Night eating syndrome and sleep eating disorder are two sleep disorders that can result in major weight gain, depression and other health-related issues. They both involve eating excessively during nighttime hours.
Night Eating Syndrome
Two types of nocturnal eating disorder exist. Night eating syndrome occurs when a person is partially or fully awake and feels an overwhelming compulsion to eat at night. Night eating syndrome is characterized by lack of appetite in the morning and uncontrolled eating at night.
Night eating syndrome has elements of both sleep and eating disorders. About 1 percent of the population suffers from night eating syndrome, according to the “American Journal of Psychiatry” (2007), though it is more common in people who are overweight or obese â€” up to 16 percent of people participating in weight loss programs and 43 percent of candidates to bariatric surgery may suffer from the disorder.
Sleep Eating Disorder
Sleep eating disorder (also called nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder) differs from night eating syndrome. A person affected by sleep eating disorder eats large quantities of food or non-food items while asleep. Up to 80 percent of sleep eating disorder sufferers are women, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (2005).
A person with sleep eating disorder usually doesn’t remember eating during the night but finds evidence of eating the next morning, including missing food, dirty dishes and a complete lack of hunger. People with this disorder may eat unusual combinations of foods or ingest toxic substances. Because the person is not awake, sleep eating can also lead to falls, choking and other injuries.
Nocturnal Eating Treatment
Nocturnal eating can be treated, but the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. It is important to rule out other triggers for nighttime eating, such as hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), substance abuse, medications or mental health conditions.
Healthy lifestyle changes may help reduce nocturnal eating symptoms. Here are a few tips for improved sleep hygiene:
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Avoid sleeping pills unless under a doctor’s supervision.
- Consider taking stress-reduction classes or going to therapy to help deal with the stressors that may be affecting sleep and eating habits.
- Get some form of exercise every day. Exercise can improve quality of sleep. Just be sure to do any vigorous exercise earlier in the day.
- Limit alcohol consumption.
- Quit smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant and can disrupt sleep.
Chronic daytime sleepiness, unexplained weight gain, fatigue or anxiety should be reported to a doctor. Diagnostic tests can show whether such symptoms result from insomnia or another sleep-related disorder such as nocturnal eating. Medications may help control the symptoms of nocturnal eating.
Taking Necessary Precautions
Some people who experience nocturnal eating disorders enlist the help of family members to prevent excessive nighttime eating. They have family or friends lock areas where food is stored, including cupboards and refrigerators, and then have them hide the keys. Disconnecting the stove or installing an alarm system to the stove is another way to prevent night eating and the possibility of serious accidents.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine. (2005). Eating disorder. Retrieved September 17, 2010 from http://www.sleepeducation.com/Disorder.aspx?id=35.
Eating Disorders Online. (2010). Night eating. Retrieved September 15, 2010, from http://www.eatingdisordersonline.com/explain/nighteating.php.
Golbin, A. (n.d.). Nocturnal eating syndrome: A dramatic parasomnia. Retrieved on January 15, 2007 from http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/sleep-disorders/archives/parasomnias_nocturnal.htm.
Stunkard, A., Allison, K, and Lundgren, L. (2007). Issues for DSM-V: Night eating syndrome. Retrieved September 17, 2010 from http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/165/4/424.
Talk About Sleep. (2010). Sleep eating. Retrieved August 10, 2010, from http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/sleep-disorders/archives/parasomnias_sleepeating.htm.