Most people are guilty of occasionally raiding the kitchen in search of late-night snacks or sweets. But when that trip to the pantry starts to become a habit, it may be a sign of a bigger problem such as sleep apnea or another sleep disorder.

Science increasingly supports the link between diet and sleep. One study found a strong connection between metabolism and circadian rhythm, and it demonstrated how these cycles affect sleeping patterns and the ability to lose weight. How much or how little sleep you get can go so far as to alter your appetite and cause problems with hunger-related hormones such as leptin and ghrelin.

Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that regulate your appetite. They also have a major impact on your energy levels. Leptin works to decrease your appetite, while ghrelin increases your appetite. When these hormones are out of whack, both your weight and quality of sleep are bound to suffer.

If your hunger hormones are out of control, a sleep disorder such as night eating syndrome could be what’s causing your late-night cravings. Night eating syndrome is characterized by doing most of your eating at night. One study found that people with night eating syndrome consumed over half of their daily calorie intake between the hours of 8pm and 6am.

Late night eating can also lead to a more serious sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a disorder characterized by repeated interruptions in breathing while asleep. This disorder can negatively impact quality of sleep and daytime energy levels. It can also be life threatening and should be diagnosed and treated by a sleep specialist.

As you can gather, the connection between overeating and sleep disorders is a bit of a “chicken or the egg” scenario. So how do you break this difficult cycle? The best way to start is by creating a healthy bedtime routine.

  • Have a relaxing nighttime routine. Avoid electronic devices a couple hours before bedtime and do something that calms you, such as reading or taking a bath.
  • Follow a sleep schedule. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.
  • Avoid alcohol and meals too late in the evening. While having a drink or something to eat may make you feel sleepy at first, it will actually end up disrupting your sleep.
  • Follow the light. Light affects your circadian rhythm. It’s good to keep lighting off or dimmed at night to get your body ready for sleep. In the mornings, exposing yourself to bright light or sunshine can help you wake more easily.

If you’re still having issues and think you may be suffering from a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, it’s time to see your doctor. It may be advised that you see a sleep specialist to undergo a sleep study to see what’s really going on. Dr. Nassar and his team at Jacksonville Sleep Center can help you with the proper diagnosis and treatment for your sleep disorder.