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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 07 2012

Dear Mark: Night Eating Syndrome

By Mark Sisson
172 Comments

There’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.

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172 thoughts on “Dear Mark: Night Eating Syndrome”

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  1. I found that I wake up hungry at 2 am if i do not eat big enough dinner. It doesn’t matter what I ate during the day, if dinner was small, or too far away from the bedtime, i would wake up starved at 2 am. I never ate, just fought it and it went away in a couple of hours (which was about breakfast time for me). So, I started allocating my calories in such a way that I eat at least 50% of daily calories at dinner. I could never-ever skip supper without interrupting sleep. Now, when I wake up during the night, I just turn around and fall back asleep.

    I think the best way is to work with your hunger, but eat good food. I mean, if you have to eat a can of salmon at 2 am, is there any harm in that?

    1. I, too, have to be sure to eat a substantial dinner, not too early, and it must include a good portion of meat. If I don’t, I wake with an uncomfortable, gnawing hunger. This flies in the face of advice to make dinner your smallest meal of the day and not to eat too close to bedtime, so it’s good to read about some possible reasons for this phenomenon.

    2. Problems like this and many others; reflux, bloating, bingeing, disappeared when I said goodbye to WHEAT (and to a lesser extent, sugar).

    3. I am new to this site and to the Primal Blueprint but I work the oddest hours. I used to binge right before bed or wake up and stare at the ceiling thinking about food. I started taking melatonin. I do not know if this is against the primal ideas but it is natural to the human body. This is the only thing that has helped me with all my problems. I sleep, I don’t have hunger pains and I wake up refreshed. I apologize if this is not an option for the primal lifestyle.

      1. Be careful with melatonin because it is a hormone. Your body may produce less melatonin as a result of steadily consuming external melatonin, thus creating a dependent feedback loop. Try taking 500mg of magnesium in place of melatonin before you want to sleep.

    4. I have a similar problem, but I suffer from night hunger if at any point during the day I get severely hungry. So, if I end up having a late lunch and I get super-hungry before hand, it won’t matter how much I try and ‘make up for it’ by having a large dinner, I will have hunger pains that night and not be able to sleep unless I get up again and eat. I am of normal healthy weight btw, but this issue has plagued me for as long as I can remember. I wish I could have it resolved once and for all.

      1. Hello, I just read your comment on this website about your night hunger. I too suffer from this same problem. I was just wondering if you have found anything that has helped you overcome it. I hate waking and eating every night and have tried numerous things to control it, but have gotten nowhere. Any help would be great.
        Thank you for your time!!

        1. im also a night eater but i eat in the dark bec im ashamed of myself.im going to try hypmotist on the 7th of nov to see if he can stop it

        2. I have had what is called Night time eating syndrome. I have had it all my life and I am 67. My mother also had it. I have 25 more pounds to lose and this eating at night has stopped me getting the weight off. I don’t think there is one thing that can help it. I have tried it all.

    5. Hi there

      I’m just finding this site and I see that most of the comments are about 2 years old. Just want to add my bit. I thought I was the only one in the world suffering from this. I am happy to see there is actually a name for it and that other people experience it too (misery loves company I guess :-).) I have however figured out a way to overcome the problem. I find that foods rich in protein (which keeps us feeling full longer) eaten before bedtime is quite helpful. If you’re not allergic to peanuts, eat a handful of these. If you are an apple is very good for staving of those hunger pangs during the night. I’ve also found that rubbing Vicks vapor rub on my stomach also helps to keep me asleep. Hope these (that have been working for me) will help others. Sleep well and happy dreams!

    6. Omg i i have the same issue, i wake up EVERY night at exactly 2am and i feel like am starving, even if i want to go back to sleep i cant until i eat junk food even though i eat healthy all day and i don’t crave any unhealthy food during the day please help i don’t want to gain weight!!!!!

  2. I occasionally get this sort of thing and a couple of teaspoons of almond butter right before bed seem to help quite a bit. Walnuts might work too (or perhaps better) since they are supposed to have a greater effect on ghrelin than almonds are.

    1. I also have tried the spoonful of peanut butter before bed & that seems to do the trick.

        1. I don’t know about “evil”, but peanuts are a legume, so I consider them unhealthy and don’t eat them. Plus they are gross unless cooked and salted.

  3. Mark, I really appreciate you taking the time you took to put this together, I wasn’t sure how soon, or if you would be able to, because of how many emails you must get, but I literally just did an exaggerated fist pump in the middle of the street when I saw the title of today’s Dear Mark! Thanks again!

  4. This is my number one biggest problem. And I don’t fast anymore because of this.
    I eat perfectly healthy throughout the day then I toss and turn in bed even though I’m not hungry but I know I’ll be sedated once I have food (mainly already prepared high carbs) in my stomach. I felt like a mess. I sometimes still do if I skip out on meals.

    1. I struggle with the same issue. For me, it is part of an addiction cycle. The high carb food causes a “buzz”, relaxes me, and then I fall asleep. The latest research shows that the substance itself doesn’t CAUSE the addiction. Trauma and pain are at the root of it and I agree.
      Sometimes I really am hungry and have to go get a small protein snack, or I will never fall asleep.
      For me, eating enough at meals, shutting the tv off, and getting exercise helps.

    2. jen, I have the exact same problem. I am petite; used to be very lean at 8% body fat…which I guess I couldn’t sustain for longer than 2 yrs. due to big hunger, yet in my attempts to stay…and then return to lean, having gained about 10 lbs. of pure fat, I have developed this cycle of super clean primal eating during the day and then hunger driven carb and fat seeking at 1 am.this has led to an unwanted fat gain of 10 lbs. what is the answer:? more carbs during the day? or maybe… I feel that I should just NOT eat any snacks after dinner, because they seem to spike my desire to eat and eat and leave me insulin high…

      1. Do you shill have this problem?!??oh how I am in the same boat. I do the same thing please help of you can!!!! Thanks

  5. I’m curious how this relates to pre-sleep hunger. I find that I always struggle between 8 and 10 PM after a dinner at 6 PM.

    Sometimes my stomach is actually growling painfully, but often it is just a mild hunger that keeps me from reading, or watching a hockey game, or going to bed. I can’t seem to fall asleep if I am hungry either.

    I always tend to lean towards nuts and nut butters around this time, or perhaps a tbsp of coconut oil. Just something with some substance to it … I tend to crave meat (but rarely have anything appealing at that time). cold chicken breast always sounds boring at this point.

    1. I’ve had similar issues with hunger pains before bed also. I used to try to eat dinner 2 or 3 hours before I go to bed. I would try to fall asleep but end up tossing and turning. After trying to sleep for an hour or so I ended up in the kitchen for a night binge. Now I have dinner or a nice snack about an hour before I try to fall asleep. Carrots or avocados have been my go to.

