Do you often get up at night to eat? And in the morning you do not understand where the food from the refrigerator has gone? There is probably no person on earth, who hasn’t sneaked to the fridge at night. But if you do this regularly, then it might become a deeper problem and a threat to your mental and physical health.
What is Night Eating Syndrome?
Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is known to be a condition that combines (over)-eating at night with sleep problems. A person who struggles with Night Eating Syndrome eats a lot after dinner, has troubles with sleeping and wakes up at night for eating.
Typical symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome:
- You eat at least a quarter of your daily calories after dinner (“Evening hyperphagia“)
- You wake up during the night at least twice a week and eat
- You feel tired, bloated and exhausted the morning after
- You have a lack of appetite in the morning (so-called “Morning anorexia“)
- You have a strong urge to eat between dinner and sleep
- You struggle with insomnia four or five nights a week
- You need to eat in order to be able to sleep
- You feel more depressed during the evening hours
Please remember that these listed symptoms are just general symptoms that don’t need to be present in everyone struggling with Night Eating Syndrome. Since each person is unique and comes from a unique background, also their symptoms can be unique to them. However, the most common symptoms include troubles with sleeping and having a strong urge to eat after dinner and/or during the night.
The difference between Binge Eating Disorder and Night Eating Syndrome
Night Eating Syndrome is different from Binge Eating Disorder for some specific reasons. If a person struggles with Binge Eating Disorder they are more likely to eat a great amount of food in a single sitting. People who struggle with Night Eating Syndrome don’t necessarily eat large amounts of food in one sitting. It can be but it doesn’t have to be. Night Eating Syndrome can also show up as a form of eating smaller amounts of food throughout the night. If someone struggles with Binge Eating Disorder it can also happen that they experience so-called “black-out binges“ which means that a person doesn’t remember the next morning that they have binged out on food. This is not a common symptom in Night Eating Syndrome since people are very aware of their eating behavior and that they have eaten during the night or before going to bed.
What are the causes of Night Eating Syndrome?
There can be many reasons why someone struggles with Night Eating Syndrome. For most people there is a relation between the eating disorder and another mental disorder such as depression, anxiety or hypochondria. People tend to get more anxious and/or agitated in the evening. That makes them physically hungrier in the evening since hunger hormones increase at night due to the body’s staying in a so-called stress-response-mode. Night eating is a great tool that the body uses to make the mind feel calmer and perhaps even “numbs“ a person. Furthermore it helps a person to feel sleepy enough to fall asleep.
Night eating can also become a form of “habit“. People who struggle with night eating behaviors often experience feelings of shame and guilt which makes them become emotionally attached to eating more food in the evening. Over time they become used to eat during the evening and/or night and also having poor sleep and mood issues. The mind literally gets used to needing food to fall asleep. This cycle is hard to break the longer a person lives in it.
Let’s talk about some ways to get rid of the Night Eating Syndrome
First it is important to note that if you are struggling with night eating then you don’t need to worry. You are not alone in this and there is help for you. Many people who struggle with Night Eating Syndrome are afraid of seeking out for help because they think there is no support available for them which is absolutely wrong. Night eating is highly treatable and most sufferers will respond well to relatively simple interventions. However, it is better to get help sooner rather than later.
- To get started, try to establish a proper nutritional system: Eat regular meals throughout the day. And even if you have a lack of an appetite in the morning or during the daytime, you should try to eat regular meals. Increase your food intake during the day slowly and try to eat earlier and earlier throughout the day. The best would be to start with 3 meals a day and then increase to every two to three hours.
- Work on your nighttime routine. Change your current routine and switch to one that can help you relax and feel calmer. Turn off your screens earlier in the evening and establish habits that signal your body sleep. This could be drinking a cup of decaffeinated tea, reading a book in low light or doing some meditation.
- Do not eat three hours before bedtime, especially avoid junk food: chips, sweets, fast food that will provoke an appetite again after a while.
- Coffee and black/green tea, as well as caffeinated drinks, should better be consumed in the first half of the day.
- Boost positivity. Improve by finding more reasons for joy, communication with positive people or doing something that inspires you.
- Associate your bed with sleep: Incorporating interventions like limiting light in the evening and increasing exposure to bright light in the morning will help your brain to link sleep with your bed. Also only use your bed for sleeping but not for watching TV, working or eating.
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