How to treat Night Eating Syndrome

Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is a disorder that causes people to eat an excessive amount of food either just before bedtime or in the middle of the night. Although it is not formally recognized as an eating disorder, it has many of the symptoms and consequences of one, including a compulsive need to eat, feelings of guilt or shame over eating behavior, obsessing over food, feeling out of control, and physical and mental health consequences. People who suffer from NES are at a high risk for obesity and depression, which makes it very important to recognize the symptoms and learn how to treat Night Eating Syndrome.

Symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome

People who suffer from Night Eating Syndrome will typically limit the amount of food they eat throughout the day and then compensate by binging just before bedtime or by waking up in the middle of the night in order to eat. This pattern of self-starvation and over-consumption causes many individuals with NES to develop insomnia or other sleep disturbances. Many people with this disorder will feel as if they cannot fall asleep unless they eat right before going to bed; however, some individuals suffering from NES will not even be aware that they are eating at night because they are waking up and eating in a sleep-walking state.

Other symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome are:

* Binge eating right before bed or continually eating during the night
* Feeling guilty, anxious or upset while eating
* Difficulty falling or staying asleep
* Uncontrollable desire to eat during the night
* Eating over half your daily calories after dinner
* Little or no appetite in the morning
* Feeling nauseous in the morning
* Anxiety
* Depression
* Excessive weight gain
* Feeling out of control over the ability to stop

Causes of Night Eating Syndrome

Night Eating Syndrome can be caused by several different factors, including hormone imbalances, excessive stress, and underlying eating and mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, self-starvation and food addiction.

* Hormone imbalances, such as very low levels of melatonin, leptin and serotonin, can disrupt normal sleep/wake cycles and negatively affect eating patterns.
* Excessive stress at work or home can cause a person to turn to night eating in order to cope.
* Strict dieting throughout the day can lead the person to overcompensate by bingeing at night.
* Depression and anxiety can lead to emotional binge eating. During binges, people typically turn to carbohydrate-rich foods, which have been shown to increase levels of serotonin in the brain and help a person sleep at night.
* An addiction to food can cause many to develop Night Eating Syndrome because they have learned to rely on night binges in order to fall asleep and function during the day.

How to Treat Night Eating Syndrome

The first step in treating Night Eating Syndrome is to consult a physician to get a proper diagnosis. Once youíre properly diagnosed, your physician can determine what is causing your disorder and develop an appropriate strategy for managing your eating and sleeping habits. A psychologist and nutritionist can also help you develop a winning strategy for treating your disorder.

Some common treatments for Night Eating Syndrome are:

* Hormonal supplements. If a chemical imbalance is found to be the cause, hormonal supplements can put your body back on track and create normal sleeping cycles.
* Medications, such as Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs). If depression and anxiety are the cause, SRIs may be prescribed to help ease the mental symptoms and reduce the need to eat at night.
* Psychotherapy. A psychotherapist can help uncover the underlying issues causing the disorder and teach you ways to cope with these issues so that you no longer turn to food.
* Behavioral therapy, individual counseling and group therapy. All of these types of therapy can give you an opportunity to discuss your disorder, find support, and learn techniques to help you manage your night eating.
* Nutritional counseling. In order to maintain recovery from NES, a nutritionist can teach you the proper eating and exercise skills need to maintain healthy eating habits and live a healthier lifestyle.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Night Eating Syndrome, a professional treatment facility can tailor a specific treatment plan for your specific needs and put you on the road to recovery.

Leave a Reply

25 Responses to “How to treat Night Eating Syndrome”

  1. Pam

    I have NES, I have had it for years. For some reason, it stopped when I became serious with a guy and we moved in together. I don’t have it at all, however, he has begun traveling for work. Now I find it is coming back when he is out of town. Any ideas why? I eat healthy and throughout the day and try to limit my exercise in the evenings.

  2. Martha F.

    I have recently had chemo and radiation i lost a lot of weight. I want to loose more need to lose more. But i am waking up almost every hour at night and i can not go back to sleep unless i eat. I no longer have cancer. I really need help cause i am gaining weight again and i feel so miserable. Anyone please give me some advice i am desperate. Thank you

  3. June

    I have had NES for as long as I can remember. My mother had it her whole life. I have tried everything to overcome this. I have lost 75 pounds but the NES is keeping me fro getting rid of the last 20. If anyone has any suggestions holler.