      I also take ZMA before I go to sleep which is a Zinc and Magnesium supplement (Helps me sleep deeply and another plus is that I have some WILD dreams). So I try to avoid any nuts or seeds before I go to bed. I’ve read that nuts and seeds are high in phyates which can prevent your body’s ability to absorb Zinc and Magnesium.

    2. This is my problem, too. I eat a LARGE dinner, and yet i feel i must eat a few hours afterwards. I often feel that if i do not eat something shortly before going to bed that i will not be able to fall asleep.

      Perhaps Mark could touch on this. I wonder if he snacks before going to be or generally how long before going to bed he avoids food.

    3. Same problem here.

      I figured out that this problem is related to my circadian rhythm. When I’m able to let my body live its natural circadian rhythm, I tend to fall asleep at 2-3 am and sleep until 11 am. As every other employee, I have to get up early, so my working hours collide with my sleeping pattern (I have to go to bed although I’m not really tired and I have to get up when I’m not really awake).

      As a logical consequence, I’m not at all hungry in the mornings (I always skip breakfast), but I’m hungrier in the evenings which often collides with the time I have to go to bed in order to get enough sleep for the following working day. Oh, how I love weekends/free days where my eating habits fit my sleeping patterns perfectly…

      1. Wow, you just described me perfectly. I’ve been blaming food addiction 100%.
        But on weekends, when I follow my own schedule, I don’t have the same problems.

      2. Boy! I couldn’t have described my situation any better. Please post any solutions you find helpful in trying to quell pre-sleep hunger and/or tricks to fall asleep earlier (even midnight or 1am would be welcome). I will do same if I find anything. Based on the above posts I am considering giving Melatonin or a calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement a try. Thanks.

    4. Try Gaviscon or something similar. I’ve been reading about how that gnawing ‘hunger’ pain is actually reflux. It’s working for me 🙂

  6. Obviously trying to prevent the waking up in the first place is the best approach but….

    Ever try ‘baiting’ yourself with something more primal? Eating a rotisserie chicken with my bare hands is always something that makes me feel a little more Grok-like, and I almost always end up doing that on days where we fail to plan our meals and I can’t wait any longer to eat.

    Just a thought.

    1. That’s not a bad idea. If there’s rotisserie chicken hanging around, that’s as quick and easy to grab as any donut.

      I don’t have this problem, but I am a leftovers queen. I have two bags of homemade beef jerky and a three-pound roast beef in my refrigerator… and it’s just me and my husband!

      1. I was just thinking that having a snack pre-prepared and just waiting to be shoved into your mouth at breakfast would be a good strategy for at least evening out the doughnut’s quick advantage.

  7. Interesting that there seems to be a correlation with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I have SAD and I don’t feel compelled to eat at night, but 4-5 dark months out of the year, I wake up at 5am and can’t go back to sleep. I fall asleep on the couch around 9:15pm. Very frustrating. It’s definately light-related because just in the past two weeks, I’m blissfully sleeping in until the sun wakes me (around 6am-ish). I’ve often wondered if there is something else going on, like my metabolism is looking for food and my whole internal clock is just off-kilter.

  8. I’ve not had a problem with night eating, but I love the suggestions. I need to print them off and review my progress on each periodically. Great suggestions!

  9. I feel for Alexander.

    While I often have no problem getting to sleep on time, I often wake up at 2 or 3 am….but never hungry. If I couldn’t get back quickly, I’d resort to popping half a benedryl and doze off again.

    However, in the course of going Paleo, I decided to try a new approach to getting back to sleep: having a tablespoon of coconut oil. It works like a charm and I’m usually back fast asleep within 15-20 minutes.

    I’m learning—I think—-that fast falling blood sugar is the cause of hunger and wakefulness at night and drowsiness during the day. I could be wrong, but it certainly seems that way to me. And now I never dread waking up at night….cause a little coconut oil or other fat source like olive oil, buts me back in dreamland pdq.

    Wonderful site Mark. Am so grateful for the good info here.

  10. It means a lot for me to read this. My night binges have gotten better over the past year that I have been primal (I think partially because there is no bad stuff in the house to gorge on). But even when I don’t end up eating, almost every night I wake up ravenous at around 2 or 3 am and at least stare at the frige, fighting temptation. Night binging has been a big issue for me for as long as I remember. And I too tried all that eating more during the day, and all the normal advice to avoid being hungry at night. I just thought I must be weak. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me waking up every night feeling starving, when other people around me don’t seem to have this problem. It at least makes me feel better that I’m not alone, and that it’s not a character flaw.

    1. me too. exactly what you said. i have tried everything. i did a ton of internet research about 5 or 6 years ago but didn’t find much. seems to be more awareness out there now- so this is the beginning of my second attempt to get better. reading that others suffer gives me a sort of hope i didn’t have before.

  11. Well, I have difficulty falling asleep – except when I can’t stay awake between 6-8 pm. I never get more than 3 hours of sleep total. I have tried all of the sleep hygiene protocols. When I eat at night, it isn’t normal hunger. It’s almost as if my brain is misinterpreting sleep hunger as food hunger.

    I walk until I can’t because of pain. I never wear myself out to the point of being able to sleep.

    I appreciate this post as far as it is able to go. It confirms that I’m doing pretty much all that I can do and am controlling everything possible. The problem is that for those of us with extreme stress/sleep problems, there doesn’t seem to be any permanent solution, and primal living doesn’t do it, either.

    It’s miserable feeling fatigued, not being able to think clearly or concentrate or comprehend. Essentially, life is crap, even with a healthy diet and activity. And no, it doesn’t get better.

    1. I found huge improvements when I started taking magnesium, and squatting. And also eating a big breakfast. I think there is something that changes your hormones when you keep doing these things.
      Do you lift heavy things often? It will take time to resolve ,but keep pushing. I know how you feel, it is miserable not to sleep well. I’m not there, but even that first 10% of sleeping better, meaning one night in a month, is better than 0 nights of sleeping well in a month.

      1. Done all of that – still do, in fact. Tweaked foods, took melatonin, meds, eating windows, sleeping (ha) times, light, noise, temp, etc, etc. This has been going on for more than 7 years now. Nothing has made the slightest difference.

        1. Have you tried iron supplements or tyrosine?

          I have terrible sleep problems – eight continuous hours of sleep used to be a rare thing, even if I was completely exhausted. Tyrosine helps some, but it gives me headaches.

          I’ve been told many times that I’m not anemic, but when I tried iron supplements my sleep problems improved quite a bit. Sounds odd for someone who eats lots of red meat, but somehow I need it. I’m not hungry as much at night either.

