Should I Be Worried About Night Eating?

Staci Person, MA, Doctoral Candidate and Clinical Psychology Residency Program Intern, Horizon Health Network

My name is Staci, and I am one of the two psychology interns working with Horizon this year. I split my time between the Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation (SCCR) and the Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) Child and Youth Team.

Today, I want to share information on night eating.

If you find yourself snacking in the evening between dinner and bedtime, you’re not alone. But when does night eating become a problem?

Night Eating Syndrome (NES)

NES is a diagnosable eating disorder. Those with NES experience a lack of appetite in the morning and consume a significant amount of their calories in the evening and nighttime. Some even wake from sleep to eat!

NES can have a significant impact on your health. It is often accompanied by a depressed mood that worsens in the evening and trouble falling or staying asleep. Night eaters also experience significant amounts of stress, anxiety and rumination. There is also evidence that it causes weight gain and can lead to obesity.

What causes NES?

Some people assume that night eaters simply lack the willpower to stop eating at night or are essentially “eating their feelings.” However, NES is actually a disorder caused by an underlying dysregulation of the body’s internal clock resulting in delayed food intake.

Hormones play a big role. Hunger hormones increase at night and sleep hormones decrease so that night eaters become hungrier and less sleepy at night. Eating foods high in carbs helps night eaters feel sleepy enough to fall asleep.

What can I do about it?

If you or someone you know suffer from night eating, try the following:

  • Space out meals throughout the day even if you don’t feel hungry in the morning.
  • Establish a healthy nighttime routine. For basic sleep hygiene tips, click here.
  • Decrease your exposure to light in the evening and increase your exposure to light in the morning to help readjust your circadian rhythm. Try a bright light therapy lamp.
  • Talk to your doctor about medication. Some selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are successful in reducing night eating and improving mood.
  • Seek help from a psychologist! Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness-based interventions can help.

Thank you for reading!

For more information on the Clinical Psychology Residency Program, click here.