Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
7 May

Dear Mark: Night Eating Syndrome

nighteating2There’s nothing quite so powerful as the urge to eat. Being living organisms that require sustenance and nutrition, we find it difficult to resist. It’s not like smoking, or sex, or drugs, which you can technically avoid and still live, because they aren’t really required for an individual’s survival. No, food is an absolute necessity. So what happens when that basic human requirement for life – the need to eat something – conflicts with another important factor in health – the need to sleep? Today’s edition of Dear Mark deals with exactly that: night-eating syndrome, a real and extremely frustrating eating disorder in which the afflicted awaken during the night, compelled to eat everything and anything. As you’ll see from the following question, when you wake up at 3 AM with a raw, preternatural hunger gnawing at your very core, you’re probably not going to throw together a nice spinach, kale, and watercress salad in lemon vinaigrette and poach a few pastured eggs. You’re going to grab what’s available and what’s easy and what satisfies that carnal urge:

I have no problem eating healthy foods during the day. For some reason, I get up in the middle of the night feeling hungry, and eating whatever junk food (donuts, pastries) my family has in the kitchen. I’ve tried eating more during the day, but I give in to the craving 9 times out of 10. I’ve searched the blog, also tried eating more during the day, but this is the only thing I haven’t found an article on. Not sure if it’s a physical or mental issue. This is the only part of going Primal I’ve struggled with. Any suggestions on how to stop doing this? Thanks for reading.

Alexander

I did some digging around, and while experts have a pretty good handle on what’s going on – hormonally – with night-eating syndrome (PDF), they’re still trying to figure out the etiology, the cause of it all. From what we can tell, someone with night-eating syndrome has lower melatonin at night, which weakens their REM sleep. They have lower leptin, which is an appetite suppressant. Their ghrelin (an appetite stimulant) is phased forward by five hours, meaning they get hungry ahead of “when they should.” They have higher thyroid stimulating hormone (which is also seen in hypothyroid, as the thyroid is trying to “stimulate” more hormone production because it’s lacking). In response to a corticotropin-releasing hormone test, they release less cortisol, which suggests a depleted (overworked, overstressed) hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA). They snack more throughout the day and tend to skip breakfast. Rather than eat solid meals, they graze. All signs seem to suggest that both troughs and spikes of their hormonal cycles are muted; since the body needs acute spikes and drops for proper functioning and signaling, this could pose a problem.

So while we don’t have the absolute cause pinned down, it seems like the HPA, or the stress response system, are involved. I do have some general advice. Some of these may not apply to you, but take a look and see if anything looks familiar.

Don’t fast and don’t skip meals. I know, I know. You just got done reading that long series where I touted the benefits of fasting, and here I go telling you not to do it. What gives? Not only do habitual night-eaters tend to avoid breakfast (which could just be a correlation), they’re also hormonally dysregulated, especially in regards to the adrenals. If you’re trying to fix an adrenal issue, you do not want to be skipping meals and playing around with fasting. Fasting is incredibly useful for the intact and the healthy, but it can do a number on people with messed up HPAs. Since nocturnal binge-eaters have a dysfunctional HPA (almost as a rule), that’s probably you.

Eat breakfast, and make it big. I suggest some sort of animal and a serving of fruit.

Eat meals, not snacks. Do three or four solid meals each day, instead of grazing.

Watch your fructose intake, particularly processed refined fructose, which can disrupt leptin.

If you’re training too much or too hard, either cut back or support it with adequate nutrition and recovery time. That means doing CrossFit once or twice a week instead of four or five times (or not at all). That means turning half of your long runs into long walks (or all of them). That means getting plenty of sleep, and if you have a bad night where you get just a few hours, don’t work out the next day (you’ll survive). If you can’t (won’t) cut back on the training, then you have to make sure you’re eating enough calories and enough carbohydrates. I don’t like the idea of filling up on carbs (and I train in such a way that doesn’t require a ton of them for that exact reason), but if you need ‘em, you need ‘em.

Turn off the electronics after dark, and use candles. Might I suggest playing board or card games with friends or a significant other, instead of video games or watching TV? There’s nothing like a game of Jenga by candlelight. If you’re going to use electronics or keep the lights on, get some blue-light blocking goggles. Blue light’s suppression of melatonin may not be causative in night-eating syndrome, but it certainly isn’t helping.

Consider light therapy, especially if you’re indoors during the day. We need exposure to bright light upon waking and during the day (just as we don’t need it at night), but indoor lighting simply doesn’t cut it. If sunlight isn’t an option, look into getting a lightbox. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and night-eating have a lot of crossover, and there have even been case studies showing that patients who suffer from both enjoy amelioration of their symptoms after employing light therapy.

