An occasional low-calorie bedtime snack can be an acceptable component of a healthy eating plan. But for some people the bedtime snack goes on all night. Night Eating Syndrome (NES) is a condition that causes suffers to consume the majority of their calories at night to the point that they awaken frequently to eat and sleep is severely disturbed.
People with NES usually don’t eat breakfast and consume only small amounts of food during the first half of the day. Consequently they are hungry during the evening hours and consume 25 to 50 percent of their calories after the evening meal. They may not be able to get back to sleep after eating or they might have hunger pangs that cause them to wake up at intervals.
Researchers have identified several issues that may contribute to NES. It is often associated with anxiety, depression, mood disorders, and obesity. Some studies have indicated that people with these emotional issues may be trying to “self-medicate” their symptoms with food.
Several studies have linked NES to biochemical imbalances involving hormones that regulate eating and sleeping patterns. Melatonin is the hormone that affects sleep and most people have higher levels of melatonin in their bodies at night. Night eaters tend to have lower levels of melatonin which makes it difficult for them to get to sleep and also makes it hard for them to remain asleep for long periods of time. They also have low levels of a hormone called leptin, which affects the body’s ability to suppress the appetite at night.
NES sufferers tend to have high levels of cortisol, a hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. High levels of cortisol are linked to depression and anxiety. There may also be a genetic component that disrupts the normal circadian rhythms.
Because there are so many factors that contribute to NES, the treatment plan is multifaceted and may include the following:
- Natural Supplements: Adding supplements to the daily regimen can be helpful. Natural hormone supplements and amino acids can help the body increase the production of melatonin and leptin.
- Behavioral Therapy: Counseling sessions and/or group therapy can help NES sufferers learn healthy ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Meditation techniques are also very useful.
- Nutritional Counseling: A registered dietician can help develop a healthy diet plan that is low in sugar and fats and high in lean protein and vegetables. Eating the proper foods can help the body control it’s cravings for sweets and carbohydrates.
- Medications: In severe cases of NES some type of medication might be indicated. As with most conditions, it is much healthier to treat NES with natural methods.