The Insomniacs’ Guide to Midnight Snacks

The agony, and the ecstasy, of late-night hunger.

Credit: Megan Schaller

If you fall asleep right now you’ll still get five hours of sleep.

There’s an exact spot in bed where everything syncs. The temperature is right because one leg is under the covers and one leg is out. Pillows and supportive comfortable neck alignment match up. Relaxation sets in and your body sinks a little bit deeper into the mattress and sleepiness drifts in gently and carefully until you’re off into a peaceful slumber, blissful and undisturbed until the alarm goes off the next morning.

I don’t know about any of that because I’m lying in bed wide awake staring at the ceiling. AND SO HUNGRY. Stomach growling unable to think of anything but how far away the kitchen and satiation for this problem is.  And counting the hours that have elapsed since I ate dinner or a post-dinner snack (about four) and kicking myself—a repeat offender in the world of insomnia—for not having the foresight to have eaten an additional starchy side of fries or rice or even something high in Vitamin C like cauliflower all those hours ago for this exact occasion. Why didn’t I eat dessert? Would a slice of cheesecake have solved all my problems? Now I’m not even remotely close to falling asleep. Existential dread is creeping in, causing the hunger to intensify. Lingering effects of an erratic news cycle, wondering whether I can ever pay off that one stupid credit card, what will I do when this freelance job ends if I can’t find another one right away? Vestiges of anxiety seem to gain in strength under cover of night and food feels like the only thing that might calm these fears, fill in the emotional and physical emptiness and help get me closer to sleep. Snacking at the witching hour somehow makes everything feel better even if just for a few minutes.

I glance repeatedly across the room at the giant digital numbers taunting me in between checking my phone as if someone has decided to email me something pressing at one o’ clock in the morning. People say that New York City is the city that never sleeps but I refute that. I feel that insomniacs have been pushed out. Drowned out by the early to bed early to rise Soul Cyclers and Cardio Barre folks who don’t understand our plight. They’re not midnight snacking, they’re the ones reprimanding us that eating so late at night isn’t healthy. My stomach growls again in protest at the thought.

If you fall asleep right now you’ll still get four hours of sleep. Four isn’t so bad.

Now the time has come to make a decision. Tomorrow is already established as bleary and espresso filled in an attempt to stay productive. Because lying face down in an effort to muffle my stomach shouting, “there’s a leftover panini in the fridge, LET’S GOOOOOO” isn’t working. But it’s also time to be smart. And here’s where everything becomes a little mathematical. And surprisingly so because I’m terrible at math. So terrible my college advisor breathed an outrageously loud sigh of relief when I finally settled on a major which turned out to only have one math requirement.

How much time will it take to get a snack and will it be satisfying versus the amount of time I could be spending trying to fall asleep? Also, can this snack be brought back to bed or is it too messy? Will utensils be involved? This intricate process also involves an accurate accounting of what’s available in the refrigerator, pantry (and freezer).

Most snacks from the freezer—except ice cream—necessitate the extra step of re-heating which puts them at the bottom of the list as a hard and fast rule unless hunger pangs kick in earlier like closer to 11 and you have a little more time to play with. In general, I recommend focusing on the refrigerator and pantry.

If you fall asleep right now you’ll still get three hours of sleep. Three isn’t so bad.

Never let the availability of what’s in your place deter you. Everyone has the capability to turn into somewhat of a food MacGyver. Believe in yourself. And this laser focus on planning the snack sometimes tricks that nighttime anxiety and lulls you into thinking you’re solving a problem. (Because you ARE).

Just take the bag of chocolate chips from a baking endeavor last week, microwave them for thirty seconds and cut up the lone apple in the crisper and have makeshift fondue. If you have peanut butter you can dip almost anything in that. Celery, crackers, a spare KitKat. When it comes to leftovers you have a tough decision to make. Do you eat that half a sandwich or cold slice of pizza or will you be angry the next day you don’t have it for lunch or dinner? You have to weigh the pros and cons. There’s always eggs but what a commitment that is and is there even any cheese or veggies to throw in them? Suddenly I’m not even sure there’s an apple left or I ate that last one for breakfast. Now I can’t remember. And if it’s not there then the walk down the hall costs precious minutes that will lead to heartbreak instead of closer to sleep.

If you fall asleep right now you’ll still get two hours of sleep. Two is bad but it could be worse.

Ok, it’s time. No more hesitating. Visualize the fridge. Focus on what you saw in there what feels like years ago when you were pouring a glass of water for your nightstand thinking you’d get into bed early and might wake up around 2am feeling a little thirsty. Earlier you was so full of hope (or massive amounts of denial, let’s be real). And drinking the water is not going to curb your hunger now, you’re too far gone. But what about a bowl of cereal? Although what if Brenda, your roommate, didn’t roll up the bag properly again and the Cocoa Puffs have gone soft? More of a nightmare than lying here trying to fall asleep into a subconscious one. Some studies say that snacking late at night contributes to nightmares, but eating also makes you tired so really it feels like a smart gamble to just get up and rummage around. All this visualizing has almost made me a bit sleepy. Almost can feel my body finding that right spot, the comfortable heaviness creeping in. The growl of my stomach becoming a distant echo as my eyes finally close.

If you fall asleep right now you’ll still get an hour of….

My eyes fly open. At this point, I can just get up and call it breakfast.

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About Woolly

A curious exploration of comfort, wellness, and modern life — emotionally supported by Casper. It’s a beautiful magazine published by a mattress. Come on, you know it’s not the weirdest thing to happen this year. The first issue includes a love letter to comfort pants, a skeptic's guide to crystals, and an adulting coloring book.