Until a few years ago I never realised midnight snacking was a real ‘thing’. I thought it was a contrivance used in movies and television shows to cutely portray the sleepless stress and angst of a character.
How wrong could I be? Night time snacking is a common phenomenon and significant contributor to dental disease.
It was a young woman and dental patient who brought the reality of midnight snacking to my attention. Her tooth decay was out of control. Endless rounds of analysis of her diet, endless preventive tips and strategies seemed to make no impact on her ability to produce holes in her teeth.
Then, out of the blue, she told me about her midnight snacking ‘thing’. Every night she would wake up at around midnight and eat a whole bag of musk sticks – a peculiarly Australian lolly with a sugar content of 82%. She would then go back to bed without cleaning her teeth.
Somehow this nightly ritual had been left out of her previous answers because it didn’t count as ‘real’ food or a part of her ‘real’ life, and therefore, in her mind, had no impact on her ‘real’ health.
The fact is, this snacking habit was ruining her teeth, and placing her at risk of developing general health problems such as chronic inflammation, disordered blood sugar regulation, heart disease and obesity.
Midnight snacking places at teeth at extremely high risk of:
Decay. Saliva flow is at its lowest at this time of night making tooth structure vulnerable to attack.
Gum disease, especially when the teeth are left unbrushed.
How do we stop midnight snacking?
As a dentist, I advise people to stop this habit, but I cannot make anyone stop doing anything. . . unless I move in and become the snacking policewoman. Even then I can assure you I will be fast asleep and of no help at all when the “snack attack” strikes.
The only way to get to the bottom of snacking at night is to look honestly at your sleeping patterns because poor and wakeful sleep is the highest risk factor for night time snacking.
Tips for supporting yourself to sleep more deeply and completely.
Be patient and understanding with yourself when you experience poor and wakeful sleep. Sleep patterns become ingrained, and altering them can feel like trying to turn an ocean liner. Impatience and frustration will only exacerbate the problem.
Get support. If you have a great GP, counsellor or psychologist, talk to them about what is going on with your sleep and ask for advice specific to your needs.
Consider your state of being when you put yourself to sleep. Are you exhausted but bubbling underneath with agitation, with a racing mind? Have you been completely engaged with Netflix, social media, You Tube right before bed and cannot stop thinking about the content? Can you occupy your evening in a way that is more respectful and supportive to your sleep?
Set a ‘wind down’ time at least one hour before sleep time. How you best wind down is for you to discover. It may be a bath or a shower. It might be a gentle walk on warm summer evenings.
The quality of sleep reflects the quality of the day that came before. If you are stressed and anxious in your daily life, your sleep will be impacted. The result is wakefulness that opens the door to late night snacking. Consider whether there are simple things you can do to reduce stress. If you need professional support for stress and anxiousness, get it – your health will benefit more than you can imagine.
Midnight snacking is a reminder that everything we do is part of the whole - it is never done in isolation.
When something in our life is out of balance, it is the perfect reminder to bring attention and care to our whole of our life and state of being.
For more insights into supporting quality sleep, read this valuable article by Dr Anne Malatt.