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Night Eating Syndrome

By: Wendy Jacob - Updated: 20 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Eating

Most people will have some experience of how eating late at night can affect sleep. A large meal late at night may mean lying awake as the body works hard trying to digest too much food. Too little and you feel hungry and unsatisfied and find it hard to sleep. Finding the right balance that will satisfy hunger and help you sleep, is a difficult balancing act.

For some people the night is a dangerous time. They find it easy to control eating during the day but consume more during the evening and late at night. They may even wake up during the night and eat more...This night time 'binging' adds on the pounds and causes loss of sleep. Research has shown that obesity is linked to not having enough sleep. The hormones that regulate hunger are affected by sleep causing a craving for instant energy in the form of sugary high calorie foods on waking.

Social Pressures

Feeling tired after a restless night it is easy to skip breakfast. Rushing to work, taking the children to school or tackling other chores mean many people start the day with just a cup of coffee. The rest of the day may pass with little more than a sandwich. Many weight conscious people get through the day with little nutrition - willpower, more coffee and an occasional snack keep away hunger.

By the evening, willpower has diminished and hunger increased. With a long evening to face it is not surprising that food becomes the dominant interest. Socialising nearly always includes eating. Drinking causes late night hunger. Late night eating may mean eating anything and everything...

After a day and night of erratic eating it is not surprising that the body finds it hard to settle and sleep is affected. Combine this nutritional deficiency with an intake of alcohol and caffeine and you have the perfect recipe for a restless night. Come the morning and fatigue will mean either reaching for another donut for a 'quick fix' or avoiding food altogether.

Food and Sleep

Most people are aware of the stimulating affects of caffeine. Many have also experienced how alcohol affects sleep. Food can also affect the body's ability to sleep. Sugar also affects hormones. Levels of Adrenalin and Cortisol rise when blood sugar levels dip. These keep the mind stimulated and affect the body's ability to repair itself and protect against aging.

Women, Sleep and Serotonin

Many women will recognise the problem of Night Time Eating. Social pressures such as work, dieting and looking after children means that they may not be eating the right food for sleep. Many women are deficient in Serotonin. Experts suggest a number of reasons for this: including the fact that women are slower to manufacture Serotonin than men.

Melatonin regulates the body's sleep/wake cycle. Without enough Serotonin the body is unable to make enough Melatonin which affects not only how you sleep, but how you feel.

Nutrition for Improved Sleep

It is now recognised that blood sugar levels and mood affect sleep. The body needs enough energy to keep away hunger through the night. It is also important to avoid stimulants that will make it difficult to switch off and fall asleep.

A warm milky drink is still a staple in many sleepers' night time routine. Its debateable if the milk improves sleep but it may ward off night time hunger and is better than tea or coffee. Alcohol should also be avoided in the hours before bedtime.

Large meals are best avoided before bedtime as should eating during the night. It may help initially but it will encourage the body to expect food and will disrupt sleep. The mind may confuse thirst with hunger. A glass of water by the bed may satisfy the desire to eat and prevent getting out of bed.


Vitamin Supplements containing Folic Acid, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C and Zinc are effective in encouraging the production on Serotonin.

Support for Sleep

Night Time Eating will affect health and sleep. It may be difficult to change habits when the body and mind are exhausted and stuck in a pattern of negative behaviour. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) provides the support and encouragement to help with destructive eating habits and difficulty in sleeping.

Improved confidence, a better self image and the ability to relax can be helped by learning Relaxation Techniques and Meditation.

How you eat and live is linked to the quality of your sleep. Finding harmony between all the elements that affect your life is hard work, but a peaceful night's sleep is worth the challenge. Give it a go!

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