Nocturnal Eating Syndrome

Nocturnal Eating Syndrome is when the person gets up in the middle of the night to eat compulsively and to excess.

Is NES a sleep disorder or an eating disorder?  It’s both, and is caught up with sleep and obesity.  As a sleep disorder it is considered a parasomnia.

It is estimated that 1.5% of adults have NES but rates are higher among obese people and as many of a quarter of people who go for bariatric surgery have experienced NES.  Depression is also more common in NES patients.  It is more common in women.

It is common for NES sufferers to not eat much in the daytime, but then eat a lot in the evening.  After bed, they rise to eat compulsively.  This is not unconscious eating.  They know they are eating, but like other binging behavior the drive to eat is strong at night.  The eating can go on for hours and the foods chosen are often carbohydrate-rich.   People with the syndrome often skip breakfast and snack during the day.

The leptin and ghrelin hormones so important for hunger control and keyed into the body’s circadian cycle are off in people with NES.   Stress markers are higher in these people, and a period of stress may trigger the syndrome’s onset.

 Some nit-pickers try to distinguish between Night Eating Syndrome (skipping breakfast the eating voraciously after dinnertime) and  Nocturnal Eating Syndrome (eating at night after an initial period of sleep), but as far as we can tell they are different looks at the same problem. Related: z drug zombie behavior.


Treatment focuses on behaviors and is done in conjunction with weight control plan.  There is some indication that relaxation programs can help

Light therapy seems to help which suggests the disorder is similar to circadian rhythm disorders.  The late-night eating could be considered a "phase delay" in eating like the sleep phase delay in people with DSPS.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors might help some.  They are prescribed for so many behavior disorders.  Higher serotonin levels might help the SCN get back on track.  The antiseizure drug topiramate [link ] has also been tried to some success.

Patients are also advised to eat a steady, healthy diet – not skipping meals and minimizing daytime snacking.

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