Night Eating Syndrome - PIH Health

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Published on February 16, 2016

Night Eating Syndrome

Night Eating

Night EatingWe all know that overeating can become addictive and harmful. And now, medical professionals are starting to recognize an emerging condition called Night Eating Syndrome (NES). NES is not classified as an eating disorder; rather it is considered to be a combination of disordered eating symptoms, the most prominent of which is delayed food intake.

“NES is beginning to gain significant attention by the medical community. As obesity rates continue to rise in this country it’s important to consider any and all contributing factors,” says Ghasak Mahmood MD. “Although night eating syndrome is generally associated with obesity, it can also manifest as a symptom of depression and mood disorders, as well as sleep or substance abuse disorders.”

People with NES tend to consume the majority of their calories after 8 pm, often skipping breakfast and eating little during the first half of the day. This late eating interrupts healthy sleep habits to the point that sleeping is postponed in order to eat. Equally harmful are the periodic awakenings during the night to eat again.


Night Eating Syndrome tends to run in families as the genes that regulate a normal circadian (sleep) rhythm may be inherited. Because this is a relatively new condition, current treatment options are somewhat limited; they include serotonin reuptake inhibitors to help regulate mood, and education and counseling to help establish healthy sleep and eating patterns.

“At this time, treatment options primarily involve lifestyle changes such as establishing a normal sleep schedule, good sleep hygiene, stress management and the avoidance of substances that disturb sleep like alcohol and caffeine,” adds Dr. Mahmood.

General Eating Habits

Although NES is a specific condition, studies show that much of the general population of Americans also consume a large portion of their calories during and after dinner. Those meals are often high in fat compared to earlier meals. So here are a few tips for late eaters and nighttime snackers:

  • Don’t skip breakfast - it only leads to higher-calorie meals later in the day
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV, or limit it to healthy fruits and veggies
  • Eat a balanced, high-fiber dinner
  • Eat small, frequent meals during the day – this keeps your metabolism going and provides you with a steady level of energy
  • Eat smaller dessert portions after dinner and savor every bite – you probably only wanted a bite or two anyway

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

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