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If you always find yourself in the kitchen in the middle of the night, you might be having the Night Eating Syndrome. You might eat very little during the day and only find yourself comfortable eating a lot at night. Here we discuss the Night Eating Syndrome, the causes, signs and symptoms, and how to overcome the condition.
What is Night Eating Syndrome (NES?)
Night Eating Syndrome (NES) results in an individual eating large amounts of calories majorly in the evening or night hours. It is common for someone to experience sleep disorder and insomnia to get up and eat. The individual is fully aware that they wake up to eat, unlike other sleep disorders.
NES falls under Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders Category (OSFED), not under Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Some other conditions that fall under OSFED are limited duration binge eating and bulimia and atypical anorexia nervosa, which differs from the typical anorexia since the individual is not considered underweight.
Causes of the NES
Studies have proven that high levels of stress make the body release some hormones that might directly impact on the appetite. The body generates more cortisol that creates more desire for high-fat foods. It impacts directly to weight gain.
Many people crave foods when angry, sad, depressed, or stressed. It leads to the desire to eat high-glycemic foods, which increase tryptophan, an amino acid. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin to enhance the happy mood. Therefore, sad people frequently tend to suffer from NES.
Under-eating throughout the day
Low-calorie intake habit during the day gets compensated at night. The satisfaction cannot be met in a single meal. You will end up waking at night, rushing to the fridge to grab a bite.
Working shift work
If you work at night, you must be used to eating a lot during the night. Changing your shift to daytime will leave you craving for more food at night than during the day.
Lack of enough sleep alters ghrelin and leptin, which are responsible for hunger and fullness. Leptin makes you feel satisfied after eating while ghrelin boosts your appetite when hungry. Sleep deprivation increases ghrelin and lowers leptin leading to overeating and weight gain.
NES signs and symptoms
You must observe the following signs and symptoms to verify that you diagnose from NES:
- Significant higher food intake in the evening and night hours. It may be accompanied by waking up at night to eat, at least twice a week.
- The person is fully aware that they wake up to eat, not caused by a sleeping disorder but a Sleep-Related Eating Disorder.
- The individual can observe at least 3 signs in this list:
- Low desire to eat in the morning 4+ days in a week.
- Strong desire to eat after the last meal before bed or during the night.
- Insomnia at least 4 days a week.
- Desire to eat to fall asleep or after waking at night.
- Feeling more depressed in the evenings.
- A disordered eating pattern for like 3 months.
- You experience less significant stress.
- Eating disorder is not as a result of other medical conditions.
Further signs of sleeping disorders are:
- Eating to uncomfortable fullness.
- Negative body image.
- Eating in secret.
- Eating even when not hungry.
- You have no control of your eating habits
How does Night Eating Syndrome (NES) affect your health?
NES has closely been associated with obesity and overweight. People with NES approximately take twice proteins and carbohydrates, and four times fats and oils compared to those without NES.
People with NES tend to experience sleep disorders. Sleep disorders expose them to type 2 diabetes. It has been proven that people who get 4-6 hours of sleep are at a higher risk of getting diabetes. Deprivation of sleep increases hunger hormones and reduced insulin. Reduced insulin leads to high sugar accumulation in the bloodstream leading to diabetes.
Sleep deprivation has closely been associated with an increase in cholesterol levels. It increases the bad cholesterol, LDL and reduces the good cholesterol, HDL. That puts one at high risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, e.g. stroke and heart attack. Eating high-sugar foods brings excess calories which are stored as triglycerides that can lead to the inflamed pancreas or cardiovascular diseases.
Tips to overcome NES
There is always a way to get out of your eating disorders. However, it takes time, patience, and consistency in changing and adapting to the new eating patterns.
Eat consistently throughout the day
Nourish your body continuously throughout the day to overcome night-time cravings. Avoid skipping or under-eating, or else you will have to compensate it at night.
Practice sustainable eating habits
Pick a healthy diet plan and stick to it. Eat enough food to satisfy you appropriately. Do not over-eat or starve yourself.
Supply your body with plenty of water and other fluids, and you will experience fewer cravings. Practice alternating your desire for a snack with a glass of water.
Practice good sleep hygiene
These are the suggestions by the National Sleep Foundation:
- Do not nap more than 30 minutes during the day.
- Do physical exercises daytime, not before bedtime.
- Avoid nicotine and caffeine when about to sleep.
- Practice a healthy sleeping routine and emotional upsets before bedtime.
- Sleep in a conducive environment without TV light, noise, or extreme temperatures.
Choose the right bedtime snack
Take a light snack, preferably dairy products, fruits, or vegetables to help improve your dietary sleeping disorders.
When should you see a doctor?
If you have confirmed the signs we have highlighted, make sure that you try the tips above and see if you will get promising results. If that does not work for you, step up to visit a doctor. This condition is treatable. You might be advised to see a mental counselor for cognitive behavioral therapy or be given antidepressants.
That occasional “midnight snack” will do you no harm to your health. However, consistency in waking up to eat at night will, for sure, be of negative impact on your health. Remember that night eating syndrome is linked to sleeping disorders which expose you to dangerous lifestyle diseases. Kindly try our helpful tips recommended here. If they do not work, visit your healthcare provider for more advanced treatment if need be.