If you crave night snacks, your health might be in danger! A consistent need to eat at night time might be a signal of experiencing night eating syndrome.
Let us admit... Most of us like to have a little bite during late evening hours, or at least most people can find it quite tempting! Especially when we can not sleep, feel worried or feel peckish after dinner-time. But, when eating in the middle of the night becomes an urge, your health might be in danger.
A consistent need to eat at night time might be a signal of experiencing night eating syndrome or nocturnal eating syndrome. Nocturnal eating syndrome or NES disorder is a serious eating disorder that is linked to many serious health issues, such as depression, stress, abnormal sleep patterns or hormonal imbalances.
What Is Night Eating Syndrome?
You might wonder, what is night eating syndrome?
NES disorder is a lack of appetite during breakfast time, overeating during dinner time and waking up to eat throughout the night.
Characteristics of Night Eating Syndrome
Firstly, when the intake of approximately 25% of the whole daily calorie consumption happens during dinner time. And secondly, when you find yourself waking up around 3 times per week to find a night snack.
It is important to know, that night eating syndrome is not the same as having a binge eating disorder. However, people with night eating syndrome often are binge eaters too.
The big difference is that people with night eating syndrome do not necessarily eat large amounts of food during the dinner time. They have more control over how much food they eat at once. Instead, they have issues in keeping eating patterns.
People which experience night eating syndrome wake up during the night time to have a snack in order to sleep better. The amount of food is usually very small. A good example would be to have a bowl of cereal or a chocolate bar.
Individuals with night eating disorder feel like they have no control over their eating patterns. They are often not hungry during breakfast time, but overeat during dinner time and have an urge to eat during the night time.
Night eaters often feel ashamed or guilty because of their condition. This leads to failure to recognise the problem. In turn, looking for nighttime eating syndrome treatments also becomes a problem.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nocturnal eating disorder affects approximately 1.5% of the general population and is equally known to affect both men and women.
What Causes NES Disorder?
Common Causes of the Night Eating Syndrome
Researchers of the NIMH state that identifying the exact causes of night eating syndrome is quite difficult. The causes of what leads to the development of a night eating disorder are a variety of different factors. For example, a college student who picked up an eating habit at night finds it very difficult to break it when he/she becomes a working adult.
Interestingly, night eaters are usually hard-working individuals or high achievers! It is very common among those who work hard during the day since they skip lunch time! In order to compensate their hunger, they overeat during the night time.
Ironically, night eating syndrome can also be caused by dieting. When people restrict their calorie intake during the daytime, their body sends the signals of hunger during the evening. People think it is good to overeat during the dinner time and snack during the night time, because they had nothing to eat during the day!
Eating at night is also strongly associated with psychological symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety. The disturbance in mental health can trigger the urge to eating at night.
Although it is hard for the researchers to identify exact causes for night eating syndrome, the 3 most common ones are known to be: dysfunctional circadian rhythm, low hormone levels and mental health disorders.
Dysfunctional Circadian Rhythm
Night eating syndrome is linked to a dysfunction in the circadian rhythm. The Circadian rhythm is your 24-hour internal clock, that tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake. It is also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
People with nocturnal eating syndrome experience hunger at different times in their sleep/wake cycle in comparison to the rest of the population. Instead of feeling hungry in the morning, people having night eating syndrome feel hungry when it gets dark. Mostly during their sleep or during their attempt to fall asleep.
Low Hormone Levels
According to the University of Pennsylvania Health System, night eating syndrome is also associated with low levels of the hormones. This affects an individual’s appetite, mood and sleep. These hormones are known as melatonin, leptin and cortisol. The low levels in these hormones can cause disturbances in desire to have rest and consume food.
Mental Health Disorder
People with depression or anxiety tend to turn into night eaters and develop a night eating disorder. It is because a mental disorder can trigger emotional eating which over time becomes a night eating syndrome.
However, the cause and effect may also be the other way around. A night eater may also experience mental health issues due to this syndrome. Night eaters often experience depression and even anxiety because of their compulsive eating during the nighttime.
People with this syndrome feel ashamed or guilty because of their habit. This can cause a failure in communicating the problem. In turn, this may cause a mental condition if not treated correctly.
Health Issues of NES
Treat night eating syndrome
Night eating syndrome is a serious disorder that should be recognised and treated. When it is ignored, it can have a serious impact on your health, sleeping patterns and diet. Although many believe that it is a myth, the evidence proves otherwise. Let us have a look at the 3 main health issues from the night eating syndrome!
Overweight / Obesity
Night eaters consume the most of their daily food during the nighttime. It puts a lot of stress to their digestive system during the time when they should be resting.
