16 sept. 2010


Coping with Nocturnal Eating

Most Americans have probably been plagued by a sleepless night or two. As frustrating as losing sleep may be, most people can alleviate their temporary bouts of insomnia with over-the-counter sleeping aids. Lifestyle changes, including stress reduction and exercise, are also an important part of relieving insomnia.

However, there are others who suffer from a less well-known sleep disorder that can lead to major weight gain and depression: nocturnal eating. Up to three percent of the population may be affected this condition.

What is Nocturnal Eating?

Researchers identify two types of night eating:

• Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder: Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder is also known simply as sleep eating. It is where a sleeping person arises to eat large quantities of food, or even non-food items.
• Night Eating Syndrome: Night Eating Syndrome is where a person is partially or fully awake and feels as if he simply cannot sleep unless he eats large quantities of food.

Sleep Eating

Sleep researchers consider nocturnal eating both an eating disorder and a sleep disorder. In cases of sleep eating, the person usually doesn't remember eating during the night but finds evidence, including missing food, dirty dishes and a complete lack of hunger, the next morning.

Untreated sleep eating can lead to major weight gain, depression and feelings of guilt and shame. Because the person is asleep and lacks good coordination and balance, sleep eating can also lead to falls and other injuries.

Sleep eaters, most often people who are dieting and/or are under a lot of stress, will often consume large amounts of food that they usually would not eat. For example, during the day, a dieter may abstain from sweets and high-carbohydrate or high-fat foods. While asleep, however, they will eat things like cake or potato chips.

They may also eat unusual food combinations, such as hot dogs smeared with butter or potato chips dipped in peanut butter. They may even eat non-food items like soap.

Night Eating Syndrome

Night Eating Syndrome is a sleep disorder in which a person eats relatively normal amounts of food during the day but cannot sleep without eating a large amount of food. Although the person is not hungry, they are compelled to eat foods that they usually would not eat during the day. This syndrome usually gets worse without treatment.

What Can You Do?

As with any sleep disorder, nocturnal eating can be treated, but the first step is to get an accurate diagnosis. See your doctor, who may prescribe a visit to a sleep lab. It is important to rule out other diseases such as sleep apnea, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hepatitis or encephalitis, all of which may cause symptoms of nocturnal eating.

You can participate in your own treatment by making healthy lifestyle changes.

Here are a few tips:

• Get some form of exercise every day. Exercise can improve your quality of sleep. Just be sure to do any vigorous exercise earlier in the day.
• If you are feeling stressed, consider taking stress-reduction classes or going to therapy to help you deal with the stressors that may be affecting your sleep.
• If you smoke, consider quitting. Nicotine is a stimulant and, therefore, can disrupt your sleep.
• Limit your alcohol consumption.
• If you must have caffeine, try to consume it before noon.
• Don't use sleeping pills without your doctor's supervision.
• If you have Night Eating Syndrome, ask your doctor about anti-depressants that curb compulsive behavior. They might help alleviate your symptoms.

If you experience chronic daytime sleepiness, unexplained weight gain, fatigue or anxiety, call your doctor. Simple tests can show whether you are experiencing insomnia or another sleep-related disorder, such as nocturnal eating.

Take Some Necessary Precautions

Some people that have nocturnal eating syndrome enlist the help of family members. They have family or friends lock areas where they can access food, including cupboards and refrigerators, and then have them hide the keys. Disconnecting the stove or installing an alarm system to the stove is another effective way to prevent night eating.


Golbin, Alexander, MD (n.a.). Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: A Dramatic Parasomnia. Retrieved on January 15, 2007 from the Talk About Sleep Web site: http://www.talkaboutsleep.com/sleep-disorders/archives/

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