Contributed by: Nancy Dixit
If you or someone you know is engaging in repetitive nighttime eating even without being hungry, then it’s high time to be concerned about and take appropriate actions.
On the basis of new research, an eating disorder whose hallmark is excessive eating at nighttime, but not always outright binging, maybe a warning sign of more serious mental health issues and should be taken seriously.
Individuals with night eating syndrome (NES) often describe feelings such as a lack of control over their eating behaviours, resulting in feelings of guilt and shame related to their condition.
Did you know, that some surveys have shown that night eating syndrome could run in families, and some specific genes could be involved?
What is Night Eating Syndrome (NES)?
Night eating syndrome (NES) is generally defined as consumption of at least ≥ 25% of total daily calories after dinner and/or frequent nocturnal awakenings.
Night Eating syndrome (NES), which is also known as a nocturnal eating syndrome, is a condition that combines overeating at night with interrupted sleep (insomnia).
Those suffering from Night eating syndrome eat a lot of food after the evening meal and wake up often during the night to eat.
It can also lead to an increased risk of certain comorbidities like diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol level and high blood pressure (hypertension).
How NES is different from other eating disorders (such as SRED and BED)
Night eating syndrome (NES) is different from binge eating disorder (BED).
With BED, you are more likely to eat a lot in a single sitting. While, in the case of NES, it’s likely that you eat fewer calories throughout the night.
It is also important to distinguish between NES and Sleep-related eating disorders (SRED).
The people with NES are awake and fully aware that they are eating. On the other hand, people with a sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), get out of bed and consume often large quantities of food without conscious awareness.
The following symptoms are associated with NES:
Those with night eating syndrome may be overweight or obese.
- Anxiety, or depression
Nighttime is a time when they are more inclined to be depressed.
- Sleep disorders
People may also have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Dropped appetite in the morning
People with NES, usually do not feel hungry in the early part of the day. They may go several hours without eating their first meal of the day. Later in the evening, they may consume more than a quarter of the food they consume each day.
- A strong urge to eat between dinner and sleep
People with this disorder eat more than 25% of their daily food intake at night. They eat numerous calories at night. They frequently seek high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, or high-sugar foods.
People experience a lack of sleep or poor sleep on at least four or five nights every week.
- Believe that eating is an essential part of getting to sleep or getting back to sleep
It’s characterized by symptoms like waking up at night to eat or feeling as if you cannot get back to sleep unless you eat something.
Among the causes or etiologies of Night Eating Syndrome, NES is usually caused by a variety of contributing factors, including:
- Delay in the circadian pattern of food intake
The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural “clock” that keeps your sleeping and eating patterns on track. If you are suffering from NES, then your body releases some hormones responsible for hunger and alertness at night rather than during the day.
- Alterations in the sleep-wake rhythm (the beginning and end of the sleep time) genes
Genes may play a role in who gets the disorder and affect the sleep-wake rhythm.
- Hormonal issues
In patients with NES, melatonin, and leptin levels (hormones that regulate sleep and hunger respectively) tend to be reduced at night, which may contribute to nocturnal awakenings accompanied by food ingestion.
- Anxiety and sadness are common mental health issues that might contribute to NES.
- Extreme dieting during the day
People who limit their food intake during the day may be more likely to binge at night.
Treatment of Night Eating Syndrome (NES)
- In general, night eating syndrome is treated with a combination of medical and behavioural cures, interpersonal therapy (IT), and stress management.
- Educating and counselling patients about their conditions. Explaining how to reduce symptoms and gain independence and control.
- Antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy.
- The production of melatonin or substances that enhance melatonin production helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythm.
The night eating disorder, due to the effects on the body of overeating food in a shorter period of time, can make the person overweight, which itself acts as a catalyst for certain medical conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes etc.
Additionally, night eating syndrome (NES) may have genetic roots. For people who are genetically predisposed, stress may trigger low serotonin levels, which may alter the internal body clock and interferes with feelings of fullness.
In order to determine how vulnerable you might be to acquiring hereditary night-eating syndrome (NES), customized DNA testing is your best option.
Individuals with this condition can consult a healthcare provider and undergo therapy to help them to tackle their unusual eating patterns.
Furthermore, you should also undergo preventive health checkups. These health checks give a complete report about your health, allowing you to take necessary precautionary measures to improve your well-being and keep a host of ailments at bay.