Living on campus, where the dining halls are up and running into the wee hours of the night, many students have run out at 12 am or even 2:35 am, mid-assignment or mid-study session, to grab a quick bite. There is a certain kind of pleasure, a sense of mischief that comes with eating fries at 2 in the morning. However, late-night snacking can become a problem for many individuals. Characterized by the propensity to overeat at night, this condition is called night eating syndrome or NES.
There are numerous noteworthy statistics associated with NES. First of all, approximately 1.5% of the population has NES and more than 25% of people who struggle with obesity also struggle with NES. Additionally, while people generally consume 15% of their daily calories within the 8 pm – 6 am time frame, individuals with NES consume 56% of their daily calories within this time frame.
Symptoms of NES include loss of appetite in the morning or morning anorexia; depressive symptoms at night; insomnia four or five times a week; and overeating at night. Although the main cause of NES has yet to be identified, risk factors include obesity; the existence of another eating disorder; depression; anxiety; and substance abuse issues. It is also important to understand that while there are similarities between NES and binge eating disorder (BED), the two are strikingly different from one another. Binge eating disorder is defined by the consumption of large quantities of food in one sitting, whereas NES is defined by the consumption of
An individual diagnosed with NES can be treated in a variety of ways including medication (SSRI), cognitive behavior therapy, behavior therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and phototherapy. Among these techniques, the use of medication is considered to be most effective, according to an experiment conducted by John P. O’Reardon et al. The results of this experiment revealed that 71% of the participants in the sertraline (SSRI) group showed improvement, as opposed to the 18% in the placebo group. Additionally, the participants in this group who were previously struggling with obesity reported significant weight loss, compared to their counterparts in the placebo group (6.4 pounds vs. 0.66 pounds).
Midnight snacking often feels like a sacred oasis during a sleepover or when you’re in the middle of cramming for an 8 am exam. However, for people with NES, a “midnight snack” is more than just a mischievous trip to the fridge. For people with NES, a midnight snack is a double-edged sword. On one hand, there is a sentiment of escape that comes with eating, but on the other, it also means nights of lost sleep, weight gain, and health issues. While NES can be difficult to diagnose sometimes, scientific advancement and increasing social awareness provide us with hope about the near future of NES and other eating disorders.
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Bell, L. (2016, April 15). Night Eating Syndrome: Signs and Symptoms. Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/blog/night-eating-syndrome-signs-and-symptoms.
Miyaoka, T, et al. (2003). Successful treatment of nocturnal eating/drinking syndrome with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. International Clinical Psychopharmacology, 18(3), 175–177.
O’Reardon JP. (2006). A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of sertraline in the treatment of night eating syndrome. Am J Psychiatry, 163(5):893-8.
Ratini, M. (2017, January 12). “What Is Night Eating Syndrome?” WebMD. Retrieved October 29, 2018, from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/eating-disorders/binge-eating-disorder/what-is-night-eating-syndrome#2