Do you get the munchies before bedtime? Research reveals a rise in “hunger hormone” levels at the end of the day increases the probability of overeating
08/24/2018 // Ralph Flores // Views

There's nothing better than eating out after a long, stressful day. However, a new paper published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that eating at night, especially when you're stressed, may potentially increase your chances of overeating. The findings also indicate that people who are prone to binge-eating have a higher risk of overeating.

"Our findings suggest that evening is a high-risk time for overeating, especially if you’re stressed and already prone to binge eating," said Dr. Susan Carnell, the first author of the study and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The good news is that having this knowledge, people could take steps to reduce their risk of overeating by eating earlier in the day, or finding alternative ways to deal with stress."

An earlier study has linked stress to increased hunger levels. The research, led by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, found that chronic stress can raise the amount of the "hunger hormone" ghrelin, as observed in murine studies. While the study also found out that an increase in ghrelin might reduce anxiety and depression, it also causes a surge in food intake.

The current study builds on this premise to determine how the time of day, coupled with stress, play a role in influencing appetite. Researchers posited that the study could be significant to binge eaters since they tend to binge in the evening as a way to cope up with stress. (Related: Exclusive: Treating binge eating disorder takes a comprehensive approach.)


To build their sample size, researchers gathered 32 overweight participants. The finalized sample pool was made up of 19 men and 13 women, aged 18 to 50 years old, with half of the samples diagnosed to have binge eating disorder (BED).

For the tests, two identical experiments were prepared; however, this was done at differing times of the day – this first experiment was conducted in the morning, while the other was done in the afternoon. Prior to the experiments, participants must fast for eight hours.

For the first experiment, the group was given a liquid meal of 608 calories at 9:00 a.m. The second experiment, on the other hand, had participants eat their meal at 4:00 p.m.

Around two hours after their meals, the participants were subjected to a stress test. In this test, a digital camera noted their facial expressions while they placed their non-dominant hand in a bucket of cold water for two minutes. Half an hour after the stress test, they were offered a food and drink buffet, which had "pizza, cookies, chips, candy, and water." Blood samples were taken from the participants, in order to determine the levels of the "stress hormone" cortisol, as well as the "hunger hormones" ghrelin and peptide YY. Moreover, the researchers asked the participants to rate their levels of hunger and fullness before the tests.

Researchers discovered that participants said that they felt hungrier and did not feel as full in the evening than the morning.

Additionally, ghrelin levels were found to be higher in the afternoon meal than that of the morning meal, indicating higher hunger levels. The level of peptide YY, the hormone that controls appetite and provides satiety, was observed to be lower in the afternoon meal as well.

People who had been diagnosed with BED were also impacted by the study – they had even higher levels of ghrelin in the evening than those who did not binge eat. They also report a greater loss of control than those without the disorder.

"Afternoon/evening may be a high-risk period for overeating, particularly when paired with stress exposure, and for those with binge eating," the researchers wrote of the results. "These may be particularly important influences in binge eaters, who tend to binge in the evening, and in response to stress."

The study, Morning and afternoon appetite and gut hormone responses to meal and stress challenges in obese individuals with and without binge eating disorder, was conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins School of MedicineFlorida State UniversityIcahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, and the University of Copenhagen.

Learn more about obesity and managing it by going to today.

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