Night Time Eating Syndrome
Timeless Nutrition Tip
This is a syndrome currently studied very seriously as a potential cause of obesity. Those afflicted eat nothing, or very little, during the day, then consume at least 40 percent of their daily calories after their last meal, often waking in the night to eat.
A professor of psychiatry, Albert Stunkard, M.D., identified night-eating syndrome in 1955. However, it still remains virtually unknown to the public, even though it is fairly widespread. Stunkard estimates as much as 5-percent of American citizens suffer this disorder.
The syndrome tends to be precipitated by stress but is not like other stress-related disorders. In this case, even when the stress diminishes, the syndrome tends to stay and become chronic. In addition to the connection to obesity, the disorder may be related to depression and sleep problems.
Late night snacks tend to be high in carbohydrates, which raise the level of the sedative-like brain chemical serotonin, thus helping people get back to sleep. Stunkard believes chronic night-eaters are simply self-medicating, without realizing it.
Whether depression or insomnia leads to the eating disorder, or overeating precipitates mood problems and sleeplessness is not clear. These problems are evidently connected, though, and can escalate into a debilitating illness.