Practice stress reduction or avoidance. Whether that’s avoiding chronic stress (desirable, but not always realistic), improving your reaction to stress, or developing coping mechanisms. Evidence points to a night eater having an over-stressed HPA, and more stress will only worsen the problem. Chris Kresser just wrapped up a 30-day “Best Your Stress” challenge, but you can still follow along and reap the benefits. Read through my previous suggestions for reducing stress as a starter, and consider meditation, too. One study found that a twenty minute muscle relaxation exercise performed daily was able to increase morning appetite and reduce late night eating.

Last, but not least, be honest as you appraise your lifestyle. Are you going to bed early enough? Are you reading this post at 12 AM in a dark room? Are you eating enough food (and the right kind) to fuel your performance? Are you training a bit too much, a bit too often, and should you perhaps tone it down and take some days off? Are you walking as much as you should? Are you reducing stress as much as you can?

While the reigning uncertainty with regards to the cause of this situation is frustrating, you can use this opportunity to try a bunch of different tactics. I hope it helps.

Readers, now it’s your turn. Have you dealt with this problem before? What worked and what didn’t? If you have any more advice, please leave it in the comment section.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I have one last question I hope Mark or anyone can answer. I am 24 years old extremely active, like 25,000 steps on an average day. My 40 hour a week job (in a stock room) keeps me on my feet for an average of 7.5 hours just at work, lifting boxes, and climbing stairs with heavy loads. I’m also an avid walker. I really enjoy it, sometimes I’ll walk to work, which is about 2.5 miles away from home. (Safe to say I have the move frequently at a slow pace part down…?) Mark (or anyone who would know) How many grams if carbs should I eat daily? Is it more than 150g? Could this be part of the problem?

    Alexander wrote on May 7th, 2012
    • Wow that definitely sounds like part of the problem! I mean, I think anyone could reasonably eat and think they were satisfied, when you are moving at a slow pace, but if I were you I would get hungry later in the night too.
      Look, I hate to be blunt but are you trying to lose weight too. Because if you don’t fix this sleep thing that weight will come off temporarily but it will be nothing compared to -I think-your guilt, and not sleeping well. The solutions on here are great but there is no one size fits all approach. Fix the night time bingeing. Stop feeling guilty. In my opinion that’s the worst thing you can feel about your new lifestyle-remember this isn’t a diet. Eat a HUGE breakfast. More than you can possibly imagine. And because of the activity of your job, I would say to up the protein, and fat. Try 60g. What do you have to lose, other than getting a good night of sleep? And if you still binge try 70g. And yes, eat some freaking carbs if you want!!! But relax-take one thing at a time, too. Easier said than Done I know. Please post in the logs here and let me know how it goes.

      LJ wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Alexander-sorry to keep on you! But, I think the amount of carbs is your least problem. Seriously, the best thing I have found to stop bingeing-and I never knew others who had sleeping problems do this, but I do mine during the day and feel guilty-so I am in your same spot-is doing what mamagrok says-eating 4 eggs, 5 sausages, sometimes a filet of steak or fish, slathered in butter or coconut oil. If you are taking in a lot of fat and protein your body will not let you to binge. Your stomach stops ruling you. It took me about 3 months of eating what I thought was priMal to realize that yes, I had been scared of the fat. But it was my blind spot and it is hard to see your own blind spots, and I realized mine only when I saw a friday true story guy, asian, saying that he had a really hard time shaking off sugar, and he really amped up the fat. And I thought-hey, that is me! Amping up the fat, not carbs, helped me-but don’t do something just because someone on here said so, you have to experiment! Or maybe ask a paleo doctor as well, if that is an option-not or me. That mood cure book sounds interesting too. Your gut is telling you something.

      LJ wrote on May 8th, 2012
      • sorry, I left out – the best thing is eating a HUGE breakfast, as mamamgrok advises – I will eat a huge piece of steak, hamburger, chicken, fish, eggs – but it’s amazing how full I feel all day and how this is the only thing that ever stopped me from bingeing. I feel very passionately about this issue, clearly. And Alexander, I know it’s tough for you with your job, probably, to know how much you need to be eating, but keep increasing your protein and fat at breakfast. The mood cure, the leptin reset – I think, as one of the previous posters said, there is a point where you can only do so much but need help resetting your hormones…

        LJ wrote on May 8th, 2012
      • I actually used to weigh 305lbs as a teen, but slimmed down during my college years to 230. Going Primal has gotten me to 215 effortlessly, but I have love handles towards my back, and fat on my legs, besides having a lean upper body.

        Alexander wrote on May 8th, 2012
  2. This post is a god send I cannot tell you how long and hard I’ve tried to fight this “Night Eating Syndrome”. It is a B**** and its stopping me from losing this weight once and for all. In addition, the analysis of the hormones seems to be dead on and the source of why I cannot lose weight…

    if I were to try to balance my adrenals and hypothyroidism does coffee inhibit that and cause more hunger due to the caffeine possible amplified effects by my body’s fight or flight response?

