Nocturnal eating syndrome: causes, symptoms and treatment of this eating disorder

The most well-known eating disorders (ADD) are anorexia and bulimia, but in recent years the possibility of including new disorders in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) has been investigated.

One of them is the Night eater syndrome, Which together with binge eating disorder (which is included in the DSM-V) predominates in obese patients, although they may also develop in patients of normal weight.

One of the main characteristics of this disorder is that the sufferer ingests a lot of calories after dinner, even waking up at night to eat. During the morning he presents with morning anorexia, that is, he barely eats; and during the rest of the day, until nightfall, it ingests few calories. Night eating syndrome (NES) causes serious health problems, so it needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Features and symptoms of nocturnal eating syndrome

In this disorder, the individual eats little during the day because the significant consumption comes after the night, with the consequence of the appearance of overweight and sleep disorders.

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Nutrition experts they recommend that the daily intake be spread over five meals. Breakfast and lunch should be the main meals, providing between 50 and 60% of the daily calorie intake. Mid-morning snack and snack should provide 10-15% each, and dinner 20%.

People with nocturnal eating syndrome they can ingest at least 50% of their calories at night, Causing decompensation from these recommendations.


Night eating syndrome is characterized by the presentation of the following symptoms:

  • morning anorexia: People with NES do not eat or barely eat for breakfast.
  • nocturnal overeating: They consume at least 25% of their daily calories after dinner. These foods are generally high in carbohydrates (such as candy, pastries, pasta, or rice).
  • Sleep disorders: They suffer from insomnia or frequently wake up in the middle of the night to eat at least three days a week.

Causes of nocturnal eating syndrome

There is not a lot of research on this disorder, but in the different analyzes conducted in some studies there appears to be a change in the neuroendocrine pattern (For example, cortisol, adrenal pituitary, melatonin and leptin) which participate in the regulatory function of own circadian rhythms that modulate various metabolic and psychological functions.

Highlights the strong presence of cortisol at night (but not during the day), the hormone linked to stress, so one of the main causes would be increased stress at night.

Other studies, they link this disorder to environmental and socio-cultural factors, as well as to a certain genetic predisposition. Additionally, in some cases, the onset of this syndrome is linked to anxiety or depressive disorders, which can lead to increased food intake to reduce anxiety and depressive symptoms.

Treatment of nocturnal eating syndrome

The treatment of this pathology may require multidisciplinary intervention with different professionals: dietitian, endocrine and psychologist or psychiatrist.

The dietitian should design a diet based on the characteristics of the subject, the endocrine should monitor the hormonal characteristics of the patient, and the psychologist will work on aspects related to the feelings, emotions or beliefs and well-being of those suffering from the night. Syndrome.

When it comes to psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, or mindfulness can be very helpful for the patient to overcome the disorder. Outraged, psychology can provide the patient with the tools to learn to cope with his problem and to change his attitudes and habits towards food, And will be needed to overcome anxiety or depression.

In severe cases, pharmacological treatment may be necessary. Some drugs such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have been shown to be effective for treatment.

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