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Nocturnal Eating Syndrome : Why Do I Keep Waking Up in the Middle of the Night To Eat?

One of the eating disorder which is characterized by a delayed circadian pattern of taking food, is the Nocturnal eating syndrome, where the affected individuals feel like they do not have any control over their eating patterns, and often feel shame and guilt over their condition. This condition affects about 1.5% of the population, and is equally common in men and women, as per the National Institute of Mental Health. If you are someone who keep waking up in the middle of the night to eat, and suspecting self to be a sufferer of the Nocturnal eating syndrome, then this article would help you know more about the condition.

Nocturnal Eating Syndrome

Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: Why Do I Keep Waking Up In The Middle of The Night To Eat?

Nocturnal eating syndrome is an eating disorder, however, it is not similar to binge eating disorder. Yet! It must be mentioned that people with this condition are often binge eaters. Waking up in the middle of the night to eat differs from binge eating in the fact that the amount of food consumed in the night is not necessarily objectively large, nor is a loss of control over food intake is required. Are you suffering from any such condition where you frequently wake up in the middle of the night to eat? If yes! Then probably you might be having nocturnal eating syndrome.

Nocturnal eating syndrome is actually when the affected individual gets up in the middle of the night for eating compulsively. It is common for the patients of Nocturnal eating syndrome, to not eat much during daytime, but eat a lot in the evening and night. They wake up in the middle of the night to eat. This is not unconscious eating. Individuals who get up at the night to eat, are, knowing that they are eating; yet, like other binging behavior, the drive to eat is really strong at night. The eating can go on for hours and usually the foods chosen to eat at night are carbohydrate-rich.

Causes of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:

  • Usually the causes of waking up in the middle of the night to eat vary, however, there are usually a variety of contributing factors. At times, college students adopt a habit of eating at night and are not able to break the habit as they become adults.
  • Nocturnal eating syndrome, may be ironically a response to dieting. When people restrict their calorie intake during the day, the body signals the brain that it requires food and the individual typically overeats at night.
  • Nocturnal eating syndrome may also be because of stress.
  • It must be mentioned that individuals with nocturnal eating syndrome or people who wake up at the middle of the night to eat are often high achievers. However, eating patterns can affect their ability to socialize or manage work-related responsibilities. They may also have different hormonal patterns that may result in their hunger, inverted, so that they eat when they should not and do not eat when they should eat.

Signs and Symptoms of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:

If you are waking up at night to eat and suspecting self to be a sufferer of nocturnal eating syndrome, then you might also experience the following symptoms. Below are some of the signs and symptoms of nocturnal eating syndrome.

  • The affected individuals are usually obese or overweight.
  • They feel like they do not have any control over their eating behavior and eat in secret, and eat even when they are not hungry, especially during night time
  • They feel shame and remorse over their behavior
  • They eat very less in the day time, while they eat a majority of their food during the night.
  • Traits of patients with nocturnal eating syndrome may include overweight, depression or anxiety, frequent failed attempts at dieting, substance abuse, concern about shape and weight, a negative self-image etc.
  • Insomnia during 4-5 nights in a week
  • A depressed mood that gets worse during the night or evening hours.

Medical Impact of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome or Waking Up in the Middle of the Night to Eat:

Individuals having the nocturnal eating syndrome are often overweight or obese, which makes them susceptible to several health issues caused by being overweight, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Those individuals who are obese, increase their risk of getting heart diseases, several types of cancer and gall bladder disease.

Affected individuals, usually have a history of substance abuse, and may also suffer from depression. Usually they are more depressed during the night. They also have sleep disorders.

Diagnosis of Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:

Your doctor will diagnose night eating syndrome after asking you questions about your eating habits and your sleep. Apart from this, you may also have a sleep test known as Polysomnography, which measures your brain waves, heart and breathing rates and blood oxygen levels. Usually you will require to have the polysomnography at a sleep center or a hospital.

In order to be diagnosed with nocturnal eating syndrome, you need to overeat or wake up at night to eat for at least 3 months. The eating and sleeping patterns also cannot be because of substance abuse, medication, a medical disorder or another psychiatric problem.

Treatments for Nocturnal Eating Syndrome:

Treatment for nocturnal eating syndrome, generally begins with educating patients about their condition, so that they are more aware of their eating patterns and can begin to identify their triggers that influence how they eat. This awareness alone can make a big difference in the treatment.

Nutrition assessment and therapy, exercise physiology and an integration of CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy, DBT or dialectical behavioural therapy, Interpersonal therapy or IT and stress management are also included in the list of treatment ways for nocturnal eating syndrome.

Taking antidepressants can show improvement with nocturnal eating syndrome, symptoms like night eating, mood as well as overall quality of life.

It is important for the sufferers to change their behavior by changing their beliefs. If they believe they are unable to change the way they eat, they will not be able to change. So, it is essential for you to have positive beliefs to be able to overcome the problem of waking up in the middle of the night to eat.


Now that you are known to the symptoms, causes and treatments for nocturnal eating syndrome, in case you are waking up at night to eat or know anyone such with symptoms that matches with this disorder, then you need to reach medical profession and have a counseling and proper diagnosis and treatment on an immediate basis.


  1. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) – Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml
  2. National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) – Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/other/night-eating
  3. Sleep Foundation – What is Nocturnal Eating Syndrome?: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/eating-disorders/nocturnal-eating-syndrome
  4. Medical News Today – Nocturnal Eating Syndrome: Everything you need to know: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/nocturnal-eating-syndrome
  5. Psych Central – Night Eating Syndrome: https://psychcentral.com/disorders/night-eating-syndrome/

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 22, 2023

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