        2. Mark has a section where he says taking melatonin can actually be bad for sleeping problems. https://www.marksdailyapple.com/before-you-close-your-eyes-make-sure-theyre-open/

          I guess that makes you feel better huh? Sorry. So, the other thing I can recommend for you is a litvinov, and the Leptin reset. But again, these are your self-experiments, and maybe you’ve tried these all in combination, all at once. I think it’s really hard to isolate variables. I’m still trying.
          1) If you google Litvinov, this is what you’ll find:
          “Eight reps of front squats with 405 pounds, immediately followed by a 75-second 400-meter run. Repeat this
          little combination for a total of three times and go home, thank you. Let’s just stop here and marvel at what
          Powell observed. A 196-pound man front squatted 405… eight times!”

          http://www.t-nation.com/…/the_litvinov_workout

          Obviously I’m not litvinov and I scaled it down for myself. But I don’t see how you can do this workout (increase it to 6 times if you must) and not sleep well at night.

          2) I also took some 5-HTP, experimented with Seth Roberts’ suggestions (eating tons of animal fat – Yes, taking Vitamin D/getting sunlight early in the morning-no, looking at talking heads-haven’t tried it, being on my feet 9 hours a day – Yes, works!: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=self-experimenter-free-from-insomnia)

          Again, this is what worked for me. Eating pork belly fat I slept really well, but also not until I did the Leptin Reset for a while, and even so I still take 20-30 minute naps in my car… Even though I never really wanted to eat so much so early in the morning, with a HUGE breakfast, I was really starting to sleep better. And also, yes, taking LONG walks. I mean, 3 hour walks, but sometimes 5 hour hikes. I never sleep better than when I am out camping.
          Just remember that what’s normal one place is anathema to another set of people….and somewhere there is someone out there who suffers from the same sleep issues.

        3. Have you tried 5HTP and GABA before bed? That worked for me very well. I sleep fine now when nothing worked before.

    2. Whoa. Have you got bad teeth by any chance? Like root canals and dodgy fillings? Just a suggestion here but consider looking in to the toxicity of root canal’d teeth and chronic pain. At 39yrs I’ve recently had both two root canals taken out following the W.A. Price protocol and the difference in back pain is genuinely astounding. My depression has well and truly left me too. Life is awesome free of pain and dental junk. Even with a great diet, if you have chronic pain stemming from chronic toxicity, all you can do is remove the source. Simple diet alone won’t cut it. It’ll help, but there’s no single solution. Check it out. Can’t hurt to research it huh.

      http://www.toxicrootcanals.com/the-link-between-root-canals-and-chronic-fatigue/

      http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig5/mercola78.1.html

      http://www.gersonhawaii.us/articles/gersonarticle03.html

      1. (p.s. Mentioned to Aek because I could only sleep for about four hours from 1am till c.5am each night for YEARS with chronic back pain, anxiety and depression. Teeth are gone, back pain, fatigue, depression, anxiety all gone.)

    3. Aek-
      I know this is a late comment but I just found this site! It sucks doesn’t it? I’ve struggled with this since I can remember and even tried every type of natural sleep aid I could find, along with a few not so natural… Then I found out I was pregnant so everything got worse! I’m lucky if I get an hour or two a night but usually I’m not that lucky! However, I have found two things that have helped… Ish… I know it’s controversial and not sure how it fits in with this site, but mmj oil was the first snd only thing that’s ever allowed me to have an actual nights sleep and not wake up, or just get up, starving! The oil taken in small doses won’t get you “high” and will just relax your body. However being pregnant I’m no longer taking the oil so what has started helping now, where I at least get some sleep every night is going gluten free. And not just mostly gluten free, but completely!!! I’ve been off for almost a month and noticed I was getting sleep after about 2 weeks. Now it’s still only a few hours a night but it’s better than nothing! I hope this helps or you figure something else out! Please let me know if you do!

  12. I bet it’s a salt craving. I find if I don’t eat enough Himalayan sea salt during the day, I get salt cravings at night. Since I figured it out, I just eat a pinch of salt and the craving goes away.

  13. How about taking melatonin? I have a problem with eating at night (but after dinner, not waking up. I just feel so hungry at this time) Melatonin supresses hunger so I take one at about 9pm and the hunger goes away, then I get tired about 10 pm and go right to sleep. I would try this and the other suggestions to eat some fat/nut butter before bed (maybe an hour before with the melatonin?) Good luck.

  14. The only time I find that I eat at night is when I’m pregnant. I figure it has a lot to do with the fact that I can’t eat much because there’s not much room with a baby growing, I’m also nine months pregnant. I usually only go for whole milk or deviled eggs in the middle of the night. Plus, being so far along, I wake up at odd hours in the night anyways. This is normal as it is my body’s way of prepping me for night feedings. I’d say if you are pregnant, go for a full fat high protein snack if you need it in the middle of the night. Avoid ingesting any carbs as they won’t help you get back to sleep.

  15. I’m surprised f.lux (http://stereopsis.com/flux/) wasn’t mentioned since it helps reduce monitor blue light which should result in higher levels of endogenous melatonin.

    Supplementing with melatonin is also a great idea. Especially since our modern lifestyle is filled with light in the evening which leads to lower than normal levels. Any melatonin would work but I’ve had the best quality sleep with this one (http://tinyurl.com/amzn-melatonin). Optimal dose is 3-9mg taken 1-2 hours before bed.

    I find most sleep disorders have to do with stress, spending time on the computer/devices before bed, and overall poor lifestyle. So I agree with Mark on having a holistic solution. I’d also recommend improving your sleep hygiene/bed time routine which I talk about here (http://swolept.com/posts/the-most-important-thing-that-you-suck-at-sleep).

  16. I found the leptin reset to be somewhat helpful in this respect. I would get so hungry right before bed, and then I never slept well after that. So the Leptin Reset – Eating a big breakfast (he calls for 50 g of protein! or however much you can stomach, + fat), and not skipping meals, helped me with that. When I have disordered meal times, I find that I don’t sleep as well. Also if I exercise too close to bedtime, I would wake up in the middle of the night hungry. I think there are some people who have good sleep habits, and who can play with intermittent fasting, and their workout times. Their leptin and ghrelin seem to be in order. I, on the other hand, experience sleeping issues and inordinate amounts of hunger, and what seems disproportionate to the experiences of others. Just try eating three meals a day, and incorporating a lot of protein for breakfast. But above all, self-experiment. If eating a huge breakfast doesn’t work for you, then ask yourself if you are on a regular schedule – eating meals at around the same time every day and in bed by around the same time every night. I agree that Intermittent Fasting is not for you. I’ve also read on some of the message boards that 5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin synthesis, can help with binges? So basically, Self-experiment, self-experiment, self-experiment.

