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Tips for Tackling Night Eating Syndrome

Do you often find yourself skimping on daytime meals, then binging at night? If so, you’re not alone. As it turns out, night eating syndrome (NES) is more common among those of us with bipolar. Taking steps to address this out-of-sync routine can improve our physical well-being and mood since a high consumption of food near or after bedtime can interfere with restorative sleep. Fortunately, research has also determined that this is one cycle that can be curbed—with proper treatment.

A view from inside a refrigerator that is being opened by a bearded white man wearing a striped shirt. He appears to be eating cold pizza with one hand while looking for something else to eat at night.

What is NES?

A diagnosis of this Syndrome must come from a professional; generally speaking, though, night eating syndrome is characterized by consuming less food during the day and eating disproportionate amounts at night. In other words, there is a delay in our circadian eating rhythms, or daily eating patterns. An NES diagnosis calls for (1) consuming at least 25 percent of our daily calories after dinner or during nighttime and (2) awakening from sleep at least three times per week.

Behavioral therapy

Studies have found individual counseling and group therapy to be effective. Both offer support, with the latter also providing opportunities to discuss this syndrome with others who have firsthand experience and to learn which behavioral techniques have helped them to manage nighttime consumption. Some tactics might include keeping regular logs of food intake and sleep quality/quantity; restricting access to food; and, when possible, eliminating from the home all of the carbohydrate-rich foods that we typically reach for after dark.

Using CBT to address fears of not sleeping

Researchers observed a common misconception among those with NES: they believed they wouldn’t be able to fall asleep if they changed their eating routine. Many believed that having a full stomach was a physical requirement for being able to fall asleep, or to fall back to sleep; for them, the thought of not eating before or after bedtime provoked Anxiety. According to these studies, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may both correct the delay in circadian eating rhythms and “interrupt” the learned relationship between delayed eating and sleep.

Muscle relaxation therapy

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) has been used effectively for the treatment of stress, anxiety, anger, and depression; and it has been proven to offer beneficial support for those of us looking to address our difficulties with excessive nighttime eating. By alternately tensing and relaxing certain muscle groups throughout the body, PMR creates a state of deep relaxation. Study participants treated with PMR found decreased eating after dark, increased morning appetite, and other benefits to anxiety, fatigue, stress, anger, and depression symptoms.

Meditation for anxiety

When we try to modify our routines, we might feel somewhat anxious. To address these feelings, meditation might prove helpful. In fact, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins Medicine of previously published research, 30 minutes of daily meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Mindfulness meditation, which showed the most promise, emphasizes both accepting current thoughts and feelings without judgment and relaxing our mind and body.

Pharmacological intervention

Another treatment option is medication. Randomized controlled trials have found effective results with the use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), with participants reporting “a significant decrease in several core night eating symptoms.” If anxiety and depression are at the root of NES, it makes sense that this medication may help ease the mental symptoms that contribute to feeling the urge or requirement to eat at night.

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Psychiatric Clinics of North America
ResearchGate, “Night Eating Syndrome: How to Treat It?”
ScienceDaily, Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Meditation for Anxiety, Depression?”

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Tips for Tackling Night Eating Syndrome


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