Night Eating Syndrome

Are you concerned about how much food your teenager eats at night, or the types of food he or she consumes late at night? This article helps define night eating syndrome, offers night eating syndrome statistics, and explains warning signs of night eating disorder.


Night Eating Syndrome is when a person eats most of their calories at night instead of during the day. It carries an increased risk of obesity and other health problems, and it can sometimes be treated with medications.

When a teen has night eating syndrome, he or she may not eat much during the day, but then binges in the late evening or even during the night. The teen may stay awake late to eat, or may wake in the night to have a meal. This is not the same as having a small midnight snack or going on an occasional eating binge at night. Instead, the teen is regularly eating meals at night instead of during the day. Though it may not seem like it would matter when a teen eats, night eating syndrome often causes teens to feel tired all the time, to have unhealthy diets, and to feel depressed about their eating habits.

Night eating syndrome occurs in 1 to 2% of the population, and is considered to be more common in teen girls than boys, though both can suffer from this eating disorder. Night eating syndrome may also be connected to sleep eating disorder, a rare type of sleepwalking where people eat in their sleep without being aware of what they are doing.

Some signs that a person may have night eating syndrome include:

  • Not eating breakfast and eating very little during the day
  • Binge eating late at night on a regular basis
  • Frequently getting up in the night to eat
  • Inability to control late night eating binges
  • Feeling guilty about his or her eating habits
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Insomnia

Unlike binge eating disorder, teens with night eating disorder do not usually eat thousands of calories at a time, but they do tend to overeat. They often eat mainly carbohydrates during their binges, meaning they are not getting a healthy, well-rounded diet. Teens with night eating syndrome are more likely to be overweight or obese, to have diabetes complications, and to require weight loss surgery.

Some doctors believe night eating disorder may be a result of a hormonal imbalance in the teen's brain, so they don't have enough of the chemicals that regulate sleep, mood, and appetite. This causes them to crave carbohydrates at night, which provide some of the building blocks of the hormones the person needs. This pattern, however, leads to unhealthy eating and sleep patterns, and feelings of guilt and depression.

If parents are concerned that their teen may have night eating syndrome they should talk to the teen about their concerns. A teen with night eating syndrome who can’t change his or her eating patterns should see a doctor. Teens with night eating syndrome may be able to be treated with medications that restore the chemical balance in their brains. Anti-depressants should be used with caution in teens, however, because they have been linked to an increased risk of teen suicides.

Sources:

BBC News, "Night bingeing recognized as a disorder" [online]

Stanford University, The Sleep Well, "Nocturnal Eating Syndrome (Sleep-Related Eating) Information" [online]

The Obesity Society, Obesity: A Research Journal, "Binge Eating Disorder and Night Eating Syndrome in Adults with Type 2 Diabetes" [online]

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