Alaska Sleep Education Center

To Eat or Not to Eat. The Midnight Snack Debate

Posted by Mauricio Reinoso, MD on Jun 9, 2020 8:09:19 AM

She's caught getting that midnight snack.


Are you a person who snacks before bed, or do you avoid eating for several hours before sleeping? Bedtime snacking is controversial, and even the experts are divided on what’s the best course of action. Let’s look at different aspects of this issue, so you can make your own decision as to whether or not to eat that midnight snack.

    • How does bedtime snacking affect digestion? For some people, eating too soon before going to bed can trigger acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion or an upset stomach. This is especially true if a person has eaten fatty, greasy, or spicy foods, or caffeinated, alcoholic, or carbonated beverages. If these issues are a problem, it may help to keep the evening meal light and wait a few hours after eating to lie down.


    • What about weight gain? It’s possible that eating before bed can cause weight gain, but it’s more likely that the habits accompanying your snack could be to blame. When a bedtime snack raises your daily calorie count over what’s healthy for you, or you eat it while sitting in front of the tv or your computer, it’s likely to cause weight gain.


    • How is sleep quality impacted by nighttime snacking? For some people, a small, healthy snack before bedtime can lead to better quality sleep. If that’s you, it may actually help you maintain a healthy weight, because sleep deprivation can lead to overeating.


    • A bedtime snack might be good for your blood sugar. The liver produces extra glucose in the morning to provide energy, and this can be detrimental for some diabetics, who wake up with high blood sugar even If they haven’t eaten since the night before. For other people, low blood sugar is a problem in the middle of the night. Some studies indicate that a snack before bedtime can help even out blood sugar.


Sleepless and restless nights hurt more than your mood and energy; it is a form of chronic stress on the body.  When there is added stress on your body this results in having higher blood sugar levels.  When researchers restricted people with type-1 diabetes to just 4 hours of sleep, their sensitivity to insulin was reduced by 20% compared to that after a full night of sleep.

When your blood sugar is really high, your kidneys will try to get rid of it by removing it from the body via urination.  This most likely causes you to get out of bed and go to the bathroom all night, resulting in inconsistent sleep patterns.  It can also wake you up by feelings of thirstiness.  

High blood sugar levels also make it less comfortable for you to sleep by feelings of warmness, irritability and unsettledness.


The dawn phenomenon occurs when the body releases growth and other hormones around 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. to prepare the body for arousal.  Making you wake up to a high blood sugar reading in the morning, even if your number was good when you went to bed the night before.

These hormones make the body less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that lowers blood sugar. In people with diabetes, these changes can lead to a morning blood sugar spike.


On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your blood glucose is too low, hypoglycemia, you may also wake up during the night.  Every cell in your body needs sugar to work properly. It’s your body’s main source of energy.  When your sugar levels fall too low it can cause a variety of problems within your central nervous system which can include:Low blood sugar can even affect how you are sleeping.

  • Hunger
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Irritability
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness of mouth
  • Blurred Vision
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Sleepwalking
  • Restlessness

The next time you wake up during the night with these symptoms, check your blood glucose. When there is a drop in the blood glucose level, it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels, such as adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone. These compounds stimulate the brain. They are a natural signal that it is time to eat. 

Good bedtime snacks to keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night are oatmeal and other whole grain cereals, whole grain breads and muffins, and other complex carbohydrates. These foods will not only help maintain blood sugar levels, they actually can help promote sleep by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.

Severe low blood sugar is sometimes called insulin shock. Untreated, it can be very dangerous, resulting in seizures, loss of consciousness, or death. 


Getting into a consistent sleep routine will improve your overall health and you may start to see subtle improvements in blood sugar as well.  The following tips sleep tips may help to promote better sleep:

  • Check and monitor your blood glucose to keep it under control

  • Establish a regular bedtime routine

  • Ensure your bed is large and comfortable enough

  • Ensure your room is cool and well ventilated

  • Ensure your room is dark and free from noise

  • Incorporating a period of exercise into each day

  • If you’re going to snack, snack wisely. Skip the junk food, instead choosing complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, or vegetables, paired with protein or a small amount of fat.

The bottom line? Do what works for you. Pay attention to your body’s signals, consider discussing it with your doctor, and you’ll be able to determine if you should stop eating early in the evening or if it’s ok to indulge in a midnight snack.

To stay informed on more information regarding diabetes and sleep issues read an essay on diabetes and subscribe to our blog.  You can always contact us here at The Alaska Sleep Clinic with any questions regarding how diabetes can affect your sleep at @ 907-770-9104.

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Topics: insomnia, sleep hygiene, snacking

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