    Dalal wrote on May 8th, 2012
  3. I’d get checked for parasites. I think this is something that should be talked about more.

    You can do a simple wormwood/black walnut tincture (get a brand on Amazon with a higher average rating, and be sure to get the kind made with alcohol) for three weeks, and you will be amazed at what you pass.

    Rich wrote on May 8th, 2012
  4. Hi,

    I’ve suffered in the past with NES. I can happily say that I currently do not have this condition anymore and could not be happier! Here is a short version of my story: For many years I would wake 3-5 times a night to eat anything sugary and could not fall back asleep without doing so. I was sleep deprived, gained weight, became extremely depressed, etc.. I went to see a sleep specialist who prescribed me sleeping pills (which did not help at the time). A few years later I administered myself at the hospital for an eating disorder program hoping to fix my NES but soon to realize that I also was suffering from much more.. I was also anorexic, bulimic and had a binge eating disorder. Going through therapy was part of the program, and by doing so I found that dealing with my stress also helped lessen the night eating episodes. For me I realized that I dealt with my stress at night by eating. Things got progressively better until I would only wake a few times a week. Last year, I was having major stomach problems, sugar cravings, acne, eczema, etc. I went to see a Naturopath only to discover that I had a yeast overgrowth in my system. I was put on a colon cleanse for the duration of 3 months. I swear, within 2 weeks of doing this… I was never waking up again to eat!!! I’ve never had such good sleep. What really did it for me was changing the way I dealt with my stress and the way or what I was eating. Cutting ALL sugars out was very important. I tried going Paleo, but the natural sugars (honey, maple sugar, etc.) started to make me crave artificial sugars and I slowly started getting NES episodes again. So I just cut it out completely. However, I can eat a small amount of fruits every day. If anyone would like additional information just reply to this post and I’d be happy to share more information :) Good luck!

    Valerie wrote on May 8th, 2012
    • Hi Valerie,

      Could you describe what your colon cleanse routine consisted of?

      Also, so did you go straight no carb? I notice I do better w/ NES when i go lower carbs as well, but significant other says I get cranky when I work out w/o carbs (and generally low on calories in general)…hah!

      Evan wrote on May 9th, 2012
      • Hi Evan,

        I will try and summarize this as best as possible! The first step for the colon cleanse consisted of avoiding sugar, yeast and vinegar. The first two weeks were very strict meaning I could not have any fruits, any tea or coffee, milk, as well as red meat. Protein was very important (just like Paleo), I was required to eat protein at every meal, and I also was required to alternate between rice, sweet potatoes and rice pasta for dinner. After 2 weeks I was able to incorporate 2 servings of fruits a day, tea, salsa & guacamole (no vinegar). After a month or two I was able to re-introduce red meats. If you like drinking (I do here and there!), Sapporro beer was the only type of alcohol that I could have after 2-3 months since it’s made with rice and has no or hardly any yeast. The cleanse if very specific! But in general you just need to eliminate any artificial sugars, yeast and vinegar as mentioned above.

        The second step is to be done at the same time but consist of taking herbal supplements to help kill/clear the yeast. The supplements required can differ from one person to another. My Naturopath used kinesiology to determine which ones by body required. Her theory regarding all this was that it was the yeast craving the sugar therefore it was making me wake up at night. It constantly wanted to be fed. Whether I believe it or not I’m not sure, but the cleanse definitely got rid of my NES!

        I tried going completely Paleo (no carb) for about a month and I found it very difficult because I was starting to crave more sugar. My candida eventually came back. I have now started the whole cleansing process again and I feel much better! I’m not sure if it was the no carbs or because I was eating natural sugar (ie. honey) that caused the sugar cravings to come back.

        I hope this helps!

        Valerie wrote on May 9th, 2012
  5. To Aek,

    Reading your post triggered a thought about Hyperparathyroidism. You mention a lot of the symptoms.
    Don’t know how old your are, but if you are over 30 , give or take , and have a serum calcium over 9.9, this just might be an issue.

    Adults with healthy parathyroids have calcium levels in the “9′s”. Higher and fluctuating levels mean an issue.

    People go for YEARS undiagnosed and feel like utter crap as a result. I know I did.

    check out http://www.parathyroid.com if any of this resonates with you. Best of luck!

