Midnight snacking for some people is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels throughout the night. Diabetics and some non-diabetic hypoglycemics can experience low blood sugar in the middle of the night due to the long period of time spent in a fasted state while sleeping. Sometimes the body wakes up during the night; but if the glucose levels fall too low, comas or death can occur.
A recent study found that snacking around 4 a.m. balanced the blood sugars of healthy people. Participants who drank a whey protein snack consisting of 63 g of protein did not experience a rapid spike in blood glucose when they ate breakfast at 9 a.m., which is normally what happens when the body hasn’t had any food overnight. The reaction at breakfast is usually exaggerated due to the sudden influx of calories and nutrients.
The participants who drank water at 4 am did not experience any benefit when breakfast time came. Researchers are hopeful that using whey protein as a snack makes it easier for those who find that snacking in the middle of the night or very early morning can be disruptive to sleep. It’s much easier to roll over and drink a whey protein mixture than to find your way into the kitchen, and it’s sometimes hard to chew when you’re experiencing a “low” (which is why many diabetics and non-diabetic hypoglycemic individuals keep hard candies, glucose tablets, or honey with them and on their nightstands).
It’s interesting to note that people actually woke up in the middle of the night to eat as a common practice in the medieval and Tudor eras. Most people went to bed shortly after the sun went down because of the lack of lighting. People in the pre-industrial era commonly had a sleeping pattern which consisted of sleeping, then waking in the middle of the night around 1 or 2 am, and then sleeping again. They called it “first sleep” and “second/morning sleep.”
The eight-hours of uninterrupted (and seemingly unattainable on some nights) sleep we strive for each night was unheard of in days past. References from the medieval era all the way to the late 17th century including the notion of first and second sleep can be found in medical books, diaries, and literature of the times. People snacked (if they could afford it) or spent the time reading, writing, praying, talking, and other activities conducive to their nighttime environment.
Their first sleep lasted a couple hours, followed by one or two hours awake, and then a second period of sleep. As time progressed, the common practice of split sleeping patterns began to fade away near the late 17th century. By now, very few people are aware that this practice even existed.
So, the next time you find yourself waking in the middle of the night, or needing a snack, choose something light and healthy made of protein. As history proves, you can rest assured it's not that unusual after all!
The Physiological Society. “An early morning whey protein snack increases morning blood sugar level in healthy people.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 July 2020. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200710104837.htm.