„NES” – the night eating syndrome

There’s a widespread opinion that eating in the evening is bad for your health and fitness in general. The assumption is obviously a fallacy, but sometimes the tendency to snack after sunset can turn into a pathology, becoming uncontrollable and even – escaping awareness. These are the cases of NES – Night Eating Syndrome.

What is NES?

The night eating syndrome, just like anorexia, bulimia or ortorexia is considered an eating disorder, but it is directly connected to sleep disorders. A typical manifestation of NES are compulsive binges occurring in the evening, frequently while half-sleep or during a partial or total loss of consciousness. In practice, however, the patients struggling with this condition often don’t remember at all what happened to them during an episode. It also often happens that they learn about the problem from a third party or – they themselves – come to the conclusion that there’s something wrong after witnessing the disappearance of their food reserves (there are foods disappearing through the night, and all they’re left with are wrappers and empty packages.

NES and bodyweight

Night eating syndrome, contrarily to common opinion, is not a particularly uncommon problem. Even though in people with a correct body mass NES is observed occasionally (around 0,3 -0,5% of the population), in overweight people the frequency can be a couple dozen times higher (10-15% of obese people have NES). The illness probably has a genetic background, but there are factors increasing the probability of developing symptoms:

  • Excessive stress and troubles coping with its effects
  • Taking certain types of medicine
  • Obesity and overweight – in this case the correlation works two-way, since night binging can cause weight gain, and on the other hand – a higher body fat value can impair hunger control mechanism, making a person more prone to developing NES.

People who starve themselves during the day are also at risk of NES (heavy caloric restrictions cause the center of hunger in the brain), and so are ex-smokers kicking the habit (quitting smoking is a binge-inducing factor and it alters the way neurotransmitters of the day and night cycle work. Of course, this effect is temporary and shouldn’t be used as an excuse to stop fighting the addiction to tobacco.

How to win against NES?

Night eating syndrome is an issue that can be solved. Sleep specialists also treat NES patients. Before prescribing a therapy, detailed examinations and consultations with a specialist are required. Not only medicine is used in NES treatment, though – here are some other methods which can help:

  • Diet changes (eliminating deficiencies, also caloric, learning to choose the right foods)
  • Changes in physical activity  ( both a sedentary lifestyle and being overly active are not desirable and can increase the risk of NES symptoms
  • Good sleep hygiene, especially regulating one’s daily cycle and insuring appropriate sleeping conditions in the bedroom.
  • Introducing relaxation techniques (which may prove especially helpful for the people whose main trigger is stress.

When should you start worrying?

There is no doubt that simply having appetite in the late hours is not a characteristic NES syndrome and is not sufficient to be diagnosed. It’s harder when the said appetite turns into an acute syndrome and causes unstoppable binges or if they appear without the person being conscious. Such situations are a proof of a serious problem and should be consulted with a doctor.

Summary

Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder connected directly to sleep disorders and requires professional treatment. This illness is more common than it would seem, and might be affecting up to 15% percent of people with incorrect bodyweight. Anyone who suspects or finds themselves showing syndromes of NES, such as compulsive binging at night or in the evening, including loss of control and sometimes even consciousness should promptly consult their doctor or dietician, because NES can progress and grow stronger, ruining not only your body, but also your metabolism and psychic health.