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A Mysterious Disorder: Night Eating

Does it seem as though food is disappearing from your kitchen – and your kids and/or husband aren’t to blame? Are you overwhelmed by a ravenous desire to eat in the middle of the night, to the point of rising to ravage through your cupboards? Are you mysteriously gaining weight, even though you’re maintaining your same fitness regimen?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you could have a sleep-related eating disorder known as night eating syndrome. Like any eating disorder, night eating syndrome is both difficult to understand, and to recover from. But there is hope if you suffer from night eating. Let’s take a look at this mysterious disorder . . .

What is Night Eating Syndrome?
Night eating syndrome occurs when a person eats during the night with full awareness and may be unable to fall asleep again unless he or she eats. An associated disorder - nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED) can occur during sleepwalking. People with this disorder eat while they are asleep. They often walk into the kitchen and prepare food without a recollection for having done so.

Both night eating syndrome and NS-RED are considered sleep-related eating disorders. Sleep-related eating disorders are characterized by abnormal eating patterns during the night. They typically affect the mood, sleep and eating centers of the brain.

Symptoms of night eating include:

•    Waking up at least once a night on a regular basis to eat

•    Eating more than 50 percent of your total calorie intake between dinner and breakfast

•    Trouble falling asleep

•    A lack of hunger upon awakening in the morning

Generally speaking, night eating is not considered to be a pattern unless the behaviors have gone on for three months or more.

What Causes Night Eating Syndrome?
While the exact cause of night eating is unclear, it appears to run in families, and women seem to suffer more than men.  New research is shedding light on a hormonal connection, but it could also be a side effect of elevated stress levels. People who have night eating syndrome may have low levels of melatonin and leptin as well as an increased amount of cortisol in their systems. Melatonin enables us to fall asleep and sleep soundly through the night. Leptin keeps our appetites in check, and Cortisol heightens our energy levels—which could be responsible for awaking night eaters and making it hard to relax enough to fall back asleep.

Treatment Options
If you have night eating syndrome, consider this advice:

•    Try to eat dinner—even if you aren’t hungry—but avoid a decadent dessert. If you must indulge your sweet tooth, choose flavored gelatin or fruit instead.

•    Avoid caffeinated beverages within four hours of bedtime.

•    Don’t skip breakfast, even if you don’t feel hungry. Have something small and nourishing, such as yogurt with organic granola or a small bowl of fiber-rich cereal.

•    Consider taking a natural sleep aid, such as valerian root and melatonin, to help you sleep through the night.

While night eating syndrome may seem like a harmless disorder, that assumption is far from the truth. Night eating can interfere with an individual’s nutrition, cause shame, result in depression and weight gain, and ultimately increase one’s risk of type-2 Diabetes. But there is hope!  If you suffer from night eating syndrome, the above information will help you take a step in the right direction toward recovery.

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