  17. Alexander, I also forgot to ask if you have always had trouble sleeping or if this is recent since you’ve started the Primal Blueprint? I have always had trouble sleeping and still do. So as to not stress about it, I remind myself that this problem didn’t crop up overnight and it won’t fix itself overnight. If you happen to get up 1 night per week or even 4 nights per week, that’s still better than 7/7 right? Give yourself some credit when you get through the night without waking up hungry – the first time it happens, you’ll be like, “wow! is that the kind of sleep everyone else gets?” I still struggle with it – but I think you have to persist. And you’re not abnormal – lots of cultures have “first” sleep and “second sleep.” Mark wrote an article on it somewhere in here, where between the two you would get up and socialize, and maybe even eat or drink a little before going back to sleep.

    1. LJ, I have struggled with it, since before going Primal, I think it’s a combination of everything Mark said, especially stress.

      1. I hear you Alexander! The stress of going to bed, knowing you’re going to wake up in a couple of hours sucks. Do you keep a record of what you eat, when you eat, and your activity level, versus when it happens, or does it happen every single night? Tracking is really helpful. And also, for me – recording not just what I ate but how I feel after what I ate – did I have gas/upset stomach? Do I feel overfull eating X, Y, Z? It sounds crazy but you have a ton of serotonin and dopamine producing systems in your gut- much, much more than your brain (this via the book Lights Out, that everyone is always talking about). I found that when I paid more attention to my digestion (for example, drinking less water at meals, because I found that can affect your stomach acid), and started supplementing with Magnesium and fish oil, and also eating a lot more animal fat (pork belly!) that all of those had a beneficial effect on my sleeping patterns. I wish I knew which one, exactly, and I know, it sounds crazy… I think people like us have the hardest time having “success” being primal, because if you can’t fix a sleeping problem, then nothing else really matters.

        Sorry to ask this again – but have you tried the Leptin Reset? the 50+ grams of protein at breakfast? And again, the problem didn’t happen overnight, so it won’t fix itself overnight. I think you and me and all the other sleep disturbed have to be patient, and not push too hard on finding a “solution”. There isn’t one – it will be a gradual improvement I think… and PS – The best week of sleep I’ve had in years I had when I wasn’t working out. Just whatever you do, record the experiments- and stick with going to bed at the same time! (That’s the hardest for me)

        1. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve considered it, I’ll look into it more. If you can read my comment I posted at the end of the feed, any input is appreciated.

      2. Also – I’m pretty young (in my 20s)…I think that also leads you to sleep stress/disturbance. You want the good food, the friends, you’re worrying about your job. or maybe that’s at every age? But I find the best way to relax is a routine. I’m sorry you suffer from this.

        1. I actually did read that article, but for some reason, forgot about it. I just reread it, thanks for your help!

    2. Yeah, I agree. I used to wake up every night to eat without fail. Now it happens only 1-2 nights a week. It still feels like I’m back at square 1 when it happens, but I have to remind myself that it’s a-lot better than it used to be.

      I feel like it does have a lot to do with routine. I do shift work (fingers crossed for not much longer as I have nearly finished my studies). When I am always on the same shift I can get into a routine of sleep/wake at the same time and I wake less in the night and sleep better. But when my shifts are changing between AM and PM I notice this always disrupts my sleep and I seem to get up hungry during the night and eat anything and everything available.

      I also have type 1 diabetes and I have noticed that the worse my control of my diabetes the worse this habit becomes. The habit actually began when my blood sugars used to go low in the night. The it seemed like my body just decided that it NEEDED to eat at this time to prevent going low. Primal eating has really helped make control easier for me.

      Also I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but I noticed in the past (not so much these days) that the more I tired to stop eating during the night, the more unaware of what I was doing I would become hardly remember eating when I woke up. These days I am usually aware of what I am doing and if I get up I tend to eat pretty primal foods (can of tuna/mince/fatty food) so I guess thats better than before.

      But someone wrote above that you just need to experiment with what works for you and I would say this is very important advice because I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution to this problem.

  18. “Don’t turn the lights on, tonight I want to see you in the dark”.

    Sounds like the munchies, I suggest less cannabis unless it’s medicinal.

    1. This is so interesting. Esp the comment about blood sugar dropping in the night. My migraines come on at night (I wake with them) which my neurologist could never figure out. Maybe this is what’s happening (although I never wake up). I can try a T of coconut oil before bed. And I just bought something called Black Seed Oil (nigella sativa) which is said to help migraines – so maybe some of that too! Hmm…going to have to think about this one – maybe I can fix what has been a HUGE problem in my life – thanks all!

      1. I also had this problem with waking up in the night with migraine-like headaches, or I’d wake up with one in the morning, early. They are called hipnic headaches and supposedly have no cause. When I started eating very low carb, and using intermittent fasting they went away. As well when I stopped taking 5HTP and GABA for sleep they lessened. I’ve just started taking 5HTP again and they have not started up again but I’ve continued with the intermittent fasting so maybe that has helped.

        I do take magnesium before sleep with a big dollop of yogurt and a big splash of heavy cream too – maybe a factor.

  19. Thanks for this Mark. I really appreciate. I for one have found some help combining the Primal/Paleo lifestyle with 12 step programs for compulsive overeating. If anyone needs more help with food, they can seek out http://www.oa.org.

  20. I have been doing primal since January. I was doing really well with 3 meals, until I started playing with fasting…long story short, it led to bingeing and weight gain. Recently, the doctor told me that my adrenals weren’t working, hormones totally crazy. Today, I decided to go back eating 3 meals a day and forget about fasting. Thank you for your timely article, I feel better knowing that i’m one of those people who should not play with fasting (and it is okay) 🙂

    1. Maybe once you get your homones in check, you will be able to do a 16 hour fast one or two days a week, including the 8 hours you sleep the night before. Adrenal issues are controversial. Adrenal fatigue likely is not a real syndrome. From what I’ve read, the issue is much more complicated. I believe it is more an issue of HPA dysfunction, than simply having adrenal fatigue. I’m not sure if your doctor was specifically talking about adrenal fatigue or not, sorry if he wasn’t. There are some good discussions about fatigue over on MindandMuscle.net.

      1. You are right about the HPA dysfunction. Adrenal fatigue was just part of my problem:( Thanks for the link, I will take a look at it. I have been doing 16/18 hour fast for about 3 weeks, that’s when the bingeing got out of control:(

      2. Morgan, why in the world would you suggest she go back to what clearly caused her problems to begin with?? Every indication is that Primal works best for her without fasting. Can’t understand why she should risk it again when the effect of fasting impacted her so negatively the 1st time around.

  21. Is it that bad to night eat? I would say 2 out of 3 nights I wake up once or more, have a protein shake or some leftover meat and go back to bed. Helps me to sleep like a baby!

  22. A great wholemilk yogurt, like Hawthorne valley, or Erivan, with maybe a little buckwheat honey or some frozen berries, is a great late night snack.

