Night Eating Syndrome

Parasomnia as the doctors considered it includes a number of disorders of arousal or disruptive sleep events including nightmares, sleepwalking, violent behavior while sleeping, in which a person moves their physical body in response to events within their dreams. Night eating syndrome is one of them.

Night-eating syndrome has not yet been formally defined as an eating disorder underlying causes is being identified, and treatment plans are still being developed. It seems likely that a combination of biological, genetic, and emotional factors contribute to the problem. NES may run in families. At this time is appears to respond to treatment with the SSRI sertraline (a prescription medication). NES is remarkable for characteristic disturbances in the circadian rhythm of food intake while the circadian sleep rhythm remains normal.

Signs and symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome

    • The person has little or no appetite for breakfast. Delays first meal for several hours after waking up is not hungry or is upset
    • Eats more food after dinner than during that meal
    • Eats more than half of daily food intake during and after dinner but before breakfast. May wake up and leave the bed to snack at night. May not be aware at the time of what they are doing.
    • This pattern has persisted for at least two months
    • Person feels tense, anxious, upset, or guilty while eating.
    • NES is thought to be stress related and is often accompanied by depression. Especially at night the person may be moody, tense, anxious, nervous, agitated, etc.
    • Has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Wakes frequently and then often eats.
    • Foods ingested are often carbohydrates: sugary and starch
    • Behavior is not like binge eating which is done in relatively short episodes. Night-eating syndrome involves continual eating throughout evening hours.

How many % people have night-eating syndrome?

Perhaps only one to two percent (1-2%) of adults in the general population has this problem, but research at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Medicine suggests that about six percent of people who seek treatment for obesity have NES. Another study suggests that more than a quarter (27%) of people who are overweight by at least 100 pounds have the problem.

How can you get Night Eating Syndrome?

One theory postulates that people with this condition are under stress, either recognized or hidden. Their bodies are flooded with cortisol, a stress hormone. Eating may be the body's attempt to neutralize cortisol or slow down its production. More research needs to be done before this explanation can be accepted or rejected. In any event, stress appears to be a cause or trigger of NES, and stress-reduction programs, including mental health therapy, seem to help. Researchers are especially interested in the foods chosen by night eaters. The heavy preference for carbohydrates, which trigger the brain to produce so-called "feel-good" neurochemicals, suggests that night eating may be an unconscious attempt to self-medicate mood problems and relieve stress.

Is Night Eating Syndrome curable? What is the treatment of it?

If you are seeking help for night-eating syndrome, you would be wise to schedule a complete physical exam with your physician and also an evaluation with a counselor trained in the field of eating disorders. In addition, a dietitian can help develop meal plans that distribute intake more evenly throughout the day so that you are not so vulnerable to caloric loading in the evening. Evaluation in a sleep laboratory could be worthwhile. Most large hospitals have such facilities. It is not yet clear whether night eating is an eating disorder or sleep disorder or both. The more information available to the person and treatment team, the greater the chances are of developing an effective treatment plan.


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