Night Eating Syndrome

Night Eating Syndrome

Night eating syndrome, also called “midnight hunger”, is characterized by a persistent and on-going pattern of late-night binge eating.

Depression, anxiety, hostility and stress are strongly implicated in Night Easting Syndrome. These negative emotion, along with the embarrassment and guilt that come with such an unconventional eating pattern aggravate the problem. Also, an imbalance in the hormones that regulate sleep and appetite could be at the source of the disruption of eating and sleeping patterns.

Not everyone will show the same symptoms, but the most common are:

  • Skipping breakfast and going several hours after waking before having a meal
  • Consuming 25% or more of daily calories after dinner (not including dessert; late night binges are almost always consisting of carbohydrates)
  • Affect and arousal decrease during the day (the lowest being in the middle of the night-eating episode)
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Depression and/or anxiety, often connected to the eating habits
  • Frequent failed attempts at dieting
  • Possible substance abuse
  • Negative self-image and concern about weight and shape


NES affects the whole family. Loved ones often find it hard to understand that an eating disorder is actually about feelings and coping, rather than food. This can lead to misunderstandings and arguments, particularly at meal times.

Physical and psychological side effects over time can include:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dehydration
  • Brittle bones
  • Kidney problems
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Chemical changes in the brain affecting thoughts
  • Depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
  • Loss of libido
  • And many more effects that can lead to infertility in women, osteoporosis, epilepsy, cancer, diabetes and death

Nutrition assessment and therapy, exercise physiology as well as an integration of stress management, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) all contribute to the treatment plan of NES. Recent research on the benefits of medication in the treatment of NES support the use of sertraline (Zoloft) as a drug that offers effective treatment in some cases.


Most families benefit from family help aimed at supporting and managing any difficult relationships. Family work is helpful and encouraged, depending on your ability to cope.


Even after many years with the illness, you can recover and go on to live a full life but you must want to recover.