    As long as we keep it fairly healthy, I don’t think it’s a big deal for many of us that feel the need to have a bite to eat shortly before bed to comfort our tummies.

  23. I don’t have problems with night cravings, but I did used to wake a lot because of arthritis pain and what I found really helped were Lifewave sleep patches. This is a nanotechnology patch that works on stimulating acupuncture points that helps produce more melatonin and keeps you sleeping deeply all night. Certainly I’ve found they work very well for me. If they work so well on helping you sleep through pain, they might let you sleep through food cravings as well. Might be worth trying.

    1. Thank you for your input. I’m going to look into those patches. I haven’t slept well in nearly 20 yeas because od chronic pain from Lyme Disease. I actually sleep on a heating pad set on high, and I wake up within 2 or 3 minutes of it turning off every hour. So I wake up and have to fall back to sleep hourly. Talk about bad sleep. And I have permanent burns from the heating pad all over my back and hips to prove it!

      1. I have fibro pain as well – have you tried a heated bed pad? I got one for Christmas and it has been a real life saver, as it is basically a body-sized heating pad. And you can get them where each side has its own controller, so your bed partner doesn’t have to have it on at all. I have hardly used my heating pad at all since I got it.

  24. I used to have this problem too, which my doctor suggested was due to blood sugar dropping during the night. She told me that it’s especially a problem for carbohydrate sensitive individuals. It happened both when I was eating a high-carb and low-carb diet. When I was eating a high-carb diet, the drop in blood sugar followed by the spike is what would wake me up. When I was eating low-carb, I wasn’t eating enough carbs at dinner to get me through the night. But I noticed this was only a problem when I drank coffee, which can cause larger fluctuations in your blood sugar. Because I love coffee and need sleep, I’ve increased my carb consumption to a level where I don’t have symptoms of carbohydrate sensitivity and I can sleep!

  25. VERY interesting. I work from home a have a (potentially?) bad habit of waking up around 8AM but not eating breakfast until around noon. At that time it is usually a hearty meal of eggs and bacon or some other meat. Despite being a ‘meal’ person rather than a grazer throughout the day, I am surprised to often find myself ravenously hungry between 10PM and ~12:30, my typical bedtime. Fruit and nuts are almost always my go to in these times.

    That said, I have never actually woken up from hunger. I have no problem losing or maintaining weight. I have no issues with stress or agitation. And the only reason I stay up this late, is because primal eating has turned me into a ~7 hour a night sleeper. I wake up fully energized and typically can’t sleep longer even when I try.

    So like Ben Gordon, I question if this eating pattern, especially the late night binge snacking, is really so bad or worth worrying about. I and most who know me concur that I look and feel like I am getting younger with each passing day. Or is this not worth worrying about until it reaches a more extreme state like that described in the original post? I only ask because Mark does seem to have me pegged with his comments about skipping breakfast and staying up late. Any input is welcome and appreciated. Thanks in advance fellow cavepeople!

    1. I kinda agree with your post Deuce. I notice that the more I worry about eating during the night the worse it gets :/ I mean eating a yogurt or a can of tuna at 2am isn’t really that unhealthy if it helps us sleep better.

  26. I believe Julia Ross’ “The Mood Cure” addresses this as well. It may have something to do with Serotonin levels? Don’t quote me on that. Most of the book can be found in Google Books, but be sure to check it out from the library or buy it to get the whole story.

  27. I have been looking everywhere for an answer to this for years. My diet and lifestyle is very solid. High quality foods from high quality sources all the time. Train hard and get plenty of rest. Bed early all the time, and usually sleep well, except… I usually wake about 2 hours into my sleep in desperation mode for simple sugars. I mean desperate, I am just compelled to cram bad food in my mouth. Nothing but sugars will do. As a firefighter who previously worked in an insanely busy hall for years, I assumed it was because my body had become used to having to get up and go in a hurry from a sleeping state. I have been in slower halls for the last 5 years and that has not changed at all. I do not know if it is mental or physical, but I need to fix it. All of the suggestions in the article and and comments I have followed consistently for years. Please, does anyone have any other suggestions?

    1. Ryan –

      Some things that have worked for me (but not completely sustainable, ymmv) are:

      try to eat a simple diet (similar to wholehealthsource’s low reward meal diet) where you eat only a few foods. your hunger cravings drop like a rock and can lower your cravings at night. this has worked for me (not 100% but this has brought me the most recent success)

      i believe non-fasting does help, though I cannot say that with 100% conviction. plus, i know its hard to break the cycle of wake up at 2am, eat, then wake up at 7am, and eat breakfast. you just aren’t hungry. usually i’ll try to work into it, starting off small (1-2 eggs for breakfast) and work upward.

      i did notice much less hunger when taking 3 servings of protein shake (with 2 towards closer to sleep time, maybe 6pm & 1030pm). it would blunt hunger a LOT and prevent the eating.

      i like someone’s suggestion above of eating oil prior to sleep, esp coconut oil (as a method of combating the drop in blood sugar) i’m going to try that out.

      also, i’m sure you have but if not, make sure your sleep environment is cool, dark, and comfortable.

    2. You say you’ve tried everything in the comments but have you tried the recommendations in the Mood Cure, per my above post? Here’s the quiz:

      http://www.moodcure.com/take_the_mood_type_questionnaire.html

      It *is* low Serotonin, according to Julia Ross, that affect the eating in the middle of the night thing.

      Eating primal will get one very far but some of us still have problems with our neurotransmitter receptors for whatever reason and need additional help. The book covers diet, which is almost primal (some non-gluten grains), but most important is supplementing with amino acids.

  28. I don’t think anyone should ever worry that they don’t sleep a full 8 hours a night. Sleeping this long is quite a recent occurrence.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16964783

    If you can’t get the full 8 hours in one go then maybe focus on on splitting it out during the day (power nap, siesta etc)

    Working all day then getting a mandatory 8 hours before getting up and doing it all over again is pretty far removed from primal.

  29. I’m wondering, if the same advice is suitable for emotional eating? I’m an occasional (becoming more frequent) emotional eater and I think I can use some of the above advices in these terms. I’m thinking of forming a diary on this site in the forum section to help me with transition and occuring prblems …
    Thanks for the article, I find most of the content on the site useful. I am grateful for this site and it’s eye opening “wisdom”. 🙂 Thank you, Mark, I would love to participate in this project somehow. If starting a journal is one of the options, then I could as well do so.

