed greater brain activity in two areas involved in olfaction—the piriform cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex—in response to food smells than they did when well-rested. That spike wasn’t seen in response to nonfood odors,” study coauthor Surabhi Bhutani said.
This is especially true when it comes to those greasy, fatty foods (like french fries) that we naturally crave late at night. However, next time you have a midnight snack craving, you may want to consider reaching for something else.
Registered dietitian Lisa Hayim said that foods high in fat are the worst thing you can put in your body before bedtime, for more than one reason.
“Greasy and high-fat foods are the single worst trigger for heartburn,” she said. “Before bed, avoid foods coated in oil or that give a big ‘crunch’ when you eat it.”
French fries are one of the biggest culprits in this department. And Hayim said that if you’re eating them with ketchup, you’re just adding to the problem.
“Ketchup is extremely acidic thanks to the tomatoes it’s made with,” offers Hayim. “In addition to the acid that is naturally there, ketchup is usually preserved with other chemicals that make them even more acidic and may lead to heartburn.”
Not only that, but foods that are high in fat will take longer for your body to digest. Behavioral sleep therapist Richard Shane said this means your body will still be working hard to get those french fries through your system when you’re trying to fall asleep.
You don’t want the engine of the digestive system cranking away when the rest of your body is trying to go to sleep,” he says.
You also run the risk of gaining extra weight when you eat french fries and other high-fat foods before bed. A large order of Mcdonald’s french fries contains 490 calories. Consuming that right before bed isn’t going to sit well in your stomach. It could also cause disruptions in your sleep after your body is done digesting and you need to take a late-night trip to the bathroom. A good night’s sleep is important to maintaining a healthy metabolism.
Research shows that our bodies crave these fatty foods before bed, because of a decrease in our cortisol levels. We are looking for fast, energy-providing calories.
To combat this, you could always just try to go ahead and sleep, since that is what your body is anticipating. However, if you must have a snack, it’s better to choose something that isn’t fried. Eatthis.com recommends reaching for something else like turkey, fresh fruit, cereal, nuts, or maybe just a hot cup of tea. Trust us, your body will thank you.