  4. Gab

    Pam, sounds that your problem comes from feeling lonely. Try to talk to him on the phone, or go out with girlfriends.

  5. Sine

    I’ve had it for years and im suffering evry day because excessive weight gain.

  6. Hannah

    I have had anorexia for 10 years and decided at one point that i was over it and gained 15kg but now i have gone the other way and can’t stop bindging it makes me so down

  7. alice

    i have exactly the same situation had anorexia gained back weight & now binging every night for 1 and a half years terrible

  8. Brigid


    Ive suffered with this for years. my main craving is sugary and filling foods. my mum does the exact samething and we find that we pass each other during the night. its making me very depressed and im feeling the trousers are starting to get tight. ive joined a great slimming group but dont see the point as im not losing at all. id love help but dont know how to go about it. ive tried everything! stopped tea and diet drinks. made sure im full before bed and no matter what, its like a light bulb, im up and down to the kitchen. im not fully awake because if i was i would say no and be strict on myself but its as if i dont care i just need to have these foods. has any one any advice on what worked for them?

  9. Priscilla

    I definately have NES and I am going to take it by the throat and stop this immediately. I will use my strength I know I have to stop this immediately. Taking control of ones self is the best medicine. Not making excuses but simply just do something about it now. I refuse to allow my body to control me anymore. I am the boss of my body not the other way around and am going to take care of this NOW!!!!!!!!!

  10. Priscilla

    I definately have NES and I am going to take it by the throat and stop this immediately. I will use my strength I know I have to stop this immediately. Taking control of ones self is the best medicine. Not making excuses but simply just do something about it now. I refuse to allow my body to control me anymore. I am the boss of my body not the other way around and am going to take care of this NOW!!!!!!!!!

  11. ali

    I have this and I dont know how to get over it and im too ashamed to tell anyone so I really dont know what to do

  12. d

    don’t be ashamed! If you tell people about it, the more you will feel like you can conquer it, i owned it so that i wouldn’t be embarrassed, then the more i talked about it, the less it started bothering me and the less i did it, it takes a month to break a habit, just make sure you have a full healthy meal 2 hours before bed, then turn off all tv’s and computers and meditate on sleep, have a full glass of cold water or sleepy tea, and you should be good to go, also if you are not eating in the night you will be less ravenous in the morning, which causes you to be more in control of you breakfast choices, i know it’s different for everyone but that is what worked for me, hope i can help

  13. ade

    Every night I fall sound asleep for about 2-4 hours then I wake up and want to eat. Every night its a battle and usually one I loose. I eat something like chips, or a sandwhich, anything with gluten basically 😛 then Im awake for about another hour or two and then fall asleep again. Most night this routine keeps me up till about four in the morning then I end up sleeping much later in the day then I want….ergh help

  14. Ka

    Ade my symptoms are exactly the same, it could be me you described. My NES started roughly 18 months ago and is worse if I drink alcohol. Some mornings I don’t even remember getting up it is only because food is missing or their are crumbs everywhere that I know I’ve been eating. I’m seeing a therapist for cognitive behaviour therapy as I also suffer from pure OCD and am hoping it will help the NES. There are a number of CBT self help books on the market, it may be worth looking into it.

  15. Zach

    I work as a nutritionist and athletic trainer and one of my clients was (still is actually) dealing with NES. One of the main strategies we employed was to make sure that no sugary or processed was kept in the house. His NES continued, but instead of eating things like cake, brownies, pâté, white bread, ect, the only stuff he could find we’re fresh fruits, veggies, and meat or fish. This made a huge impact in his calories consumed count, as well as drastically improved the nutritional value of the food he consumed as when he woke up to eat, he would binge on carrots, spinach and apples.

  16. monica

    i am suffering from NES. “m gaining weight like crazy…I make myself understand every morning.. that I will stop today… but i fail everytime

  17. justin

    i have had bulimia and anorexia for three years and have had NES while dealing with that but noww that i am recovering i still wake up and binge and due to medical issues i cant purge so i’m fucked and am gaining more weight than i want to. What helps for me is staying up until about three or four am and then getting right up at six and getting ready for work. it works great for about two days then sleep deprivation makes it impossible to stay up so i end up falling asleep early and doing it 🙁 someone find a cure !!!!