As a result of a seemingly innocent late night eating habit, a lot of nocturnal eaters struggle with overweight or even obesity. Obesity can lead to a number of really serious, chronic health complications:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Certain types of cancer
By now, it is clear that those with nocturnal eating syndrome love eating at night! However, a night eating disorder can affect you not only physically but also mentally.
In fact, interrupted sleep can cause a lot of problems later when you are awake! Getting up and reaching for a snack in the middle of the night does not only interrupt your sleep, but also affect your mood, memory and cognitive performance.
The loss of sleep can affect your concentration, increase the risk of accidental injuries and be part of a developing depression and anxiety.
People with night eating syndrome are reportedly very distressed. It is reported that patients with night eating disorder often feel ashamed and guilty of their night habits. In fact, they do not want to report these factors, which leads to unrecognised depression.
It also can be other way around, because of your depression you can turn to be a night eater and grab little meals around nighttime!
If you are waking up approximately 3 times a week during the night in order to reach a for a little night snack, you should consider contacting your doctor.
According to a study, when the cause of depression is a nocturnal eating disorder, people may experience clinical depression. Clinical depression is an even more severe form of depression and is caused by an illness.
Interestingly, night eaters are also found to be the most depressed during the night time!
What Are The Symptoms?
Night Eating Disorder
- You have very little or no appetite for breakfast! It can also be that you always delay your breakfast meals for several hours in the morning.
- You do not feel like eating breakfast because you are upset of how much you ate the day/night before!
- You eat more food after dinner than during the meal.
- You eat more than half of your daily food intake during or after dinner-time.
- You leave the bed for midnight snack (several times).
- The pattern of night eating is continuing for at least 2 months.
- You feel anxious, tense, upset or guilty while eating!
- Night eating syndrome is known to be stress related and followed by depression. You mostly feel moody, tense and upset during the night time.
- You have troubles sleeping and/or falling asleep. You wake up often during the night and think eating will help you to fall asleep again.
- The foods that you eat/snack after dinner-time are usually carbohydrates (such as sugar or starch).
- Remember to distinguish between night eating disorder and binge eating. Binge eating is a huge amount of food in a short period of time. Night eaters continuously eat throughout the evening and nighttime and not necessarily in big amounts.
- Your eating habits seem to evoke shame and guilt in you, rather than enjoyment while eating!
You should also know, that night eaters are usually overweight or have obesity disorders. People who have night eating syndrome feel like they have no control over their eating habits and often eat secretly - even if they are not hungry.
People with night eating disorder might also hide their food. This makes it easier to reach during the night. Also, it is because they feel embarrassed about their need for a late mid-night snack! They typically eat faster than other people and feel loss of control over their eating.
Patients with this night eating disorder may also experience weight gain, frequent failure at dieting, substance abuse, concern with their weight and shape, perfectionism and a negative self-image.
Night Eating Syndrome Treatments
Nocturnal eating disorder treatment
Now you know all about the causes and effects which might be related to night eating syndrome. How do you stop night eating syndrome? What are the treatments for night eating disorder?
The secret of the cure for night eating syndrome is a combination of therapies. First of all, in order to fully recover from it, it needs to recognised as a disorder. The necessary therapies can then be assigned to you, depending on the severity of your condition.
A necessary treatment plan for night eating syndrome includes controlling your physical cravings for food, emotional roots of your disorder and your disrupted sleep habits. Depending on your conditions, there are the main treatments on how to stop night eating syndrome:
- Restoring the levels of your hormones that affect your sleep and eating habits. The treatment for this might require you to take melatonin supplements. It helps you to get more satisfying sleep, which in return can suppress your need for midnight eating.
- Treating a mental disorder. If you are diagnosed with a mood disorder or an anxiety disorder, these conditions must be treated by mental health professionals.
- Participating in various stress reduction programs. Because night eating disorder is usually followed by stress and anxiety, it is very advisable to follow some programs in order to eliminate these triggers. The best therapy in this case is known to be yoga classes! It is not only relaxing, but it may also reduce your need for midnight snacking!
- Working with nutritionist or dietitian. This treatment is a very effective one against night eating syndrome. A good dietitian can help you to plan healthy meals, have good times for your meals, as well as balance your meal and snack episodes. It is also perfect if you want to go back to your normal body weight!
Night eating syndrome is underrated and usually overlooked as a disorder. It must be taken seriously, and people should be aware of the possible causes and effects. In addition, you should also and know how to treat it! If you are a night eater, take it seriously and may your midnight snacks never become dangerous to your health!