  30. try taking just a little (1/4 to 1/2 tablet to start) of melatonin – this has helped my whole family – including my child – through some stressful potentially-sleep-loss times – also, it was encouraging to see that melatonin is one of 3 substances that actually breaks down BPA – that nasty hormone disrupter that kids get overdoses of by their exposure to almost everything they touch(plastic of course…)

    we have also found that – contrary to a fearful expectation of dependence – the melatonin supplementation when stopped does not cause a problem – but them we always keep the doses very low and only when necessary –

    good luck–

  31. Great info! It makes sense to be related to stress and not sleeping well. Personally since I started eating a Paleo diet and eliminated gluten I sleep through the night. Thanks again

  32. Hubby has taken sleeping pills for 35 years. We’ve tried to get him off several times and his body is resistant to unassisted sleep nearly to the point of psychosis.

    Of course, when you’re on any drug that long, your body gets used to it and it stops working as well. So, they switch him up between five or six different drugs. One of them messes with his hunger signaling big time and he will not only eat when he wakes in the middle of the night, but he will sleep-eat. He generally grabs the first thing he sees, so before I go to bed I’ll make sure there is a veggie-heavy salad all prepped and in that spot for him. That’s helped a lot.

  33. When I lived with my parents I often stayed up late and ate at night. During school time I’d generally stay up close to midnight. I stayed in my room using my computer (often playing games or watching DVDs) and exercising.
    When I wasn’t in school anymore I’d often stay up until 3am or so, sometimes even staying up all night or staying out most of the night and going to bed shortly before or after it got light out. Some of these nights I stuffed myself to an inhuman capacity but generally just wanted a big bowl of something to keep snacking on and something to drink like tea or milk.
    I still eat too much at night sometimes. The intestinal traffic and how it feels the next day are always punishment enough to skip a meal or so the next day.

  34. Thank you for clarification around fasting and adrenal fatigue. Two years after my onset on adrenal fatigue, I still cannot skip a meal. I’ll have poor sleep and increased anxiety as a result. Great tips in this post! Many have helped my healing tremendously.

    1. I read that vitamin C and B5 help the body to break down adrenalin. I take these every night before bed with melatonin and for me it works great. I sleep better and don’t feel wasted the next day like I do if I take a sleeping pill. My wife has tried this and it works well for her too.

  35. Don’t fight it! The BEST thing about grain free is guilt free, consequence free, eating in front of the TV after dinner later at night. Every night around 9:00 PM I have to eat or else I won’t sleep well. This is usually what I eat: cheese melted in the microwave on a paper plate, or cream cheese from the container, or peanut butter from the jar. Ahhh, peanut butter. For evenings when I’m plagued by rabid carb cravings, the peanut butter satisfies without going too far off the deep end.

    (Yes, I know the debate rages on that peanut butter is technically a grain, and it has sugar,and um, hydrogenated oil – but c’mon, it’s 1,000 times better than high carb desserts, pastries, candies, etc. OK, OK, OK I confess, I still eat peanut butter at some point every day and I am smaller than I’ve been in decades because I shun all other grains…Whew…)

    1. Peanuts are a legume actually. I eat almond butter or pastured butter as a nighttime snack. 😀

  36. I wake up often at night. I don’t feel hungry but used to have a hard time getting back to sleep. Then I learned zazen or breathing meditation. This almost always works, i.e. concentrating on my breathing. It was the thoughts and worries that kept me awake. Zazen loosens the grip of these and my body takes over. I don’t know if this will help those who are hungry but suggest it in case it does.

  37. It sounds to me like your body getting the jitters about going from carb-burning to fat-burning metabolism. Granted this was mostly pre-primal for me, but I ate according to Protein Power more or less for years. If the carbs snuck back in, I’d have to do a carb detox. I would feel like I was dying, literally STARVING, even though I just ate. The best way I found to get past that was to allow myself to eat if I felt hungry even if I ate 20 minutes ago, but to eat protein and fat. No carbs. In a couple of days, I would settle back into a regular diet. I’ve gone through this cycle probably seven or eight times over the past ten years. It’s worked every time. Don’t beat yourself up, just eat the right things. After the first time, I got through it no problem because I knew once I switched over to fat-burning, I wouldn’t even care about the crap I shouldn’t be eating. Hope this helps!

  38. Mark, Thanks for the article and especially the very good journal link. Are you aware of any links between NES and nighttime sweating? Are they connected by hypothalamic disregulation? I overtrained and underate my way into oblivion last year and NES and sweating (profuse, bed soaking) were the two of the most prominent symptoms.

  39. Mark~
    I suffer from an eating disorder bulimia, and I for the life of me can’t stop! I have tried diets and eating small meals but being in collage my diet consist of sugars and carbs…I ate a steak for the first time in MONTHS and felt satisfied and didn’t binge.
    Please help me if you can I am desperate!!
    Thank you

    1. Cindy, what I wouldn’t give to have been told in college what I’m about to tell you.

      YOU KNOW THE ANSWER. The steak has already spoken. Sugar IS the cause of your bulimia. Right now, write down a plan to be able to get meat & eggs & natural fats in your diet. Sell your books, buy them used, live with a friend, sell your cousin, just do it.

      Then get up tomorrow morning and eat a HUGE FREAKING breakfast. All protein and fat. 3 eggs, four pieces of breakfast sausage, at least 50g of protein. Eat a nice piece of meat for lunch (and a big old salad if you like). Repeat lunch for dinner. Then next morning, eat the big freaking breakfast again, followed by another moderate lunch and dinner.

      If you feel you must have sweets or carbs, do it at the end of one of these meals, not in between. And no matter if you end up bingeing, even a few weeks into not bingeing at all, go ahead and have your next meal. It’s the best thing you can do to prevent another binge. DO NOT SKIP MEALS.

      Sweet Cindy, please go into the forums here at Mark’s Daily Apple and search on my username. Find my journal and start reading, especially from March 2011 to November 2011. MDA + big protein breakfast has ended my decade-long eating disorder and given me my freedom back. This can happen for you, too – it’s under your control. Resisting sweets, when they’re talking to you all day long is not under your control, but I have just given you the keys to TURNING OFF THEIR VOICES so you can go about your days in peace without any thoughts of food.

      Go. Do it now! Come post in my journal and tell me how it’s going!! I’d love to help you troubleshoot the issues that arise with the college scenario.

  40. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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…

      2. 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.

  41. 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?

  42. 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.

  43. 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!

    1. 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!

      1. 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!

  44. 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!

  45. 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

  46. 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…

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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.

  52. 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

  53. 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.

  54. 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!

    1. 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

  55. 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

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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??

    1. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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?

  62. 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!

  63. 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*

  64. 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

  65. 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?

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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!

  69. 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.

  70. 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.

  71. 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!

  72. 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.

  73. 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

  74. 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.

  75. 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.

  76. “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.

  77. 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.

    1. 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!!

  78. 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.

  79. 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?

  80. If I have coffee during the daytime, even if it’s just one cup in the morning I wake at night hungry. And I can’t go back to sleep unless I get up and eat something. Oddly enough, tea does not cause the same problem, although I’m sure it still stresses my adrenals.

