What Is Sleep Eating Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

What Is Sleep Eating Disorder? Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Also known as night eating syndrome, sleep eating disorder is when you encounter frequent sleep interruptions because of an urge to eat.

People suffering from this ailment find it almost impossible to overcome this desire and may wake up multiple times at night to eat.

This condition affects 1 in 100 individuals in India and puts them at risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.

However, the good news is that night eating syndrome can be managed and treated.

In this blog, we will provide you with comprehensive information about this disorder that you must know. Read on!

What Is Sleep Eating Disorder?

Night-eating syndrome (NES) is a condition where you consume a lot of food late at night, even after a wholesome dinner.

Don't confuse this with craving something sweet or salty before you slide into deep sleep. Instead, it is an ailment where people have trouble sleeping without eating and may wake up several times during the night to eat.

Individuals suffering from sleep-eating disorders usually don’t feel hungry in the morning but eat more in the evening and night.

This pattern needs immediate medical intervention as it can lead to weight gain and other health problems like diabetes and heart disease.

There is also something known as Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED). In this condition, you tend to eat while you are still asleep.

People suffering from SRED often have no memory of the eating episode when they wake up. This can happen during sleepwalking or other sleep disturbances. There is also the looming danger of consuming something unusual or unsafe during the episode.

Types of Sleep Eating Disorder

As aforementioned, there are two types of sleep-eating disorders:

Types of Sleep Eating Disorder

1. Night eating syndrome

People with NES tend to consume a substantial portion of their daily food intake during the night. They may even wake up several times at night to eat. Usually, they don't eat anything in the morning as they lose their appetite. Stress, emotional disturbances, and poor sleep are some major triggers.

2. Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

In this condition, people consume food even when they are fast asleep and wake up with no memory of doing so. Stress, certain medications, and other sleep disorders can be the reason for SRED.

NES and SRED are not the same. With NES, people are aware of what they are doing. It isn't parasomnia like SRED.

Is Sleep Eating Disorder Common?

It is safe to say that night-eating syndrome is an uncommon ailment. While it can affect any gender and age group, it is commonly seen in people between their 20s and 50s.

According to a 2016 study at a psychiatric clinic, it was found that the prevalence of NES was around 5.66% among patients. Another study focused on college students showed a prevalence of around 8.8% for a specific type of NED (Atypical Night Eating Syndrome). But we still need more studies revolving around NES for a definitive answer.

Signs and Symptoms of Sleep Eating Disorder

Let’s take a look at the common symptoms of sleep-eating disorder:

  • People with NES suffer from insomnia a few times a week and wake up once or several times at night to eat.
  • People with NES consume about 25% of their food intake at night.
  • They don't have an appetite during the day and may feel intense hunger in the evening and night.
  • People with NES may also suffer from depression and anxiety.

When Does Sleep Eating Disorder Occur?

When it comes to NES, it takes place before you can sleep and during NREM sleep. It particularly occurs during the lighter stages of NREM sleep (stages 1 and 2). However, they can also happen during deeper NREM stages.

NES episodes also happen during the transition from light NREM sleep to wakefulness. You may be in a semi-awake state where you end up performing routine actions, such as eating, without full awareness.

What Are the Causes of Sleep Eating Disorders?

What Are the Causes of Sleep Eating Disorders?

While there is still no exact reason as to why people suffer from NES, here are a few contributing factors. Take a look!

1. Circadian Rhythm Disorder

Imagine following a faulty alarm clock that wakes you up at 10 am instead of 7 am. It will throw off your whole day, won't it? Well, circadian rhythm is your body's natural clock. Here, it doesn't work as it must. Therefore, at night, instead of sliding into a deep slumber, you remain alert and feel hungry.

2. Diets

Sometimes, fad diets can be the reason for NES. If you tend to consume extremely low amounts of calories during the daytime, it can lead to night-time binge eating. Skipping meals frequently or having an irregular eating schedule can also be the cause.

3. Poor Sleep Quality

Poor sleep quality is usually caused by an old, lumpy, or uncomfortable mattress. When you are unable to find your sweet spot as you snooze, it can keep you awake or disrupt your sleep, which can lead to night-time eating. Sleep disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea , or restless legs syndrome can also be the reason.

