Why Can’t I Stop Eating at Night?

By: Lindsey Bandoian, Applied Nutrition for Healthy Living Fall 2012

The article, Ask Healthy Living: Why Can’t I Stop Eating At Night? is a common question wondered by a majority of people. At one point or another, we are all guilty of raiding the fridge in the wee hours of the night, but what happens when it starts becoming a recurring theme in the night? There are endless possibilities as to why people cannot refuse the temptation of a midnight snack. In today’s hectic lifestyle people are often stressed and anxious, which are two symptoms that tend to disrupt sleep cycles. When sleep cycles are disrupted, people become cranky and have a tendency to resort to food for emotional comfort.

            This article further enhances a logical explanation to why people crave food at night as it could be night eating syndrome. Night eating syndrome is also known as “midnight hunger”, as it is an ongoing, persistent pattern of late-night binge eating. The article states that night-eating syndrome has not yet been formally defined as an eating disorder, but a recent study suggests that more than a quarter of people who are overweight by at least a hundred pounds suffer from night eating syndrome. In America alone, there are twelve million people considered to be severely obese, which is defined as more than one hundred pounds overweight, this means that statistically, night eating syndrome is a diagnoses for millions of Americans.

Night eating syndrome is when the body’s clock is on one schedule for being awake and asleep and a different schedule for feeling hungry. The article, Night eating syndrome: effects of brief relaxation training on stress, mood, hunger, and eating patterns authored by, Pawlow, O’Neil, and Malcolm conjure similar reasoning’s to the article, that most people who suffer from night eating syndrome have little or no appetite for breakfast, so the first meal is not even consumed until several hours after waking up due to not feeling hungry or being upset about how much was eaten the night before. These patterns are what cause a discrepancy between the body’s clock schedule of being awake and asleep and a different schedule for feeling hungry. It is essential for the body to eat continuously throughout the day to stay energized rather than obtaining an overload of calories in one meal. Skipping meals and restricting calories are proven to create bodily cravings. Therefore, if one does not receive enough sleep at night, the hormones that control hunger and satiety increase and decrease which create an unnatural imbalance in the body. This unnatural balance will create a desire for a person to reach for high fat, salty, sugary foods for an instant rush of energy that the body is lacking from quality sleep.

            Night Eating Syndrome is an important issue to be aware of because the obesity rate is steadily increasing which will undoubtedly increase the diagnosis of night eating syndrome. Night eating syndrome may be an unconscious attempt to self-medicate mood problems but treatment such as stress reduction programs are proven to decrease the symptoms and help people on the right track to a healthier happier lifestyle. If the diagnosis of night eating syndrome was made more aware to people, maybe people would stop ignoring the issue and focus on their health by seeking the treatment that is needed.

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