Beyond Bedtime Snacking: Night Eating Syndrome

Most people can enjoy a light snack before bedtime without risking a poor night’s sleep or health complications. However, an evening snack has a different meaning to those who suffer from Night Eating Syndrome (NES) –  a condition characterized by an increased appetite in the evening, and consumption of more than 50% of daily calories after 6:00 p.m.  People with NES tend to choose high-caloric, carbohydrate-rich, and unhealthy foods that can lead to weight gain and reduce the intake of essential nutients.

While NES is classified as an eating disorder, those who suffer from it also develop insomnia and may awaken several times during the night to consume food. The sleep loss itself negatively impacts NES as it forms a hormonal profile associated with increased hunger and appetite for carbohydrate-rich foods. Furthermore,  the less rested and refreshed someone is, the less likely they will be to exercise and eat healthy. Coincidently, the clinical relevance of NES relates to the strong association with obesity. Studies estimate that the condition affects about 1.5% of the general population and nearly 10% of overweight/obese people who are trying to lose weight.

The causes of NES are depression, anxiety, stress, boredom, prolonged dieting, body image dissatisfaction, or other emotional problems. One study, completed at the Medical University of North Carolina  found that using relaxation techniques for 20 minutes in the evening significantly diminished the likelihood of nighttime hunger and eating.  The finding suggests that reducing stress and anxiety may be the crucial component of treating NES, and its related insomnia.

Aside from this serious condition,  almost 10% of people are affected by an increased appetite and food ingestion in the later evening, and many more enjoy an occasional  late-night snack. For those who like to indulge in an evening snack, here are some tips on how to snack wisely before bedtime and help prevent insomnia…


  • Tryptophan-rich foods: dairy products, bananas, oats, honey
  • Carbohydrates such as bread, crackers, and cereal – when combined with dairy products
  • Small Portions


  • Large snacks or meals
  • High fluid intake close to bedtime
  • Protein-rich foods and high-fat foods – they can be more difficult to digest and may lead to sleep disruption
  • Alcohol  – may induce sleepiness but can lead to awakenings and less restful sleep.
  • Nicotine and Caffeine  **Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, chocolate, cola, and contained in some medications
  • Spicy foods –  may disturb sleep by causing heartburn