What Is Night Eating Syndrome? Know Its Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Night Eating Syndrome is a kind of eating disorder, but it has a strong link with insomnia. According to Dr Nikhil Kulkarni, who is a Consultant-Internal Medicine at S.L Raheja Hospital, Mahim, “Night eating syndrome (NES) is a condition characterised by a pattern of recurrent episodes of eating during the night time or waking up during the night to eat. People with NES often consume a significant portion of their daily calorie intake after their evening meal or wake up at least once during the night to eat.”

In this article, we will delve into the causes, symptoms, treatmentn options and check all about Night-Eating Syndrome.

What Is Night-Eating Syndrome? 

Night- Eating Syndrome is a complex condition, and it can vary from person to person. 

Talking about this, Dr. Ruchi Jain who is a Consultant at the Psychology department of Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai said, “Night-Eating Syndrome (NES) is an eating disorder that occurs along with frequent sleep interruptions. People with NES may wake up several times in one night to eat. They feel that they won’t be able to get back to sleep without eating, and may feel ashamed or depressed about it. Those suffering from NES typically consume a significant portion of their daily caloric intake during the evening and night time hours.”

Causes Of Night-Eating Syndrome:

Sanghamitra Chakraborty, who is the HOD of Dept. of Nutrition & Dietetics at Medica Superspecialty Hospital said, “The causes are many, mainly it is due to the circadian rhythm, which is disrupted due to faulty sleeping habits, night shifts, or regular schedules. It can be due to stress, drugs, or any other reasons.”

“When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, people struggle to sleep at night, increasing the tendency towards this kind of disorder. It’s often linked to people experiencing insomnia, which can result from the disruption of the circadian rhythm, substance abuse, stress due to situations like bereavement or depression, or other related disorders. Hormonal changes during menopause can also contribute,” she added.

Sanghamitra also said that there are multiple reasons for this disorder and typically, people experience what is known as hyperphagia, an open desire to eat at night. This usually occurs after dinner, regardless of whether it’s a late or early dinner. That hunger persists even after eating.

Talking about how it leads to obesity, Sanghamitra said, “Almost one third or one fourth of their daily calorie intake occurs during the night, between dinner and early morning. So, a significant amount of calories are consumed during this period, leading to obesity, thereby creating a cyclical issue. Obesity can lead to hormonal imbalances, which can further exacerbate the problem, continuing the cycle.”

The Symptoms Of Night- Eating Syndrome: 

Dr. Ruchi Jain went on to list the symptoms commonly seen in people sufereing from Night Eating Syndrome.

  • Waking up to eat: People with NES usually have insomnia.
  • Eating many calories at night: People with this disorder eat more  than 25% of their daily food intake at night. They may eat late at night before they go to bed, during the night or both. 
  • Decreased appetite during the day: Intense hunger and overeating  happens later in the evening and during the night. Some people don’t feel hungry until later in the afternoon. 
  • Depression and anxiety: Mental health conditions such as  depression and anxiety often occur along with NES.

Who Are Affected By Night-Eating Syndrome? 

In this regard, Dr. Ruchi Jain said the following:

  • One is more likely to have Night- Eating Syndrome if he/ she is  obese or has another eating disorder. 
  • A history of depression and anxiety 
  • History of substance abuse  
  • The age of onset is typically in early adulthood (spanning from late teenage years to late twenties) and is often long-lasting.
  • The prevalence of NES is higher in women than in men. 
  • Individuals who have a history of dieting, especially restrictive diets, weight fluctuations and who are obsessively concerned about their weight are more susceptible to developing NES. 
  • Psychological Factors: Emotional distress, stress, anxiety, and  depression can be linked to NES. People with NES may use night  time eating as a way to cope with emotional issues. 
  • Genetic and/ or biological factors may play a role in NES. Imbalances in hormones that regulate appetite and sleep patterns could also be involved. 
  • Certain environmental factors, such as erratic schedule, working  night shifts, or living in a home where eating at night is common, may contribute to the development of NES. 

Treatment Of Night-Eating Syndrome:

Sanghamitra Chakraborty said, “The treatment involves identifying the root cause of insomnia and addressing it. If a person sleeps on time, they won’t feel hungry at odd hours, allowing their body to detoxify during sleep. From 11:00 PM onwards, the liver begins its detoxification and cleansing process. If someone is sleeping, this process occurs. However, if they’re eating excessively, their digestive system becomes overburdened. Typically, people crave sweets and high-calorie foods due to extreme hunger. This leads to intake of wrong and excessive calories.”

Adding to it, Dr Nikhil Kulkarni said, “Treatment may involve a combination of therapies, including cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), medication, and nutritional counselling to help establish healthier eating patterns and manage any underlying emotional or psychological factors.”