Night Eating Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, Side Effects And Treatment



Published on: 29-Feb-2024


10 min read




Lalita Vishwakarma


Night Eating Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, Side Effects And Treatment

Night Eating Syndrome Causes, Symptoms, Side Effects And Treatment

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Hello readers! Have you ever found yourself eating late at night because of work or other activities? While it might be easy to justify eating late, research shows that this can actually be bad for your health. 

Night eating syndrome is a kind of eating disorder that happens when people eat too much at night and don't get enough sleep. This can lead to a bunch of serious health problems, like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

In this blog, we will talk about why night eating syndrome happens and what you can do to stop it. We will also share some easy ways to get back on track and feel better. So keep reading!

Table Of Contents

  1. What Is Night Eating Syndrome?

  2. What Causes Night Eating Syndrome?

  3. Night Eating Syndrome Symptoms

  4. Night Eating Syndrome Treatment

  5. What Are The Side Effects Of Eating Late At Night?

  6. Night Eating Syndrome Vs. Binge Eating Disorder

  7. The Final Say

  8. FAQs

  9. References 

What Is Night Eating Syndrome?

Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder where the individual eats most of their food at night. This disorder was first discovered by Wolff, Stunkard, and Grace while performing weight loss treatment. NES is accompanied by sleep disorders like insomnia. People with NES usually face difficulty in controlling the urge to eat in the middle of the night. Due to this, they are at a very high risk of diseases like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.

If we talk about the facts, then approximately 1.5% of people suffer from night-eating syndrome. In fact, according to a review, 6 to 64% of NES was found among obese individuals who are looking for weight loss surgery. Not only this, night-eating syndrome is also more common in people with depression or other mental disorders. Now let us understand about the major causes of NES.

Also Read: 6 Benefits of Mindful Eating For Weight Loss And Tips

What Causes Night Eating Syndrome?

Some factors that can cause night eating syndrome include: 

1. Having Circadian Rhythm Disorders

The circadian rhythm is the body’s natural clock, whose function is to regulate the body's activity, especially when you feel hungry, tired or alert. But, when you get stuck by NES, then this body clock gets disturbed and does not work efficiently. So, having poor circadian rhythm is one of the major reasons for night eating disorders.

2. Genetics or Family History

It is rightly said that what comes in a gene comes to you as well, and so is with NES.

Researchers find a strong link between genetics and night eating syndrome. They find that a gene named PER1 is involved in regulating the body's internal clock and is responsible for causing night eating syndrome.

3. Mental Health Disorders

Another cause of night eating syndrome is poor mental health. Individuals experiencing mood disorders like depression, anxiety or stress are more likely to engage in unusual eating habits.

Also Read: 7 Types Of Teen Mental Health Disorders: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Treatment 

4. Engage In Daytime Diet

Dieting, especially during the day, can also affect the body's functioning. Individuals who restrict their meals during the daytime usually overeat at night.

5. Hormonal Imbalance

Well, hormones regulate everything, and so do the cravings. So, individuals experiencing hormonal imbalance often find themselves stuck with NES. 

Also Read: How To Practice Mindful Eating Habits? Know Here!

Night Eating Syndrome Symptoms

The possible night-eating syndrome symptoms include the following:

  • Eating a large portion of your daily calories after dinner: This typically means consuming at least 25% of your daily calorie intake after your evening meal.

  • Being aware of and remembering night-eating episodes: Unlike sleep-related eating disorders, where people eat unconsciously while asleep, people with NES are aware of their night-eating episodes and can recall them afterwards.

  • Skipping breakfast or having a poor appetite in the morning: Most people with NES have little to no desire to eat in the morning, often skipping breakfast altogether.

  • Cravings for food in the evening and night: People with NES often experience intense food cravings, particularly in the evening and night hours.

  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep: The disrupted sleep patterns caused by night eating can lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both.

  • The belief that eating is necessary to fall asleep or go back to sleep: Many people with NES develop a belief that they need to eat to fall asleep or get back to sleep if they wake up during the night.

  • Depressed mood, especially at night: People with NES often experience worsened mood, particularly in the evening and night hours.

Also Read: What Is Stress Eating Disorder And How To Combat Overeating? Know Here! 

Night Eating Syndrome Treatment

To treat night eating syndrome, your doctor may recommend the following treatments:

1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

It is a type of talk therapy that can help you change how you feel and act. It can help you eat more during the day and not feel hungry at night. You work with a therapist who helps you write down your thoughts and expectations and then see if they are true. They might also tell you to exercise and do things that help you sleep well. Research shows that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help you wake up less at night and eat less at night. But, the way you do CBT might be different if you are having trouble losing weight.

