Here’s Why You’re Hungry After a Nap, Says a Nutrition Expert

That grumbling tummy after a daytime snooze is telling you something. Plus, our expert reveals the absolute best snack whenever you wake up.

If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, an afternoon nap can reduce health risks associated with sleep deprivation, according to 2020 research published in the journal Sleep. Plus, in the short term, a nap can help you feel more alert, focused, and in a better mood—but is it normal to wake up hungry, even after a short snooze?

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Why you wake up hungry after a nap

Your hormones shift while you sleep

There are several theories as to why some people may feel hungry after a nap, but the most substantial one has to do with growth hormone, explains Amber Core, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

“There is a wide variability in when growth hormone increases during sleep,” Core says, “but with afternoon naps, growth hormone release tends to be much higher than at any other time,” she says. Growth hormone plays a key role in our feelings of hunger because it helps repair the body from damage and fatigue. “When growth hormone increases, it tells the body to increase energy intake through food to help with the energy needed for repair.”

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You’re not getting enough sleep

Everyone has an individual sleep need—and if you’re not meeting yours overnight, naps can help you catch up on this gap. But if you’re chronically sleep-deprived, you’ll likely notice you’re hungrier during the day, including after naps.

This is because a lack of sleep can increase cortisol and ghrelin levels in the body, Core says. Ghrelin is the body’s hunger hormone, which stimulates your appetite. “Cortisol is a stress hormone, and many people turn to foods as a comfort to reduce stress and increase dopamine.”

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Your blood sugar is low

Your blood sugar levels fluctuate mildly throughout the day—and factors like skipping a meal, completing an intense workout, or experiencing a lot of stress can cause temporary dips. “One common side effect of low blood sugar is intense hunger as the body tries to bring blood sugar back to its normal range,” Cole explains.

But for people with uncontrolled diabetes, the opposite can be true. “If blood sugar remains elevated in cases of diabetes, hunger signals can be very high as the sugar in the bloodstream is not getting into the cells to be converted to energy,” Cole says. “This lack of energy causes increased hunger, even when sufficient energy is being consumed.”

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You’re thirsty

The part of the brain that tells our body to eat is also responsible for telling our body to drink. “These signals can occasionally get mixed up,” Cole says. “There are also symptoms of mild dehydration that can resemble hunger, such as a headache, feeling lightheaded, fatigue, and lack of focus or concentration.”

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Should I eat if I wake up hungry?

If you wake up hungry after a nap, try drinking a glass of water to ease thirst that may be disguised as a hunger cue. Drinking water may also help suppress high ghrelin levels (while dehydration can keep them elevated), according to The Cleveland Clinic.

If your hunger sustains, research from the journal Nutrients says that complex carbohydrates and protein are the most effective at lowering ghrelin levels. To effectively satisfy your post-nap appetite without ruining your dinner plans, reach for a snack that combines both macronutrients, such as:

  • Whole wheat bread and cottage cheese
  • Greek yogurt with berries or granola
  • Banana with peanut butter
  • Veggies and hummus
  • Roasted chickpeas

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Sources

People:

Amber Core, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Websites:

The Cleveland Clinic: "Ghrelin"

Journals:

Sleep: "Association between weekend catch-up sleep and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein levels in adults: a population-based study"

Nutrients: "Effect of Macronutrient Composition on Appetite Hormone Responses in Adolescents with Obesity"

Leslie Finlay, MPA
In addition to The Healthy, Leslie has written for outlets such as WebMd.com, Fodors.com, LiveFit.com, and more, specializing in content related to healthcare, nutrition, mental health and wellness, and environmental conservation and sustainability. She holds a master's degree in Public Policy focused on the intersection between public health and environmental conservation, and an undergraduate degree in journalism. Leslie is based in Thailand, where she is a marine conservation and scuba diving instructor. In her spare time you'll find her up in the air on the flying trapeze or underwater, diving coral reefs.