Night Eating and Sleep

Not sleeping well can be not only an unpleasant experience, but influences night eating. People with night eating syndrome (NES) seem to get the same amount of sleep, but wake up more often and have less efficient sleep. They often complain of not feeling rested.

Many people worry that once they are awake, they won’t be able to get back to sleep without eating. They worry about not feeling good the next day, feeling fatigued and the consequences of not getting a good night’s rest.

Eating at night tends to be a way they convince themselves to help them get back to sleep. These night eaters tend to have all-or-nothing beliefs, such as “if I lose sleep, it will ruin the next day.”

Relaxation and imagery have been shown to help people with night eating syndrome to fall asleep and stay asleep more easily. It can also improve sleep efficiency.  Sleep-related habits and how easily you are able to fall back asleep without eating late at night can be affected as well.

1. First, work on your ability to relax and unwind at night. Night eaters tend to find things to worry about, including getting a good night’s sleep.

The more you think about not getting a good night’s sleep, the more it seems likely to happen (self-fulfilling prophecy). Use the Night Eating CD to assist in relaxation.

2. Next, keep realistic expectations about your sleep. If you know that you tend to wake up at a certain hour, accept that as normal. Most people awaken several times per night. The more you worry, the harder it is to get back to sleep.

3. Don’t blame all of your problems on poor sleep and night eating. While you may be unhappy about it, there are probably other factors that contribute to the problem.

You may need to work to decrease your overall stress levels and increase social support.

4. Don’t over focus on sleep, or give it too much importance. This only serves to increase the night eater’s anxiety, which is already high.

5. Adapt your daytime routine to accommodate poor sleep. That is, you may need to adjust your routines, ask for support, and/or do your most demanding activities when you have the most energy.

6. Try to avoid using substances like caffeine to make up for a poor night’s sleep, especially in the afternoon or evening hours. This habit can cause uncomfortable side affects, such as headaches and irritability, which only adds to your stress. It can also disrupt sleep if taken too late in the evening.

7. Avoid alcohol consumption if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Processing of alcohol in the body gives off substances that disrupt sleep. While it may help you to relax and fall off to sleep initially, it often leads to waking up, even for people who are not eating late at night.

Help! My Husband Has Night Eating Syndrome

night_eating_foodIt’s my favorite time of day – the sun is barely up and I am greeted by a hungry beagle.

As I walk downstairs, I wonder what I will find today. I never know what I’ll wake up to find in my own kitchen on any given morning.

Today – uneaten bowl of something in the microwave, bread on the counter, cracker crumbs on the sofa and chocolate on the floor (I scramble to get there before the beagle).

Night Eating Syndrome affects both men and women, with men representing over 40% of all people with the syndrome. It doesn’t seem to matter how many calories were consumed earlier in the day. This is an ongoing, persistent behavior, unlike the occasional late snack or skipped meal that most people have from time to time.

In fact, people with night eating syndrome are often unaware of their nocturnal meals, although some feel they won’t be able to sleep without eating first. (Note: a person falls asleep more easily on a full stomach.) Among those who are aware of their night eating, there is often an emotional component; the diet of the night eater is comfort food.

Night eating syndrome tends to lead to weight gain; as many as 28% of those seeking gastric-bypass surgery were found to suffer from Night Eating Syndrome in one study. In fact, while sufferers are not always overweight (my husband is not), one in four people who are overweight by 100 lbs or more are thought to suffer from night eating syndrome. The disorder is accompanied by what sufferers describe as an uncontrollable desire to eat, akin to addiction, and is often treated chemically.

Half of all night eaters were of normal weight before they started night eating. Night eaters who maintain a healthy weight often feel the urge to exercise compulsively and/or restrict their calories during the day to keep from gaining weight.

My husband often doesn’t remember eating at night. Although he is not overweight, over the last few years, he has lost 80 lb. and certainly doesn’t want to gain it back. So he pushes himself to exercise, even though it takes a major effort just to get up in the morning.

He HATES the night eating habit, but understands now that night eating is not a lack of willpower. He is barely conscious of his behavior.

It seems like he has an unconscious command in his head that says “FOOD.”

Hopefully, the night eating CD will help!

Night Eating And Anxiety

Just knowing that you will face another night of night eating can cause anxiety in anticipation. Night eating is not easy to control, and feeling out of control with night eating is not a comfortable state.

You may have tried many activities to stop night eating – reading, smoking, locking yourself in the bedroom. The longer you have been in a night eating pattern, the harder it is to control.

People who struggle with night eating often feel anxious, depressed and guilty about their night eating behavior. Fears and anxiety tend to surface at night, which only intensifies the desire to eat to calm down.

Worry and anxiety tend to have a negative impact on your life, and the more anxious you feel, the more it interferes with your life. To make matters worse, worry tends to perpetuate itself in a vicious cycle.

Excessive worry and anxiety can have your thoughts racing, heart racing and your stomach tied in knots. In addition, some people feel angry and agitated with their own night eating behavior, so that only adds to the problem.

You may worry about your own health as well as any stress that is currently keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep.

Eating at night tends to stop anxiety temporarily, but it doesn’t really go away. Just like anti-anxiety medication, eating at night only masks the anxiety. The anxiety itself and the desire for eating at night soon return.

Unfortunately, by eating at night and feeling comforted, you only reinforce the night eating pattern.

Many people worry that they won’t be able to get to sleep (or get back to sleep) without eating at night. And they worry about not getting a good night’s sleep, and not being able to function well the next day without a good night’s sleep.

It’s easy to see why people turn to night eating when all of these worries are on your mind. If eating at night comforts and soothes you, then you can focus on the taste and texture of the food, and the feeling of fullness rather than the anxiety and stress you are feeling.

By addressing the anxiety directly, you’ll have a much better chance of breaking the night eating pattern.