    RenegadeRN wrote on May 8th, 2012
  6. Maybe this is why I had such trouble fasting.
    I autoimmune problems, which has messed up my thyroid & stopped me ovulating.
    I tried fasting to repair it all and it started really well – I really did lose my appetite and felt mentally alright at the start but the lack of energy just crushed me. I kept waiting for the rush everyone talks about but by day 10 of water fasting I couldn’t get out of bed or lift my head up and had to stop.
    I would be very grateful for an explanation of why people with damaged HPA can’t fast.
    Thanks

    Nicola wrote on May 9th, 2012
  7. Hi,

    Maybe this is an unrelated problem, I am not sure…

    I had a problem with binge eating before going to bed. Although my stomach was full at dinner, I needed to eat 1 hour later. What I felt was odd that I seldom felt thirsty (not even during the day), I only felt hungry.

    What I did was, regular and planned eating throughout the week, and one fasting day, where I did not eat anything for a whole day (for me it is Friday).

    But before I started fasting I made sure that I am ketone adapted (used to binge eat meat and nuts mainly) and that I do not have reflux (a reflux can give you terrible hunger pains) anymore.

    For me fasting really worked, because since the first fasting I drink much more, and eat way less, it seems that I my body confused thirst for hunger anymore.

    I am not sure this would work, as I clearly had a problem with thirst…

    Petra wrote on May 9th, 2012
  8. Thanks for sharing the information on late night eating. I am thankful I have never had this problem. However, I do notice that if I eat a larger meal than normal in the evening my blood sugar is out of whack and I am starving when I wake up.

    Since I have tried the Paleo diet, I have noticed that my blood sugar is level throughout the day and I don’t have the highs & lows that come with eating too much sugar. Plus I sleep better at night.

    Charlene wrote on May 9th, 2012
  9. Wow. I have to say I was shocked to hear that this is such a common problem. I have dealt with that I refer to as “sleep-eating” for a few years now and I always just assumed it was because my metabolism was super fast from working out so much and fasting during the day which I’ve been doing for about a year now. Pretty much every night I wake up around 2:30AM and wander into my kitchen to stuff my face. I’ve tried almond butter, but unfortunately I F****** LOVE it so I’ll eat like half a jar without even realizing. Last night I also downed about half a pint of ben and jerry’s. Now typically I don’t fret too much about this because other than my nightly binges I am extremely healthy and work out super hard. However, I just landed myself a stress fracture in my hip and am currently on crutches for the next 6-8 weeks so these nightly feasts aren’t exactly falling off the way they typically would and I find myself even more likely to partake in them being that I’m really struggling with my inability to move and exercise the way I typically do. Suggestions anyone? LOVE this site btw.

    Michele wrote on May 9th, 2012
  10. Awesome article Mark. I’ve been researching fasting and am continually finding how incompatible it is for t2 diabetes/obese population, largely due to their current circadian programming. Anyway, the search goes on! Well researched piece. Good advice.

    Danny Healy wrote on May 9th, 2012
  11. When I was in school I played soccer year-round. It meant 3 mornings in the weight-gym and 2 hour intense practices on all weekday afternoons if we weren’t playing a game. When I was training this hard, I would have to eat a TON to not wake up in the middle of the night shivering from cold or very hungry. People always told me how amazing I looked and I had low body fat, but I felt really tired and hungry all the time. I haven’t thought about that in years and at the time I assumed that I wasn’t trying hard enough and I was the only one this was happening to. After reading your letter, I think you should seriously take a look at your training and see a doctor.

    Amy wrote on May 9th, 2012
  12. I’ve been fasting between 9pm and 1pm each day… Despite training heavily, I’ve found that my appetite has decreased significantly and adhering to the “fast” has really helped me prevent night time binging (and eating in general).
    I’m supplementing with a zero cal BCAA mix (Scivation XTEND) and I find this really helps with hunger cravings. Especially post-workout as I have approx 5-6 hours of fasting after my morning session.

    Danno wrote on May 9th, 2012
  13. Hi Mark, all,

    Night Eating Syndrome, so far as I can tell, is greatly influenced by the activity of Hypocretin Neurons. Hypocretin neurons interact with leptin– leptin signals to them to be quiet– but it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. Hypocretin neurons fire both for appetite as well as for arousal. Anyway. I wrote about it here, if anyone is interested:

    http://www.paleoforwomen.com/night-eating-syndrome-an-effect-of-hpa-axis-and-appetite-dysregulation-among-other-things/

    and here:

    http://www.paleoforwomen.com/hypocretin-neurons-the-link-between-fasting-stress-and-arousal-or-why-fasting-breeds-insomniacs/

    Stefani

    Stefani wrote on May 11th, 2012
  14. I find that if I eat right before bed it helps. Some might argue that it’s not good for digestion and/or sleep. But I see it as more of a transition from my NES. Instead of eating carbs during the night, I will eat carbs right before bed (fruits, rye bread, etc.). Eventually I will try to eat less closer to bed time.