4. Genetics

NES can be a genetic disorder. If you are experiencing the symptoms, you may want to check if other family members have the same issue as well.

5. May Be Due To Other Disorders

There still isn't any concrete evidence of the association but healthcare practitioners believe that people suffering from eating disorders or substance abuse can experience NES.

6. Mental Health

High levels of stress and anxiety can lead to night-time eating as a form of coping. NES is also associated with depressive symptoms. Individuals may eat at night to manage feelings of sadness or hopelessness. It is even seen as a way to handle emotional issues, where eating becomes a form of comfort at night.

Who Is at Risk of Sleep Eating Disorder?

People who are at a risk of NES include:

  • Adults between the age group of 20 to 50.
  • Women may be more susceptible to the sleep eating disorder compared to men.
  • People with obesity or those seeking weight loss treatment.
  • Individuals go through high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression.
  • People suffering from eating disorders like binge eating disorder.
  • Individuals with existing sleep problems like insomnia or sleep apnea.
  • People who have irregular meal times or restrictive diets.
  • Certain medications, including antidepressants and antipsychotics, can increase the risk of NES.
  • Disrupted sleep patterns, such as irregular sleep schedules or frequent awakenings, can be a risk factor.

Diagnosis of Sleep Eating Disorder

Unlike other ailments, there are no tests that can be conducted to diagnose NES. Therefore, it is always important that you visit a specialist.

Your doctor may ask you about the symptoms, frequency of wake-ups, etc. They may also conduct a regular physical check-up along with evaluating your mental condition. Here, your doctor may ask you to maintain a sleep diary to get an exact idea of the severity of the condition.

Treating and Managing Sleep Eating Disorder

Treating and Managing Sleep Eating Disorder

Based on your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend trying one or a combination of treatments as mentioned below.

1. Cognitive Behaviour Theory

It is a type of cognitive therapy that helps one embrace healthy habits. It can also address underlying emotional issues and help develop coping strategies.

2. Medication

Your doctor may prescribe necessary medicines to boost your mood and improve your mental health. Melatonin supplements may also be given, which can help rectify your sleep cycle.

3. Exercises

Your doctor can ask you to do certain physical and mental exercises to boost your physical and mental health.

4. Light Therapy

If circadian rhythm disorder is the culprit, light therapy may be recommended.


If you are struggling with NES, get the necessary treatment today. When left untreated, it can lead to both mental and physical health problems. A specialist will be able to guide you in the right direction and prescribe the necessary treatments as per the severity of your condition.

In addition to professional help, investing in a high-quality mattress can also improve your sleep environment. A comfortable and supportive mattress like the Smart Ortho Pro mattress by The Sleep Company is essential for a restful night's sleep and can complement your treatment efforts.

Be honest with your doctor and feel free to talk about even the tiniest symptom. Remember, this will help you get better and improve your quality of life.

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1. What is a sleep-eating disorder?

Sleep eating disorder or night eating syndrome is a condition where people eat before sleeping despite a heavy dinner. They may also wake up multiple times at night to consume food.

2. What are the symptoms of sleep eating disorder?

One of the major symptoms of the sleep-eating disorder is binge eating at night after having your dinner or waking up at night to eat food. You may also notice that your appetite takes a dip in the morning.

3. How is sleep eating disorder diagnosed?

Your doctor will speak with you to understand your symptoms and evaluate your mental and physical health to confirm your diagnosis.

4. What are the treatment options for sleep-eating disorders?

Cognitive behaviour therapy, light therapy, and medications can be some of the treatment methods. However, it depends on an individual's severity.

5. How to avoid sleep after lunch?

Here's how to avoid sleep after lunch:

  • Drink ample amount of water
  • Take a short walk after your lunch
  • Eat a light well-balanced meal
  • Avoid too much sugar after lunch

6. After eating food, which side to sleep on?

While you must never immediately sleep after eating, sleeping on the left can be ideal. It improves digestion and reduces the symptoms of acid reflux.

7. What are the side effects of eating onion at night?

Some of the side effects of onions at night are acid reflux, strong breath, indigestion, and bloating.

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