Night Eating Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Whether it’s a few cookies or a second helping of dinner, it’s common to have a bedtime snack. However, this evolves into a real eating disorder in some Americans known as night eating syndrome (NES).

According to the Sleep Foundation, people with this condition feel an uncontrollable urge to eat after dinner and at night, consisting of a large portion of their daily food intake. This article examines this eating disorder and the best way to treat this condition.

Signs and Symptoms of Night Eating Syndrome

The symptoms of NES include:

● Waking up during the night to eat, occasionally several times in one night
● Being consciously aware of night eating episodes and remembering them
● Hyperphagia, or an intense hunger, need to overeat in the evening and overnight.
● Trouble falling or staying sleep
● Consistently eating at least 25 percent of your day’s calories after dinner

Causes and Risks Factors of Night Eating Syndrome

Researchers are unsure what causes NES, but the following factors might be involved:

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Your body has an internal clock that regulates when you feel tired or hungry by releasing certain hormones at different times. Unfortunately, this clock doesn’t function properly for people with night-eating syndrome. According to the Sleep Foundation, people suffering from NES have lower-than-normal leptin levels in the evening, making them always feel hungry.

Daytime Dieting

If you restrict your eating during the daytime, you may be more prone to night eating disorder as your body craves calories and may alert you to binge at night.

Treatment and Medication Options for Night Eating Syndrome

While experts remain undecided on the best treatment for NES, treatment typically involves a combination of therapy and medication:

Medication Options

Once a formal NES diagnosis has been made, your doctor may prescribe medication for treatment. According to the Sleep Foundation, antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the primary drugs that have been studied for treating NES.

Research is also being conducted on the effect of drugs that act in your brain, like serotonin, a hormone that helps you sleep.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

There is a possibility that cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of therapy that assists patients in developing more effective thinking patterns and behaviors, could help with NES. During CBT, patients might record their thoughts about food, sleep, and their relationship with eating before they sleep.

According to research, therapy can also help you unlearn the belief that you must eat to fall asleep.

Treating Underlying Causes

If your doctor finds your NES episodes are connected to an underlying medical problem, like restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea, or a mental health condition like anxiety or depression, treating that condition might end incidents of night eating syndrome.

Prevention of Night Eating Syndrome

The following measures can be used to prevent NES:

● Eat a balanced diet with healthy carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and fats. This will prevent you from being tempted to eat sugary snacks at night.
● Aim for at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night
● Make sure you aren’t calorie-restricting during the day to stop you from binge eating at night


Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is a severe condition that makes you crave large night meals, and circadian rhythm disorders and daytime dieting can trigger it. However, this can be treated using SSRIs, CBT, or treating underlying causes.