    Valerie wrote on May 17th, 2012
  15. Hey Mark and everyone, just in case anyone was interested in my progress, I have an update: After about a month of experimenting unsuccessfully, I seem to have found the answer. First, I cut all forms of sugar (even fruit) out of my diet for at least 3 weeks, I’m on week 2 so far. Next I bought a bag of prunes as a safety net of sorts for intense sugar cravings. Then I committed to eating a huge breakfast (4-6 egg omelette with veggies and meat) every morning. I also stopped snacking and eat 3 big meals and a snack of about 8-12 ounces of just meat. I only drink water and occasionally coconut water, and eat 3 hours before bed. I work late, so I get home around 2am, drink water, and sleep. The only drawback is I wake up at 6 really hungry, but that’s when I have my omelet and go back to sleep. I also stopped working out for 3 weeks until today. The only hard time was the first night, when I almost had cake. I put the prunes next to the cake earlier, and ate that. The next few nights, I had prunes and milk, then just prunes, now I don’t eat any sugar at night. It’s been 2 weeks almost, and I feel great. I don’t even think about it. Thanks Mark, and everyone else for your help! I hope I can keep at it!

    Alexander wrote on June 19th, 2012
    • Well if you are going to sleep at 2am then 6am is like the “middle of the night” for you… if we go to sleep at 10pm we wake at 2am really hungry… so really you are still eating in the middle of the night? However I am going to try out the bigger breakfast thing, aswell as the 3 larger meals + 1 snack before bed.
      Cheers

      Saemho wrote on September 27th, 2012
  16. i have same problem.my Gopi and my age is 50 then my problem, i had my dinner wel but i feel hunger in mid night near 2 clock any1 solve my problem

    gopi wrote on July 3rd, 2012
  17. I have lived with this problem for years now – I don’t even know if I’m really hungry when I go get a snack in the middle of the night or if it has just become a bad habbit. I am a very light sleeper. Even though I know I should eat some protein if I am looking for a midnight snack – I go right for the ice-cream / juice / chocolate. I am so frustrated. Melatonin helps but then I am groggy the whole next day. I thought your advice was interesting since I take cortisone and thyroid medication (pituitary tumor).
    I am about 40 lbs overweight and despite my best efforts during the day (yes, I eat breakfast), the night time always derails my efforts.

    Julie wrote on July 14th, 2012
  18. Last night I tried having a pitch black room. I even put a cloth over the alarm clock. I installed flux on my computer too. I slept right through the night without waking! This morning I had a big breakfast with lots of protein and I am going to try to eat 3 large meals a day + maybe a snack before bed if I need it and see how this goes. It felt so strange eating such a big breakfast and I feel very satisfied right now, but I suppose if I am eating less before bed and not eating during the night I will need a big breakfast to fill me up. I will let everyone know how this goes for me. Cheers for the Post Mark and also for everyones comments and tips.

    Emily wrote on September 27th, 2012
  19. I’ve been a “night eater” for a long time now. I try to fight it and just stay in bed but I usually give in 99% of the time. I’ll go in the kitchen and grab cookies, take a fork and dig into a cake until I’m satisfied, grab cheese crackers, candy, ham slices, ANYTHING to satisfy the craving! I DO notice, though, that my preference is for the sweeter things. Now here’s the weird part. Currently my Doctor has me monitoring my blood sugar levels because recent lab results have her concerned about pre or even Diabetes. It runs rampant in my family! This is NOT the first time a Doctor has questioned my blood sugar levels.
    Anyway, so far I’ve tested several times BEFORE meals, when I first wake up, a couple hours after meals etc. Before meals (when fasting), I’ve been averaging about 104. 2 hours after meals I’ve been averaging about 137 (and these were usually high carb meals), I’m usually about 107 when I go to bed. So one night I woke up, as usual, about 3:45 am with my HUNGER need. I thought it would be a PERFECT TIME to test my sugar level! I was positive my sugar level would be very LOW and that’s WHY I wanted to eat.
    To my surprise, my reading was 176!! I don’t get it?? So that night I FOUGHT OFF eating anything, for fear I’d raise it even higher! I drank some water and went back to bed, feeling very unsatisfied!! When I woke up a few hours later, I checked it again before I ate and it was back down to 107! Anyone have any ideas about what happened and how my “night eating” may or may not have anything to do with my elevated blood sugar??

    Patti wrote on October 8th, 2012
    • Hey I have t1 diabetes and when it was out of control and my sugars were very high during the night I would ALWAYS get up to eat. There was no way I could stop.. but since controling sugars better (as long as they are not too low) i dont get up and feel much better.