  18. Dusty

    I feel like I’ve had an eating disorder my whole life. On and off anorexia/bulimia for 10 years. I’ve gotten over all that only to result to nighttime eating. When I suffered from anorexia I remember lieing in bed daydreaming of eating a hamburger. I wonder if that’s why I eat at night now. What I do know is people with this disorder need to get help so it isn’t passed onto the next generation. I sure don’t want my kids getting it! Think positive! And maybe try thinking more positive about yourself. I find that a lot of people with a eating disorder have a negative self image. Maybe if you improve that the eating disorder will also improve. Also pray for guidance and strength!

  19. cassie

    I had a whippel procedure in November of 2012. I lost over 80lbs. And everyday Is a challenge with eating. But as soon as 2 or 3am comes around, it’s like my eating problem doesn’t exist, I eat whatever then go back to sleep and,When I awake I vomit, not always when I wake up but eventually b4 noon I’m vomiting. This night eating business is keeping my weight stable, cause if it wasn’t for this I’d probably wouldn’t be able to gain any weight. And at the same time it’s making me more miserable. Can’t win for losing.

  20. Terica

    I also get up in the middle of the night and eat… I have all this diet stuff and protein shakes.. It’s a bad habit, I have done the eating night before and stopped.. It’s like I am not getting enough rest and thinking by eating I will rest better.. When I wake up in the morning I hate myself for not controlling the night eating.. Like I said, it’s a habit and a very hard one to brake but once your mind gets the ideal it’s not feeding time at 3 In The morning, you will find that you sleep through… Just the first 3 or 4 days of will power is hard but it’s easy after that…

  21. Kim

    I keep waking up at night and eating happens 2 or 3 times a night

  22. Tom

    The above article really makes me angry at your short slightness as no-one wants to have NED. I have since being a small child fought this for no reason. Sometimes, it forced me to wake up at 2am as a child and I would sneak into to refrigerator to get just a small bit of anything. I developed RA about 10 years ago and it has really gotten worse. The craving is like a drug some nights that I have to eat something now cold in order to sleep or go back to sleep. It is not in my head and how dare you suggest that but yet many many doctors can not figure it out, either. At least, your article did acknowledged it as a possible hormone imbalances, such as very low levels of melatonin, leptin and serotonin, but I think it is something else that does disrupt normal sleep/wake cycles. I hate myself for something I appear to have very little control over for all these years. If I want to be dysfunction at work, I just do not give into eating desire and it does negatively affect sleep process. Why do doctors always blame mental health if “your medical profession” can not figure out anyone’s medical issue? I need help and I have tired everything, including counseling, so there? I hate this…………

  23. Casa Palmera Staff

    Thank you for writing. I’m sorry that you are suffering. I don’t think the author of the article was trying to say in all cases that NED is due to mental health or emotional problems but rather as you pointed out, a variety of possible causes. The critical issue is getting the proper diagnosis from a professional who specializes in this disorder. UCSD in San Diego has a reputation for an outstanding eating disorder program. Dr. Walter Kaye is reportedly an expert. He has written several articles that may be helpful. If you have not done so already, it’s always good to seek a comprehensive physical and psychiatric evaluation that may help to shed some light.

  24. SY

    I’ve been dealing with NES for years. Not sure what the cause is but I do have a stressful job. Also I deal poorly with changes to my circadian rhythm such as flipping working shifts from day to night and back, and even traveling over time zones. Maybe that has been a part of it. I am mildly obese despite being somewhat athletic and exercising regularly. The NES has also been interfering with my sleep. I tried magnesium which helped a little bit. About 1month ago, I started taking St John’s Wort, and it cured the NES! I still do snack a lot in the evenings but every night that I take St John’s wort, I do not wake up to eat and I sleep deeply through the night (I celebrate every time I do!). I have forgotten to take it a couple times and have woken up to snack those nights. Also some brands seem more effective than others, I noticed.

  25. SY

    Reading thru people’s posts, yep 3am was the magic hour… On the dot…. It was so weird. And it’s like I was conscious, but when half asleep there is no willpower. Before I discovered that St John’s Wort worked for me, I recently came up with having sugar snap peas as my 3am night snack, which worked well to lower the calorie content, but still disturbed my sleep and cognition.