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What Is Night Eating Syndrome? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis And Treatment

Night eating syndrome (NES) is a type of eating disorder in which people wake up several times at night to eat. It often makes them feel that they won't be able to sleep if they don't consume food, and this uncontrollable urge to consume food in the middle of the night, is called night eating syndrome. [1]

The condition may lead to excessive weight gain and chronic conditions like obesity, diabetes and heart diseases.

Let's know more about night eating syndrome. Take a look.

How Is Night Eating Syndrome Different From Other Eating Disorders?

Night eating syndrome is distinguished from other eating disorders like bulimia nervosa and binge-eating as the prior does not include compensatory behaviours like self-induced vomiting, fasting and diuretic misuse, which are the common symptoms of the latter. [2]

Also, people with night eating syndrome are fully awake while eating- they remember walking and eating at night- compared night, compared to people with other sleep-related eating disorders who often have no memory of their eating episodes the next day.

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Causes Of Night Eating Disorder

There are many factors that may lead to a night eating disorder. Some are:

  • Disorder of the circadian rhythm: Sometimes, due to late-night office hours or late-night studies, employees or students pick up habits of eating late at night, which get difficult to break after a few years due to alternations in the circadian rhythm, the body's natural clock that helps control hunger and sleep. This causes the body to release hunger hormones at night instead of during the day. [3]
  • Mental health issues: Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety may lead people to other conditions like NES.
  • Genes: Having a history of night eating syndrome or other eating disorders in the family may increase the risk of NES for other members. [4]
  • Daytime eating: People who are on a strict diet during the daytime may sometimes binge eat at night.

Symptoms Of Night Eating Syndrome

Some of the symptoms of night eating disorder may include:

  • Frequent episodes of eating late at night. [5]
  • Waking up at night and not able to control the urge to eat.
  • Remembering eating last night.
  • Eating more that 25 per cent of food at night.
  • Having smaller meals or snacks throughout the night.
  • Cravings for foods high in sugar and carbs.
  • Not feeling hungry in the morning or in the afternoon.
  • May feel ashamed of eating too much later.

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Risk Factors Of Night Eating Syndrome

Some of the risk factors for night eating disorder may include:

  • Having a preexisting mental health condition like depression. [6]
  • Having other eating disorders like bulimia nervosa.
  • Chronic alcoholism
  • Being obese.

Diagnosis Of Night Eating Syndrome

To diagnose the condition, the medical expert may ask questions related to symptoms like how often you wake up at night and what helps you sleep again. They may also ask questions about the patient's mood, emotions and pre-existing mental health, along with checking physical health like weight gain.

Treatments For Night Eating Syndrome

Some of the treatment methods for night eating disorder may include:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy: It may help change behaviours and thoughts that trigger the condition such as blocking the kitchen before sleeping to prevent going into the kitchen late at night. [7]
  • Psychotherapy: It helps target the underlying condition which is causing the disorder. It includes self-monitoring, reduction in dieting behaviours and meal planning.
  • Medication: Includes selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to reduce depressive symptoms and help maintain good sleep.

To Conclude

The symptoms of night eating syndrome are often ignored by people. This may increase the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and lower the quality of life. Consult a medical expert if you or your loved ones are experiencing the aforementioned symptoms.

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