  81. it is currently 12:02 AM im starving even though i ate a huge salad with shame on me blue cheese dressing. i only ate half of it cause i was feeling nauseated after gulping down a mouthful of blue cheese.

    Wish i could eat right now but i already have a gut guess i will have to ignore my stomach

  82. I’ve been doing the nes for nearly 4 years now. The past two years since being in a doctoral pt program it’s gotten progressively worse. All of these solutions sound reasonable and I’ve even done the Whole30 which helped with overall cravings and digestion for two months but ive gone back to the old way of eating. .. light veggies and meats thru out the day and waking up 3 times EVERY single night without fail and binging on housemates food. I feel out of control and wake up feeling sick every morning andb itb takes me a full day of working with patients in the clinic to recover. Its not as bad when I live alone because I don’t keep food around and therefore end up eating carrots and other veggies at midnight which keeps me from gaining wt but I’m on a clinical rotation and sharing a home with other med students. Its embarassing, I need a long term solution or to be locked in my room!! I have a great day even if I only wake up once to eat but its three times:( I try journaling, meditation, putting chairs in front of my door etc but nothing works except being in a living envt where there is no food available because inevitably I wake up to eat wherever I am. I’ve even thought about moving out simply to avoid all the food. This is silly. I’ve been here one month and put on five lbs, as everyone knows its a self esteem killer when you have this fantastic daytime persona, intelligence, common sense andwillpower only to be followed up with this routinely self destructive out of control night time eating. Help please:/

  83. Just wanted to say this article was LIFE CHANGING. Some of these things I had been figuring out slowly on my own, but when I found this article it all came together…paradigm shift! I’m doing the light therapy, candles at night, eat bfast by nine (I never used to eat before two), not skipping lunch (I used to regularly skip meals), and try not to eat after seven…I even set an alarm clock for seven pm. My emotional night eating is all but gone and I’ve been able to stick to my low carb goals. Thank you!

  84. I’m posting to update that through trial and error I have isolated the cause of my night-waking night-eating – it seems to be caused by ignoring hunger and going without food (in any way). If I skip a meal I function fine during the day (even workouts are no problem) but doing so inevitably upsets my sleep. But so long as I eat a big (meaty) breakfast, a decent lunch and a decent dinner (all PB) and also am sure to have a snack (again PB) if i feel hungry (sometimes around midmorning, and also when i get home from work, and before a workout) , and also eat as soon as possible after a workout then I basically sleep well.

    At the beginning I was really having to stuff myself during the day, I think i was having an issue where my hunger hormones were out of sync so I’d still feel hungry even though I was actually full. But as I have persevered I am noticing that it’s getting much easier to eat to satisfaction. (I am also losing weight, probably both because I am eating less and because I am sleeping better) . I think the problem probably started with my experiments in IF (prompted by mark’s “are you fat adapted?” post) – i think I tried too hard and messed up my sleep/hunger hormones. Perhaps in time I will get to the stage where I feel I can experiment with IF again, but for now the rule is : if hungry, eat! (as mark says, eat WHEN – when hunger ensues naturally). I’d recommend anyone else who has problems with night waking/eating to try eating a lot more during the day, starting from when they get up, and if necessary eat til you are really full. This can be hard to do psychologically if you are feeling overweight, but remember if it’s PB you’ll probably be fine and any weight you gain will soon come off once your sleep stabilises. My experience is that this does take time – it’s taken two months and I still wake occasionally in the night, but the overall trend is clearly upward. good luck with it – I can vouch that this is an extremely frustrating problem to have to deal with.

  85. funny you just summarised exactly what i am doing wrong in your last paragraph

    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?

    thank you for the help!!!

    1. Mamu,

      These are great questions to check in with myself about, thank you! Longer post of my recent recovery experience coming…

  86. wondering if anyone else has this problem just before bedtime? I don’t seem to be hungry in the middle of the night, instead what happens is i have absolutely no appetite until midday and as the day progresses i find out my hunger will kick in late evening.

    As a former bulimic (YES! YOU CAN KICK IT!! ) the thought of force feeding myself when i’m not hungry is horrible. I did do it when i was on the paleo and then autoimmune diet but it brought back the feeling of wanting co purge. so i stopped.. unfortunately these diets were too severe for me and i ended up very ill with the first allergies i’ve had in my life to any form of coconut and also eggs.

    like most people on here, i find i eat very healthy and i have been slowly bringing my thyroid and adrenal glands back to a healthy state. For me it’s more of a psychological desire to eat than hunger.

    This is why i am posting:
    I am wondering if anybody else gets this? It’s like I am subconsciously feeling the need to have an overly full stomach before going to bed.

    really appreciate your feedback and any support and thank you!

  87. Wow, great to see this getting a lot of replied. I’ve had this problem for years and tried just about everything mentioned here. My current theory is that for me it relates to COMT Val/Val which hypermetabolises some neurotransmitters leading to depletion. I’m beginning L-Tryptophan to increase serotonin and lactic acid. No results to report yet…

  88. I’ve read thru this whole thread and it was very informative..but there’s one wierd symptom I’m having along with the late night hunger that I suspect it related.. Heart flutters..not quite palpitations or racing..just a flutter and its uncomfortable .. Its so tied into the hunger sensation I believe its related.. Anyone experienced this? It pretty much goes away when I eat but I’m stubborn cuz I don’t wanna bother getting up and eating at midnight I’d rather figure out why it’s happening. I don’t eat strict paleo but I can’t figure out why this happens some night and not others.

    1. I would get a physical checkup with my MD first to rule out any heart issues. I used to get panic attacks that seemed like severe heart palpitations. Even called 911 at one point convinced I was having a heart attack. The eating may be a way of directing your body into a more relaxed state so the adrenalin stops pumping. If you think that may be what’s happening, there are lots of ways to self intervene including meditation and the relaxation response. Cheers!

  89. I had always been very slim until requiring 30 ECT treatments for intractable depression. Since then I have had overweight issues and NES despite being on 40mg Prozac daily. My depression seems under control, but not my appetite. Any correlation?

  90. Thank you so much for this great article! My issue is habitual night eating. For a years I was having all sorts of GI symptoms that I just couldn’t explain. Stomach cramps and the “runs” whenever I ate. The only way I could manage was to eat almost nothing during the day, just fluids,and wait till I got home in the evening to eat anything substantial. A doctor finally suggested a gluten free diet which worked wonders and I can now eat during the day but the habits have persisted to where I can’t seem to sleep unless there’s something in my stomach. It’s great to be pain free but I find myself resorting to munching just to get a little sleep. I’m hopeful that some of the very sensible techniques suggested here such as not using the ipad, watching old movies on TV, avoiding fructose at night will help. Love the candlelight idea!