      Sarahhhhh wrote on October 22nd, 2012
  20. My night eating is interesting. I find if I take an OTC sleeping pill to help fall asleep, that within 15 minutes I am ravenously hungary! I get up at least twice a night to eat and immediately fall back asleep no problem. Some mornings I have no idea what I ate the night before. The worst is when I once woke up with my tongue black. I obviously became worried thinking I ate who knows what during the night. I went toy dentist and it turns out that if you take Pepto bismol, there is the possibility it could turn your tongue black. I did that the night before because of an upset stomach. Check the bottle the next you grab for it. I wish I could kick the night eating, because it is very disruptive for the one that has to sleep with me.

    Darrell wrote on October 23rd, 2012
  21. Really good advice from everyone, but it doesn’t help for someone with this illness. A lot of people that night eat are not aware they are doing it, its done in their sleep, so stopping it is hard. For me it took awhile to catch on that I was doing it, by that time the trend was already there and it was really hard to break. I tried everything over the counter and prescription. I even tried locking up my food or removing everything from the house. No having anything in the house helped (literally nothing in the house). I think people with depression, neurological issues, and history of sleep walking are more prone. Mine was triggered by serving in the military.

    I also found that I was having other gastro problems so I started experimenting with going gluten free or dairy free. NOT EATING GLUTEN helped so much. Combing that with no food in the house fixed the problem, but one week I slipped and ate wheat for a few days in a row and it was all back.

    If you have this and are doing it in your sleep GET HELP. It can be dangerous and very depressing. It can also be caused by an underlying disease or intolerance. Mine was gluten intolerance and seizures.

    pjk wrote on November 15th, 2012
  22. Ok, you said eat breakfast, preferably a big one…what happens if you have NO desire to eat in the morning? I do not tend to eat much until 1pm, and that is only because I have type 1 diabetes and my sugar is really low. But I eat a cow every 2 hrs between 11 pm and 5 am. I also spend time outdoors during the day, I walk for 30 min after every meal to keep my sugar down. I just ate a huge amount of food and still feel starving! Ideas?

    jessarenea wrote on November 27th, 2012
  23. I found this out syndrome X – if you google it WOW I had no idea I am a severe case, and I eat these chocolate and sea salt caramel truffle to help me and now I lost 15 pounds since nov 8th I have away to go but at least its working and I make sure I go to bed at 10 even if I am not tired, but a truffle with a full glass of water does the trick every time! Its when the body over produces insulin and we have these crazy cravings as well as night time eating and always hungry – syndrome X its real!

    Susan McGarry wrote on December 12th, 2012
  24. I don’t understand. I have this, but I eat breakfast TWICE (first as soon as I wake up, and second breakfast happens two hours later). Eat lunch, have afternoon snacks, eat dinner (I used to eat a light dinner, now I eat with protein, rice and salad) and I still wake up in the middle of the night with really painful hunger pangs. I am now resorting to anti-ulcer meds. Stress is the only reason I can think of, but I’m trying to avoid even that. *Sigh*

    Bea wrote on February 16th, 2013
  25. I have been a night eater for 20 years. Now, at age 47, it is taking its toll and I am twenty pounds overweight. No matter what time I eat dinner, I get ravenous before bed, wake up 3-4 times to eat carbs or sugar,(if I don’t do this I will actually dream of what I want to eat and keep waking up every few minutes) Sometimes I am not even aware the next morning that I ate! I am on sleeping pills (Xanax) as there is no other way for me to sleep. I have never experienced a sugar “high” in my life. I realize I have a problem, but I cannot take anti-depressants because of serious side effects. Melatonin makes me feel strange. Sugar/night eating is an addiction, and I need some real help here: I am powerless and can’t just “stop” or do a cleanse or whatever. Is there any natural supplement or natural serotonin I can take? I live alone and so have no one to help me w/ the night eating. Please help me. Thanks

    Zemindar wrote on February 19th, 2013
  26. So glad to see this info here….anywhere. I have been a night eater for 3 years and progressed to almost debilitating. I had a severe bout of insomnia in the Fall 2012 and was improved with neurobiofeedback. I have been doing better with sleep till the past few nights the same pattern has returned. I go to sleep fine and wake every two hours then wake at 2:00 for the night. I have seen many providers and even considered RX anti-depressants. The night eating is usually severe sugar cravings with a “need” for chocolate. I do follow all of the traits outlines here….no breakfast, or just juice ( kale, celery spinach) . I am very disciplined during the day….hubby says I eat like a Monk. Then all of that is ruined at night. Feeling desperate….any suggestions?

    Pam wrote on March 4th, 2013
  27. In contrast, I’m more likely to wake up at night to eat if I’ve had snacks all day.

    For me, what seems to work best is eating nearly all my calories a few hours before bed.

    Liz wrote on March 4th, 2013
  28. I just don’t eat during the day not only because I don’t get hungry but I have a mother that inspects my food just because she doesn’t want me to get fat because of diabetes.

