It is estimated that one to three percent of the population may be suffering from Night Eating Syndrome (NES), a condition first described in 1955 but only recognized by the general community since 1999. The condition appears to be more common in women. According to an article posted on the American Sleep Association web site, about half of those diagnosed with NES reported a normal weight status before the onset of the syndrome. The abstract also noted that as your weight increases so do your changes for developing the syndrome.
NES occurs when normal patterns of energy intake and sleep become disturbed and is characterized by the following clinical features for a duration of > 3 months:
- Morning anorexia—skipping breakfast due to a decreased sense of morning hunger because most of the person’s calories were consumed in the evening hours the night before.
- Evening hyperphagia—full awareness of consuming most food late in the evening. According to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 50% or more of the calories are eaten after the evening meal (after 7pm). Foods eaten during this “binge” are usually high calorie and unhealthy and the individual often feels ‘out of control’.
- Insomnia—NES sufferers tend to have trouble getting to sleep and sleeping through the night. More often, getting to sleep is the issue, occurring more than 3 times per week.
Triggers for this condition include anxiety, depression, prolonged dieting with poor outcome (dieting all day), stress, boredom and body image dissatisfaction. Since eating the majority of calorie needs too close to bedtime might enhance the efficiency with which fat is stored, NES may contribute to later development of obesity.
Below are just a few statements to consider when diagnosing:*
- I am not usually hungry in the morning.
- I usually eat my first meal at noon or later.
- I have very little to no control over my eating between dinner and bedtime.
- I consume about a quarter to half (25-50%) or more of my daily food intake after my evening meal (7 pm).
- I usually have trouble getting to sleep.
*this is not an all inclusive list
If any of the above comments sound familiar to you or you think you may have an issue with NES, make sure to discuss it with your physician. The recognition of NES is the first step in treating this disorder.