What is Night Eating Syndrome?

August 6, 2019
People with night dining syndrome may hardly eat in the morning and often have a strong urge to eat between dinner and sleep. They may also suffer from insomnia.

Have you ever binged on food late at night? If so, you may have some experience with night eating syndrome.

People with this syndrome get up in the middle of the night to eat. They often eat at that time because they wake up with an uncontrollable desire to eat.

However, this may only happen at night. During the day, they may either lack appetite or simply not eat because they’re under a more strict diet.

These night eaters aren’t alone though. Night eating is, in fact, quite common. About 1 in 100 people have night eating syndrome.

What is Night Eating?

Binge eating is a serious problem, and you can identify it with two basic characteristics:

  • The person will eat a large amount of food, a lot larger than what someone would eat under similar circumstances.
  • There’s a feeling of lack of control. The person cannot stop eating and lacks control over anything around their binging activities.

Characteristics of Night Eating Syndrome

A woman reading and eating by the fridge.

Who hasn’t heard about eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia?

However, believe it or not, night eating is a lot more common.

People with this kind of syndrome often have trouble controlling their emotions and often experience panic attacks in the form of:

According to some psychologists, people who experience night eating syndrome usually have weight problems. This is most likely because they eat most of their food after hours when they should be sleeping instead.

Furthermore, 20% of obese people admit to feeling much better and satisfied when eating at night. Similarly, more than 75% of them act on this desire.

However, even though this condition is a lot more common in obese and overweight people, it can affect anyone.

You may be interested: Emotional Hunger: Why People Eat Their Emotions

Symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome

The symptoms and patterns of this condition are clear and often repeat among those with the eating disorder. As we mentioned above, people with night eating syndrome barely eat throughout the day or don’t eat anything at all. They just seem to lack appetite during the day.

Moreover, these people are usually more energetic in the morning, although their energy fades throughout the day. Also, it’s very common for these people to also experience sleeping disorders.

The most consumed foods they eat are usually high in carbohydrates such as sweets, pastries, bread, rice, and pasta, among others.

People with night eating syndrome are usually aware they have a problem. Therefore, they often feel depressed and ashamed of themselves. Unfortutely, the condition worsens when they’re under stress.

Tips to Prevent and Treat Night Eating Syndrome

A woman holding hands with a man.
Therapy could help you find out the exact cause of your unhealthy eating habits and also help you deal with them.

The exact causes of this syndrome are still under investigation, and so it’s its treatment. What we do know is that it’s not a good idea to address the problem via the subject of excess weight. It’s a sensitive subject, and the night eater already knows it and feels guilty about it.

Also, unlike other eating disorders, this one isn’t necessarily about weight or self-image. That is, these people aren’t necessarily dissatisfied with their bodies (at least it isn’t their main concern).

It’s for this reason that the priority is to understand where their feelings of anxiety come from and why they try to soothe them with food. Therefore, the solution usually requires multidisciplinary intervention from professionals in the fields of psychology, psychiatry, and nutrition.

For this reason, the following advice takes a couple of perspectives into consideration.

Nutritional Perspective

  • People with night eating syndrome need to follow a proper diet and adapt it to their condition.
  • They should exercise at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Rest is essential for one’s health, both quantity and quality. They must learn techniques to help them get enough rest.
  • They should reduce their stress by spending time on the things they enjoy. Social life and shared activities are essential to be in good health.

Psychological Perspective

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help a person afflicted with night eating syndrome understand and gradually change their behavior. It can help them organize their thoughts and manage the stress and anxiety related to their condition.

Also read: Six Healthy Snacks You Can Eat Before Going to Bed

Conclusion

Night eating syndrome is a lot more common than better-known anorexia and bulimia.

Therefore, it’s important to establish a multidisciplinary approach to solve it by focusing first on the treatment of the anxiety that triggers night eating.

Don’t hesitate to get professional health if you think you’re binge eating or if your levels of anxiety are high.

  • Errandonea, I. (2012). Obesidad y Trastornos de Alimentación. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0716-8640(12)70294-8
  • Ellenberg, C., Verdi, B., Ayala, L., Ferri, C., Marcano, Y., & Vivas de Vega, J. (2006). Síndrome de comedor nocturno: un nuevo trastorno de la conducta alimentaria TT – The night eating syndrome: a new eating disorden. An. Venez. Nutr.
  • Silva, F. (2010). Trastornos del Ritmo Circadiano del Sueño: fisiopatología, clasificación y tratamientos. Universidad Católica de Chile.