    Ana wrote on April 2nd, 2013
  29. I had night eating syndrome for 28 years. It started when I was 16 and I had tried everything under the sun! Have done the research regarding HPA dysfunction, tried every supplament, anti Parkinson’s med, antidepressant meds. I finally resigned myself to the fact that I would do this for the rest of my life…..not so. I am cured. I was placed on the Marshall protocol for an autoimmune illness. As I have been healing from my illness, my night eating began to decline and has ceased altogether. It actually makes sense, as Trevor Marshall discovered that chronic bacteria living in our bodies can produce ligands that bind to cortisol and thyroid receptors. I feel better than I have in years, have lost weight and finally conquered this demon!

    Paula Bennett wrote on June 4th, 2013
  30. I have suffered with this on and off while dealing with my adrenal fatigue. No one had any answers for me. I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t able to produce enough cortisol at night to keep my blood sugars balanced during sleep. After much research I decided to add licorice root to my bedtime supplements (with magnesium, tryptophan, l-theanine and GABA) and voila – sleeping through the night (FINALLY). The licorice root prevents the metabolism of existing cortisol levels so no more blood sugar crashes during sleep.
    Keep in mind I had tried everything from more carbs to no carbs to huge meals, small frequent meals, eating (high fat, high protein) before bed, having protein shakes when I woke up in the night. It got ridiculous. Nothing worked. Now I have dinner (I eat pretty primal) at 6 and rarely need to snack after and I’m good til breakfast. I also find although I wake up hungry, I’m not famished like I used to be.

    Megs wrote on June 22nd, 2013
  31. I have had sleep issues ever since I went through a horrendous divorce, a stressful job loss, and went back to school all at the same time. Eating at night was the only way I could get to sleep. I began working out to exhaustion thinking I would be so tired that I could sleep that way but it didn’t help. I lost 50 pounds in 3 months. Everyone kept telling me how fabulous I looked but I felt horrible. I couldn’t sleep or eat ( except at night). I rebounded with the weight and I still am not sleeping but I am still exercising just not as compulsively. I switched to yoga, hiking and meditation. I minimize wheat and sugar and I think I may try a very low dose of melatonin after reading this article. I know it’s a hormone but it’s been a year and this lack of sleep is really kicking my butt.

    Toshia wrote on September 16th, 2013
  32. I’ve had this problem for over a year and a half, regularly waking up and needing more food (sometimes mountains of it!) before I can go back to sleep. Reading this post I was intrigued to find skipping breakfast (I’ve been following the Leangains IF plan) is part of the problem. I read up on the Leptin Reset (certainly sounds like me) and I can report that I have been sleeping MUCH better from the day I got up and ate a massive meaty breakfast (large chicken breast to get that 50g of protein, plus, eggs, bacon and plenty of fat). Definitely worth a try if you have this problem!

    archaeologyboy wrote on October 9th, 2013
  33. I am a night eater. Does not matter what I eat during the day.
    I’ll eat anything at night. I start at around 1230 and 1 I wake up every hour on the hour up till 4 or five.
    Then I am able to sleep.
    This happens every night for over 10 years.
    I don’t really like chocolate but if there is any in the house I eat all of it.
    The other night I ate a whole thing of oreos.
    If we have brats and there are left overs I can eat 6-7 at night.
    I have done large meals for supper. Snack high in protein later, glass of milk and ect.
    I eat alot during the day. I eat healthy. The only time I don’t is at night.
    I wanted to say thank you for the article.
    I am going to try your ideas to see if it helps.

    FYI when you eat all night it is hard to eat breakfast.

    Jami wrote on October 10th, 2013
  34. wow the craziest part about this is when i read are u sitting in a dark room at 12:00 am. this really helped thanks for writing this article. i was beginning to think i had sleep apnea

    kenshin himura wrote on November 5th, 2013
  35. Hi, in light fot he article i do skip breakfast. i sleep eatevery night unless i have a good bit of alchol in me. now I’m going to suggest something a bit different. At night i sometimes get up wanting peanut butter. I don’t eat breakfast or lunch but it isn’thunger pains that wake me. I wake sometimes almost unconscious eating whatever i can find sometimes things with sugar and sometimes with high carbs. but im not hungry. my stomach is not hungry its my mouth its dry and water won’t quinch my thirst. When you eat foods or are hungry your mouth produces more saliva you’ll find this when you are hungry or when you smell something you want. this is just a craving. true hunger will start with stomach pain and gurgling. pleasepay close atgtention to what your stomach is really saying. I keep water by my bedbut it doesn’t fix the thirst. Instead I have tried keeping an orange already pealed by bed side rthere is something about it that helps When I’m eating it moistens my mouth and it has the sugar i crave. perhaps my body needs sugar and thia is the best non fat food i canthink of. My stomach is not hungry..mymouth just needs something more.

    jennifer wrote on December 9th, 2013
  36. I had Night Eating Syndrome for 35 years. I could take any kind of sleeping pill and would still wake up (2-5 times/night) with the compulsion to eat. Finally I went to a sleep doctor who put me on setraline (Zoloft). Within 4 days I was sleeping through the night. Even if I woke up, there was no compulsion to get out of bed and head to the fridge. Within 6 months I had dropped 50 pounds, just by sleeping through the night.

