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Night eating syndrome, also called the Nocturnal eating syndrome, is a very specific disorder where the affected individual wakes up several times during the night and is unable to fall back asleep unless they eat something.

Foods eaten during these episodes are often high in caloric content and unhealthy. These eating episodes usually occur in secret and any evidence of them is often hidden from others.
Studies have proven that this behavior seems to be totally beyond the effected individual's control. People who suffer from Night Eating Syndrome are often caught in the vicious cycle of binge eating during the night and eating less during the day and are unhappy with their weight.

Triggers for Night eating syndrome

Triggers for Night Eating Syndrome include:

  • depression,
  • anxiety,
  • interpersonal stressors,
  • boredom,
  • prolonged dieting,
  • body image dissatisfaction

Several studies have proven that this night eating may temporarily relieve the stress, but in most cases these episodes are followed by feelings of guilt, shame, disgust, and further depression.

Nature of the condition

Night eating syndrome is now recognized as a specific type of eating disorder. To be more precise, it is considered a parasomnia, and is a rare type of sleepwalking, a disorder of arousal. It is also recognized as a mood disorder.

Night eaters are much more likely to suffer from insomnia, and wake up on average 10-12 times more often than people without this condition. There is a strong connection between the Sleep eating syndrome and Sleep walking. The people suffering from this disorder are not conscious during their night eating episodes. They cannot recall the eating incidents because these episodes occur in a state which is somewhere between sleep and wakefulness.

Incidence of the condition

Night eating syndrome was first described in 1955 and, similar to anorexics, bulimics, and compulsive overeaters, it is estimated that up to one percent of the population may be suffering from Night Eating Syndrome. A very big study suggested that more than a 27% of people who are overweight by at least 100 pounds have the problem.

Signs and symptoms

There are many symptoms which are characteristic only to this condition and the most common are:

  • little or no appetite for breakfast.
  • delaying the first meal for several hours after waking up.
  • eating more food after dinner than during the meal.
  • waking up and leaving the bed to snack at night usually without being aware of what’s going on - foods ingested are often carbohydrates: sugary and starchy
  • feeling tense, anxious, upset, or guilty while eating normally during the day.
  • trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

What kind of food do they eat?

Food consumed during Night eating syndrome episodes tends to be high-fat, high-sugar comfort food that people deny themselves while awake. Some researches have shown that in some cases these people eat bizarre combinations of food or non-food items like soap.

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