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The Appeal of Late-Night Snacking Explained

A new study has suggested that we might tend to consume more late at night because we find less satisfaction in eating at that time, hence leading us to over-consumption. The findings have been published in the journal Brain Imaging and Behavior.


They say, refrigerators have light bulbs incorporated for the sake of midnight snacks. Why do humans succumb to the appeal of late-night nibbling? A new study has provided more insight as to why it is sometimes hard to resist to the temptation: much of the ‘phenomenon’ is the result of how the brain responds to food during the day. The study, led by Travis Masterson, demonstrated how we are less satisfied when we eat food at night, and thus, we go for more.

“You might overconsume at night because food is not as rewarding, at least visually at that time of day,” explains Masterson.

“It may not be as satisfying to eat at night so you eat more to try to get satisfied.”

15 healthy women enlisted their participation for the study. Their brain activities were monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) when they were shown 360 images of low-calorie foods, such as vegetables, fruits and fish, and high-calorie foods, such as candy, ice cream and fast food.

The image-viewing was scheduled at particular times: once between 6.30 am and 8.30 am and once between 5 pm and 7 pm. Two sessions were held, with one week in between.

The findings showed that participants had greater reward-related neural activity when they saw images of high-calorie foods than for low-calorie ones. Another important result was that the reward-related neural responses were lower than they were in the morning when images of both types of foods were seen in the evening; the researchers deemed this finding to be surprising.

“We thought the responses would be greater at night because we tend to overconsume later in the day,” notes study co-author Lance Davidson.

Furthermore, the participants related thinking about food more in the evening than earlier during the day, in spite of not feeling more hungry itself. They also felt they could eat more in the evening.

The researchers explained that their results “underscore the role that time of day may have on neural responses to food stimuli.” This could hint at eating behaviour and weight management issues.


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