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Night Eating Syndrome

Topic Overview

What is night eating syndrome?

Night eating syndrome is a condition in which people eat large amounts of food after the evening meal, often waking up during the night to eat. People with this condition may delay their first meal of the day for many hours.

Experts still do not know very much about night eating syndrome, but they continue to study the condition.

What causes night eating syndrome?

Doctors are not sure what causes night eating syndrome. But some studies show that it may be related to problems with the sleep-wake cycle and certain hormones.

What are the symptoms of night eating syndrome?

People with night eating syndrome do remember eating during the night. They usually do not feel hungry in the early part of the day. They may delay their first meal of the day for many hours. Then later, after the evening meal, they may eat more than a quarter of the food they eat each day.

This pattern of eating cannot be explained by changes in the person's sleep schedule or local social routines (for example, a custom of eating late at night). People with this problem feel upset about their night eating.

People with night eating syndrome also have sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. People with this problem are more likely to be obese. And depression is common in people who have night eating syndrome.

Night eating syndrome is different from binge eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder usually do not have episodes of binge eating during the night (10 p.m. to 6 a.m.). But if they do, they eat large amounts of food in a single sitting. People with night eating syndrome tend to eat smaller amounts of food many times during the night.

How is night eating syndrome diagnosed?

To find out if you have night eating syndrome, your doctor will ask questions about your medical history and eating patterns. Night eating syndrome often happens along with sleep problems, so your doctor may want to do tests of your sleep (polysomnography).

How is night eating syndrome treated?

There is no evidence-based treatment for night eating syndrome. But doctors have seen some success with cognitive-behavioral therapy and with antidepressants.

Related Information

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Milano W, et al. (2012). Night eating syndrome: An overview. Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, 64(1): 2–10.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Last Revised August 9, 2013

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