COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If a person eats sensibly all day and then digs into unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks at night, they may be eating the calories of an average breakfast before bedtime.

“There’s really not much differentiation between, did I have dinner at 8:30, or did I have dinner at 5 p.m. and now while I’m watching TV I have a tendency to snack on those foods,” said Dr. Chris Taylor, a professor of medical dietetics at Ohio State’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, who is a senior author of a new nutritional study.

He said the longer people are awake, the more opportunities they have to eat. In our culture that means unhealthy snacks. You’re getting an extra 255 calories on average if you’re not meeting your sleep recommendations, Taylor said.

“But if you’re not asleep, and if you stay awake longer, you actually have a greater energy need because you’re functional for a longer period of time throughout the day,” Taylor said.

A large national study of 10,000 people’s health and nutrition, which runs every two years, forms the basis for the work.

Surprisingly, the study found that Americans are drinking their calories almost as much as they’re eating snack foods.

“One of the things we saw from this data, one people are drinking their calories: so for non-alcoholic beverages, that would get into your sugar-sweetened beverages, your sodas, your colas, those kinds, as well as fruit drinks, but then also alcoholic beverages were part of that consumption.

“So more than half of calories that we saw that were coming from those nighttime eating occasions were from snacks and sweets and bakery items, and then drinking our calories,” Taylor said.

“Snacks and sweets accounted for the most at about 40% of the calories that we ate at night time. Alcoholic beverages were about 15-20% of the calories, and our non-alcoholic beverages such as soda and fruit drinks and such were roughly about 10% or so of our calories. So about half of the calories that we get at night are coming from drinking our beverages.”

So what are the solutions if you’re a person plagued by insomnia, or seem to need less sleep?

Eat a later dinner to carry you forward. If that’s impossible, snack on fruit, vegetables, low-fat cheese or yogurt — and Taylor’s favorite, peanut butter on whole wheat toast.

And be sure to stay clear of the sugary drinks. If you’re going to rely on traditional American snacks, keep tabs on the quantities.