  91. Thanks for this article and everyone’s replies which have been useful. I generally go to bed at 8pm ( I have chronic fatigue syndrome) and wake up starving at 10pm, then zombie-eat about 500 cals of whatever I can find. Obviously this is not helping my weight loss attempts! I think I will try to stay up till 10pm and then eat a controlled calorie ‘supper’ (do Americans say supper?) containing protein and slow carbs. Hopefully then I am out of the hunger danger zone and can sleep the rest of night. If not I will try one of the supplements suggested in these comments, like magnesium.

  92. I’ve struggled with NES for about 10 years and here is a bit of what I’ve learned. NES is a syndrome, meaning that even the folks who identified it (Dr. Stunkard and his protege Dr. Allison at University of Pennsylvania) have not uncovered a cause, but have simply described the characteristics of the illness. (The sheets Dr. Allison has patients use to chart CBT-style chain analyses of NES behavior lists 8–10 different factors that may be involved in the behavior and has the patient rank which were relevant on any given night). Hence, many people on this thread find different things to be helpful, not necessarily because of varying degrees of severity of the illness but also because of potentially different etiologies. For example, infections like Candida and Lyme disease can cause NES (I’ve been treated for both over the last four months and believe this was one of the primary causes for me, given how drastically my triggering has been reduced in frequency and intensity). However, unlike taking Diflucan and avoiding starches and sugar for Candida, other NES sufferers find that increasing carbohydrate consumption is helpful. For some people, the serotonergic system is highly implicated. For others, nutrient deficiencies (like electrolytes) or toxicity (like copper) can be causal. Some people just plain old don’t eat enough during the day and their starving bodies take over. For others, it’s a coping mechanism for dealing with stress or trauma. For many, it may be a combination of causes.
    Not knowing why we suffer is frustrating to say the least, but all we can do is pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and keep and trying different remedies and lifestyle changes, often in concert. I now have concrete experience with several different combination efforts effecting recovery and consider my case totally life-altering in its severity, so please reach out to me if you are struggling and need either guidance or just someone to talk to!

  93. Great to see others have a problem with night time eating. I am an insomniac.
    Can’t sleep without Rx help. This started about 11 years ago when I retired.
    My wife would find remains of my foraging…if I stayed at my daughter’s house, she would always leave food out. Really got bad when visiting friends and they would find me raiding their refrigerator at night. Sound familiar anyone?

    Have gained 40 pounds in those 11 years. Went on a diet about 4 months ago and have lost 20 lbs through exercise and diet but the cravings at night continue and have brought weight loss to a halt.

    If I don’t take Rx medication, I don’t sleep. I am trying something new….a whey protein shake at night with Chia Seeds.. The Chia seeds expand and reduce hunger, Did not work last night…ate a 6 oz chocolate bunny that was left over from Easter.

    I do try to leave out healthy snacks but sometimes that sugar or carb craving wins. Guess I have to live with it.

    Good to know though that others are up with me doing the same thing.

  94. I’ve just stumbled across these blogs while desperately trying to find answers as to why I wake several times a night craving and bingeing on sweet things.
    My Dr. and other experts have no idea how to help me any further and I’m just desperate to fix this problem.
    I’m now losing weight and have greatly reduced fast carbs and fats while increasing the whole foods substantially. I’ve even been able to control the cravings in the evenings but the waking and bingeing is very much still a problem,can anyone help?

    Thanks

  95. I wanted to post on here as I have had this issue as well. One reader posted they thought it may be a blood sugar drop combined with cutting excess calories. Yesterday I eliminated all sugars even in kevita and did not awaken in the middle of the night famished. I also worked out in the evening and had my dinner after-somewhat close to bed. This is tricky and is clear it is hormonal as it is very hard to interrupt that desire to eat when in full gear and basically sleep walking. I’m grateful to the posters here!

    1. Hi! Just wondering if this routine continued to work for you? Cutting out all sugars (even stevia?) and working out at night?

      Thanks Amy!

  96. I´m desperate! I have been struggling with night-eating for probably a year now. My weight is going up and I feel so bad. I have put up a sign on the door of my fridge that says “STOP-DON´T EAT DURING NIGHT. YOU WILL REGRET IT” And I have taped the door shut with sportstape so that I´ll have to use more time to open the fridge and might stop and think. I exercise a lot and tend to eat very small, almost snack-meals throughout the day. This article really gave me a lot of good advice. I hope I can make this stop, I might have to talk with my doctor. Another problem is that I´m not very aware of my actions as they happen because I´m on sleep medication. So I´m almost sleepwalking..

      1. It is helpful to see that so many others struggle with the night eating problem. I wake up an hour and 15 minutes after going to bed every night. I have to eat to get back to sleep. I crave carbohydrates. I have learned to avoid buying anything sweet during the day because I will certainly eat it that night. It is frustrating to wake up craving something I don’t have, but at least I won’t get dressed and go get whatever I’m craving. So I end up eating some string cheese, a protein bar, cashews etc. I guess it is called managing a problem I can’t seem to overcome.

  97. St John’s Wort solved my night eating syndrome. Been taking it for about 1 month now and sleeping thru the night every night I do take it.

  98. Welcome to my life! I have night time eating syndrome/sleep walking, and have been dealing with it for years. My father too. I have tried working with a sleep specialist, primary care, and nutritionist. Seem the better I eat in the day, and less. The more I wake up at night, I have keep to a routine, cut caffeine out, eat breakfast, and found coping skill techniques for stress. Sleep walking runs in my family and I have woke up eating random non editable things as well. I suggest Lock up cleaners, and lowered ur bed. My dog, Phoebe, is trained to get me back to bed and wake me up if I get outside again. If anyone has a cure, please comment. Lol I love some real sleep.

  99. I suffer from this. The only way i can describe it is its like the 2 halfs of my brain are completley switched off to each other. On one hand im awake and aware of what im doing and i tell myself to stop but the half that controls my physical movement wont stop. I’ve ate my partners lunch, i’ve demolished the kids sweets and hid the wrappers. Its awful. I wake about 4/5 times a night to eat. My doctor hasnt been much help. All ive managed to find is a wonderful support group on fb. So sick of the eat, dont sleep cycle. Its exhausting.

  100. I’ve never done this before. Now all of a sufen I pop up like I wasn’t sleeping and go to the fridge. It’s never good food and I’m really saddened by this. How do I fix it. Can it. Be one of the traumatic experiences I’ve have in less than 6 months.

  101. two month ago I ate fride rice. and had loose motion. then I contacted a doctor. he gave me medicine. then two or three days later my stomach started abnormal pain. and food dislike. and month later abnormal pain is cured without any medication. now I have food dislike at night only. what is the cause of the disease. sorry for my poor english.