2. Antidepressant Medications

Some antidepressants, like SSRIs, can help improve your mood and feelings. These medicines are the most studied treatment for night eating syndrome (NES). But, in general, there's not much proof that these medicines work for eating disorders. However, there is some proof that they can help with NES because it's linked to changes in your body's natural rhythms.

4. Light Therapy

Using special lamps for 15-30 minutes a day (called bright light therapy) can help change your body's internal clock and make you feel sleepy at night. Scientists have found that using these lamps in the morning can improve your mood, help with insomnia, and even reduce nighttime binge eating by elevating the levels of a chemical in your brain called serotonin.

5. Melatonin Supplements

It is a hormone that is involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Your doctor may recommend taking melatonin supplements that can help you fall asleep through the night. 

6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a type of exercise that can help reduce stress and anxiety. It works by tensing and relaxing different muscle groups, starting with your toes and moving to your head. Doing this can help shift your appetite to the morning and feel less anxious or depressed. Some research suggests that this exercise might be helpful for people with night eating syndrome.

What Are The Side Effects Of Eating Late At Night?

Eating late at night has five main side effects, which are as follows:

Health Aspect

Impact of Eating Late



Disrupted sleep cycle

Late meals delay sleep, leading to confusing dreams and insufficient sleep.


Indigestion and heartburn

Undigested food at night increases stomach acid and can cause discomfort.


Weight gain

A slower metabolism at night makes burning calories less efficient, contributing to weight gain.

Mental Health

Increased irritability and mood swings

Sleep deprivation and a disrupted body clock can trigger depression and anxiety.

Blood Pressure

Increased risk of high blood pressure

Late sleep and eating can contribute to elevated blood pressure levels over time.

Night Eating Syndrome Vs Binge Eating Disorder

The major differences between night eating syndrome and binge eating disorder are:


Night Eating Syndrome (NES)

Binge Eating Disorder (BED)

Time of Eating

Primarily at night (between 10 PM and 6 AM)

Varies, not limited to night

Quantity of Food

Smaller, multiple portions throughout the night

Large amounts of food consumed at once

Loss of Control

Not a defining symptom

Feeling out of control during binge episodes

Preoccupation with Food/Body

Less common, less intense

More likely to worry about food, weight, and body shape

Role of Depression

Depression and emotional eating play a larger role

Depression may be present but not as central

Sleep Problems

Frequent, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep

Less common, not a defining symptom

Obesity Risk

Higher risk of developing obesity

High risk of developing obesity

Comorbid Depression

More common

Less common

The Final Say

Finally, night eating syndrome is one of the eating disorders that can affect your health and well-being in a lot of ways. It can cause you to gain weight and feel tired during the day. It can also make you feel like you're not controlling your eating. But don't worry; some treatments can help.

It's important to be honest with your doctor about your feelings and when you need to eat. It's also okay to tell your doctor if you're sad, anxious, or upset. This helps your doctor figure out the best treatment for you.


1. How is night eating syndrome diagnosed? 

Nighttime Eating Questionnaire (NEQ) is one of the most widely used tools to diagnose night eating syndrome. The NEQ contains a series of questions designed to assess whether a person's feelings and behaviours are consistent with night eating syndrome. 

2. Is night eating syndrome hereditary? 

Yes, Some researchers believe that night-eating syndrome may have genetic roots. In people with a genetic predisposition, stress can reduce serotonin levels, creating a domino effect that alters the body's internal clock and disrupts satiety. 

3. Is night eating syndrome dangerous? 

Night eating syndrome itself is not necessarily dangerous, but it can be dangerous as it can lead to other health problems such as obesity and diabetes.

4. How do you cure night eating syndrome?

You can follow the tips to cure night eating syndrome:

  • Consult a Healthcare Professional

  • Establish Regular Eating Patterns

  • Nutrition and Balanced Diet

  • Hydration

  • Mindful Eating

  • Identify Triggers

5. What are the characteristics of night eating syndrome?

Some of the characteristics of NES are:

  • Nighttime food consumption

  • Emotional distress, stress, and mood disorders.

  • Insomnia of difficulty in falling asleep

  • A reduced or absent appetite in the morning

  • Weight gain or obesity 

  • Impaired functioning

  • Frequent awakenings

  • Guilt and shame


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