    Heather wrote on January 8th, 2014
  37. “Are you reading this at 12am?” Ha! Try 3:30 am !! It’s just one of those nights :/ but the seasonal disorder cross over really flipped a switch, for me! I NEED a light therapy lamp, I think. Luckily, now, when I do have the night eats, I eat primally. Unfortunatley, way more than I should of the stuff ( 85%+ chocoolate, almond butter, strawberries w/ heavy cream) but better none the less. I just forgive myself and ith helps me get better, every day.

    AnaBanana wrote on January 12th, 2014
  38. I suffer from hypothyroidism. This sleep/night eating and insomnia began about 5 years ago. It is not every night but when it does happen (about twice a month), I wake up four or five nights in a row. It’s always cookies or granola bars. I’ll eat until I am full. Sometimes it’s two or three cookies and other times it’s half a bag.

    I eat mostly regular healthy meals and snacks.

    I also suffer from insomnia about a week before my menstrual cycle.

    I totally believe in the cortisol level theory. I was reading about this in a Facebook group for people who suffer from Hashimoto’s/Hypothyroidism. Some people took their medication at night, contrary to what the doctor says to take it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. The people who took their medication at night did not wake up at all or very rarely.

    I will switch my taking medication at night and see if that works. If not, I’ll try other suggestions here. I’ve seen taking magnesium/zinc/calcium as a good thing for hypothyroidism as well in other sites.

    Thank you for posting this article.

    Kimberley wrote on January 22nd, 2014
    • Hi Hypothyroidism, I also have this wonderful disorder. I did want to let you know that I do not suffer the same problem however. I take my medicine in the morning also. Do not have problems with sleep at all. I also do yoga which may help. Something to consider. I personally have never heard of any of my family members that also have this having sleep issues. Could be something else that is causing it all together. Just wanted you to know this so you will investigate other potential issues.

      I hope you find the solution to your sleep problem. I would look more deeply into the premenstral issue because if it always happens prior to your starting there may be a correlation. It could be anyway. Lots of luck!!

      June wrote on January 22nd, 2014
  39. I’m 27 and have struggled with NES (binge eating right before bed or getting up in the middle of the night) since 19. Lots of different therapies, treatment programs, spirituality (including 12-step, and I mean really working the program), meds, self-help, despair and hopelessness to the point of going to the ER, job loss, etc. I’m 6’3″ and have managed to avoid Diabetes and keep my weight relatively normal (180-215 lbs) through fasting, exercising, and taking other extreme measures (e.g. going camping without food) despite binging on 3,000-10,000+ calories most nights. The craving to binge seems to have nothing to do with hunger anymore, especially since I still binge regardless of countless behavioral modifications like those suggested here.

    At this point, the only thing that helps is having a loved one (girlfriend, brother, etc.) in the room with me at nighttime. This actually eliminates the urges, but I’ve been very careful not to “use” people like that (I’m sick of this problem, the resulting despair, and feeling physically ill every day ruining relationships). In other words, I know what to do behaviorally (I probably am as qualified as any nutritionist or therapist at this point) but no amount of action on my part seems to help; I inevitably drive to the store, buy junk food, and binge unless I have someone that loves me by my side through the night, which doesn’t help me ride out cravings so much as gets rid of them altogether and allows me to go to bed and sleep peacefully through the night.

    So I dunno. I try to take responsibility for my behavior, avoid self-pity, I don’t drink or do drugs since I know that just makes binging even more inevitable, and I try to keep my hopelessness and fear to myself at this point and not bring other people down (because unless they are with me in the evening, they can’t really do anything to help anyway). I’m willing to try some of your suggestions out (again), but don’t know where to start. It is my hope that someone that has been in my shoes and recovered from this terrible NES problem can guide me.

    Tom wrote on January 24th, 2014
  40. So, during the day and during the night, (if my parents aren’t near the kitchen) I’ll want to eat whatever sounds good. At night, I literally can’t sleep because say I have some type of snack in the fridge. I will not stop thinking about it and eventually I’ll go upstairs to the kitchen and have a snack. I don’t eat breakfast due to my school starting at 6:30 after I probably just went to bed at 3:00am, and I don’t have lunch because I have severe anxiety in the school lunch room.
    Do I have night eating syndrome or could it be something else entirely?

    Carri wrote on February 13th, 2014

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