More than a midnight craving: Night eating syndrome explained


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For most people, sleep serves as a much-needed respite from their busy waking hours. But for those with night eating syndrome, sleep is accompanied by frequent trips to the kitchen and uncontrollable late-night binges. Here’s what you need to know about the disorder:


What is NES?

NES, which affects about 1% of the population, occurs when people suffer from a lack of appetite in the morning, routinely awaken at night and must eat in order to get back to sleep. Some people with NES don’t remember their nighttime eating binges, leaving them to wonder where all the bananas went or how that mysteriously empty Pringles can materialized.


What causes it?

Experts have identified both stress and depression as triggers than can cause NES. In many cases, food serves as a familiar comfort that temporarily inhibits stress-inducing hormones.


How does it affect health?

NES is most commonly linked with obesity, which comes with a host of health risks, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. People attempting to diet can find themselves utterly undermined by NES, as reduced caloric intake during the day can stimulate even heavier food consumption during nighttime binges.


Is it treatable?

Although NES was first identified more than 50 years ago, it remains lesser known than other sleep and eating disorders. As a result, doctors often don’t think to diagnose NES, merely characterizing their patients’ nighttime behaviors as bad habits instead.

NES can be treated in a variety of ways, including undergoing psychotherapy, taking antidepressants or completing a sleep study to identify other disruptive sleep conditions. Many doctors encourage NES sufferers to increase their exercise regimens and keep journals documenting food intake and sleep times to help regulate their behavior.