Tips for Nighttime Eaters

If you wake up in the middle of the night—and can't fall back to sleep without snacking—follow these tips for changing your after-dark routine.

Q: I often wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t fall back to sleep. I end up heading to the kitchen and eating cereal or cookies. How can I stop?

A. You’ve learned this habit—and you can “unlearn” it with some practice. It’s all about your mindset. You’ve trained yourself to eat to help you get back to sleep, so your first step is to stay out of the kitchen—out of sight and out of mind when it comes to night eating.

Change your behavior with a little pre-planning: Set a glass of water beside your bed, and drink it when you awaken to feel full. Because this type of eating is often very soothing and comforting, you need to find other ways to relax and return to sleep. You could try deep breathing or invest in a white-noise machine, which plays a variety of soothing background sounds—from the ocean to gentle rain. Also, revisit your sleep hygiene (keep your bedroom cool and dark), and limit alcohol and caffeine intake to minimize the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night.

Dr. Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., C.N.S., is the founder and director of UPMC’s Weight Management Center. She is the diet and nutrition editor for NBC’s “Today Show” and is the author of The Runner’s Diet and The Real You Diet. Also, visit “Health Journal with Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom,” a health and wellness blog at

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