We love to get our snack on, whether that means noshing on some 100-calorie seasonal goodies or tossing some chickpeas into the oven until they're perfectly crispy. Snacks are a key part of a healthy diet, especially when those snacks have protein or fiber for staying power (read: not just snacks with empty calories). Having a healthy snack in between meals helps keep our blood sugars steady—and our energy levels. Plus, we're less likely to feel totally starved come mealtime, which helps prevent overeating. But making the healthier choice can be tough when you're craving something like chips or something sweet for an energy boost.
A new study from the Ohio State University found that those pesky snack cravings actually have a lot to do with how much sleep you get each night. In a study of nearly 20,000 adults that will be published in full on October 18, 2021, those who didn't get seven hours of sleep at night ended up choosing snacks with more added sugar and caffeine than those who slept for at least seven hours. (The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all adults between the ages of 18 and 60 get seven hours of sleep or more each night.)
It makes total sense. The less rest we get at night, the more energy we'll need to get through the day. Those cravings for high-calorie, quick-to-digest foods is your body's way of trying to get the energy it needs to function.
Just about everyone—more than 95% of participants—ate at least one snack each day. But folks who got less than seven hours of sleep were more likely to start their day with a morning snack, and they ate higher quantities of snacks with more calories and less nutritional value.
The study also found that most participants consumed their snacks at night, regardless of how much sleep they got. Having a bedtime snack isn't a bad thing—there are plenty of healthy options out there for those who love their nightly nosh. But craving empty calories before bed is probably your body's way of telling you to get some sleep, according to the study's senior author, Christopher Taylor, Ph.D., RD.
"The longer we're awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. And at night, those calories are coming from snacks and sweets," Taylor said in a release. Taylor is a professor of medical dietetics in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University.
There are also other factors that can affect your hunger level, such as how much water you drink or how stressed you are. But if you think your snacking has something to do with a lack of sleep, there are a few healthy strategies for getting more rest. Getting into a morning and evening routine that works for you is a great place to start—hopping right out of bed in the morning and not returning to bed until it's time to sleep will help your circadian rhythm steady out. If you love having a snack before bed, opt for one that may help you get a more restful night's sleep, like this Tart Cherry Nice Cream or some yogurt with fruit, both of which can help you get a better night's sleep.