Night eating syndrome (NES)

Are you feeling lost in the night, struggling with eating habits that seem out of your control? Then, you may be dealing with night eating syndrome (NES), a condition that is all too often misunderstood and overlooked compared to more famous eating disorders. NES is more than just a bad habit; it is a complex eating disorder that significantly impacts the lives of those it touches. The good news is that night-eating syndrome is not an inescapable fate. With professional treatment at UKAT’s Banbury Lodge, you can overcome this debilitating condition, build a healthier relationship with food and get a good night’s sleep.

What is night eating syndrome?

Night eating syndrome is a unique eating disorder characterised primarily by a disrupted circadian rhythm of food intake. In simple terms, this means consuming a significant portion of daily calories at night, often with episodes of waking up to eat.

A key aspect of NES eating disorder is the shroud of secrecy that surrounds it. Many who suffer from it do so in silence, never seeking treatment. This could be due to a lack of recognition of NES as a serious condition, societal stigma or simply the belief that help isn’t available or effective. It can also be due to feelings of shame and guilt, which are both a product of NES and a contributing factor, creating a vicious cycle that perpetuates the condition.

What are the causes of night eating syndrome?

Understanding the causes of night eating syndrome requires a deep dive into the various factors contributing to its development. These can be broadly categorised into psychological, physiological and environmental factors with different people combinations affecting different people.

Psychological causes of night eating syndrome
  • Stress and emotion regulation: For many with NES, eating becomes a way to cope with stress or negative emotions temporarily.
  • Mental health conditions: There is a notable correlation between night eating syndrome and mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse with food being used to self-medicate, whether consciously or unconsciously.
Physiological causes of night eating syndrome
  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal factors, like imbalances in leptin and ghrelin (hunger hormones), can contribute to night eating syndrome as they can normal hunger cues, leading to overeating at night.
  • Sleep disorders: Disturbances in sleep patterns, such as insomnia, are often associated with NES, as the inability to sleep leads to night-eating episodes.
Environmental and lifestyle causes of night eating syndrome
  • Dieting and irregular meal patterns: Extreme dieting or irregular eating patterns during the day can lead to excessive hunger at night, potentially triggering NES behaviours.
  • Lifestyle stressors: Factors such as job stress, social pressures or significant life changes can trigger night eating syndrome.

What are the telltale symptoms of night eating syndrome?

Recognising the symptoms of NES is critical for timely identification and treatment. Common symptoms of night eating syndrome include:

Characteristic eating patterns

  • Delayed eating: A hallmark of NES eating syndrome is not feeling hungry in the morning and consuming most of your food after most people have stopped eating.
  • Nocturnal awakenings: This means waking up during the night to eat, often feeling compulsive to eat to fall back asleep.

Emotional symptoms of night eating syndrome

  • Mood swings: These involve irritation and fluctuations in mood, especially in eating patterns. They often arise when loved ones question or challenge your eating habits.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame: After eating at night, you may feel a sense of guilt or shame. These feelings can exacerbate the disorder as you get trapped in the pattern of night eating behaviour as a coping mechanism.

What are the effects of night eating syndrome?

The effects of night eating syndrome can be incredibly far-reaching, impacting various aspects of your life. These effects include:

Physical effects
Obesity and related health complications: Night eating can lead to weight gain and obesity, which in turn increases the risk for…

  • Cardiovascular health conditions: The irregular eating patterns and potential weight gain associated with NES eating disorder can strain the heart and circulatory system, increasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension and other cardiovascular issues.
  • Metabolic syndrome: Disrupted eating schedules can lead to metabolic imbalances, increasing the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that heighten the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
  • Sleep disturbances: The cycle of waking up to eat can severely disrupt sleep patterns, leading to chronic sleep deprivation and associated health risks like weakened immunity and cognitive impairments.
Psychological effects
  • Depression and anxiety: The guilt and shame associated with NES can exacerbate these feelings, fuelling a debilitating cycle of emotional distress.
  • Low self-esteem: Persistent struggles with eating and weight can lead to a severe impact on self-esteem and body image, often intensifying night eating syndrome.
  • Social isolation: The secretive nature of NES can lead to withdrawal from social interactions and relationships, further isolating you and compounding feelings of loneliness and depression.
Social and relationship effects
  • Strained relationships: The secretive eating and potential guilt associated with NES can put a strain on personal relationships, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts.
  • Workplace challenges: Disrupted sleep and emotional distress can affect job performance and workplace interactions, potentially leading to further stress and isolation.
  • Lifestyle limitations: The need to eat at night and the associated tiredness during the day can limit social activities and hobbies, reducing overall life satisfaction.

