Night Eating Syndrome: More than just a midnight snack

night eating syndrome


  • REM-sleep behavior disorder causes you to act out your dreams in real life
  • Body movements such as thrashing can lead to injury to you or your bedmate
  • Your doctor may recommend medications that can reduce or eliminate symptoms

I’m sure you’ve woken up in the middle of the night hungry a time or two in your life (we all have). Hence why the term “midnight snack” is so common. Some people, however, get their midnight snacks while they’re still completely asleep. If this describes you, you might just think you’re sleepwalking, but if the activity is limited to sleep-related eating, you’re more likely to be suffering from night eating syndrome.

What exactly is night-eating syndrome?

  • Night eating syndrome describes nightly episodes of unusual eating during sleep.

  • The sleeper will usually wake with very little to no memory of their snack time.

  • Someone suffering from this will also be very unresponsive if found during their nightly eating episode.

  • It is a non-REM-related parasomnia, meaning that it occurs during the first three stages of your sleep cycle.

How common is it?

Research suggests that this parasomnia affects around 1.5% of people.

Can it impact my health?

This parasomnia can have a huge impact on your health by affecting both your sleep-wake schedule and your overall well-being.

  • Sleep-related problems: Daytime fatigue, sleep deprivation, and insomnia.

  • Obesity: Unhealthy or excessive eating can lead to a number of bad health/physiological effects, including obesity if it goes untreated.

  • Emotional distress: Research has found that people who engage in sleep-related eating often report feelings of shame or guilt following a nightly episode.

  • High risk of hazard or injury: If you’re not even conscious while you’re eating, as you can imagine, it can be quite easy to ingest toxic substances or injure yourself while cooking or preparing food.

What causes night eating syndrome?

This parasomnia is believed to be caused by a disrupted circadian rhythm. Normally, this internal clock would be responsible for “closing the kitchen” in your mind so you don’t feel hungry while you slumber.

Can it be treated?

It might be as easy as re-syncing your circadian rhythm! You can do this by using various techniques such as timed light exposure and exercise to readjust it. In general, you can only adjust it by about one hour per day. As a general rule, your circadian rhythm likes consistent routines and activities in order to function optimally.



Since light is the biggest motivator for your circadian rhythm, light exposure can help to reset the timing of your circadian pacemaker. You can use light therapy to shift your sleep-wake schedule forward or backward depending on your work schedule and personal needs.

If you want to move your circadian rhythm forward, try light therapy soon after you wake up

If you want to move your circadian rhythm backwards, try light therapy between 1-3pm.


Moderate-intensity physical activity (65-75% heart rate) can help shift your circadian rhythm.

If you want to move your circadian rhythm forward, exercise for at least 1 hour in the afternoon.

If you want to move your circadian rhythm backward, exercise for at least 1 hour in the evening.

What if re-syncing your circadian rhythm doesn't do the trick?

If re-syncing your circadian rhythm doesn’t do the trick, the most successful form of treatment for this parasomnia has been found to be cognitive behavioral therapy. After treatment, participants reported having fewer sleep-related eating episodes.

If CBT treatments don’t work for you, you may want to talk to your doctor about sleep aid medications that might be right for you.

Bottom Line: Night eating syndrome is nightly episodes of eating while asleep. It can impact your sleep-wake cycle and your overall well-being. You can treat this parasomnia by re-syncing your circadian rhythm or CBT.


Written by:

More Posts