What does night eating syndrome diagnosis involve?

Night eating syndrome diagnosis is a comprehensive process examining various aspects of your health and behaviour. Crucially, diagnosis is about more than just labelling a set of symptoms; it is about understanding your unique experience to develop a treatment approach that addresses your needs.

Night eating syndrome diagnosis may involve:

DSM-V criteria: The clinical framework

The DSM-V, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, provides criteria professionals use to diagnose NES. These include:

  • Timing of eating: One of the key symptoms of night eating disorder is consuming more than 25% of daily calories after dinner or during nighttime awakenings.
  • Awareness and recall: Unlike sleep-related eating disorders, where individuals have no memory of eating, with NES, you are typically aware of your eating and will remember it. This distinction is crucial for accurate night eating syndrome diagnosis.

Physical assessment

A physical examination is vital in ensuring that your night eating syndrome symptoms aren’t due to other underlying health issues. This examination may include:

  • Medical evaluation: Blood tests, hormone level checks, and other assessments may be given to rule out physiological causes like thyroid problems or metabolic disorders that could be causing NES symptoms.
  • Nutritional assessment: You will discuss your eating patterns and dietary habits with a healthcare professional. They will consider your nutritional intake when and what you eat at night. This helps in distinguishing night eating syndrome symptoms from those of other eating disorders and in planning appropriate treatment.

Psychological assessment: Understanding the mind behind the behaviour

Mental health plays a crucial role in night eating syndrome, and this part of the assessment is about understanding the psychological factors contributing to your eating patterns.

  • Mental health screening: It is common for nes to co-occur with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety and even substance abuse. This screening is designed to identify such conditions, as addressing and learning to manage them is often a key part of night-eating syndrome treatment.
  • Behavioural evaluation: This involves discussing your emotional triggers and stressors and how they relate to your eating patterns. It is about understanding the ‘why’ behind your behaviour so effective treatment strategies can be developed.

What does night eating syndrome treatment involve?

Night eating syndrome treatment at Banbury Lodge takes a holistic approach. Our rehab treatment programmes are designed to address the multifaceted nature of the disorder, encompassing your emotional, physical and social well-being. This includes:

One-to-one therapy

These sessions allow you to delve deep into your experiences, uncover the root causes of your night eating and develop tailored coping strategies.

Group therapy

Group therapy at Banbury Lodge offers a supportive community where you can share experiences and strategies with others facing similar challenges, helping you realise that your struggles are shared and that there’s strength in unity.


Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a transformative tool that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours related to eating and body image. Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) emphasises the balance between acceptance and change and develops skills in mindfulness, emotional regulation and distress tolerance.

Family therapy

Night-eating syndrome doesn’t just affect you; it impacts your loved ones, too. Family therapy sessions are about healing together, strengthening relationships and building a supportive home environment conducive to night eating syndrome recovery.

Meditation and mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation practices involve techniques to increase awareness of hunger and fullness cues and reduce stress-related eating. They will help you to stay present, observe your thoughts and feelings without judgement and develop a more harmonious relationship with food and your body.

Begin the journey to recovery today

Taking the first step towards night eating syndrome recovery can be daunting, but it is a journey filled with hope and potential for change. UKAT is committed to supporting you through this process with our comprehensive treatment programmes and supportive recovery community. If you are ready to reclaim your life, contact UKAT today and let’s move forward together.

Call us now for help


Does UKAT offer night eating syndrome aftercare?
Yes, our recovery programme doesn’t just end when you leave Banbury Lodge. Aftercare is an integral part of the night eating syndrome treatment process, offering ongoing support to help you maintain your recovery and prevent relapse. This involves weekly group therapy sessions, which keep you accountable and connected and are there to lean on in difficult moments.
How long do I need to stay in rehab for night eating syndrome?
The duration of your stay-in-night eating syndrome can vary depending on the severity of your condition and your individual needs. UKAT’s treatment programmes range from a few weeks to several months. It’s important to remember that recovery is a personal journey, and the length of your stay should be determined by your progress and the recommendation of your treatment team. They will work with you to ensure that your treatment duration is appropriate for your situation, helping you achieve the best possible outcomes for your long-term recovery.