The relationship between night eating syndrome and other eating disorders

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Night eating syndrome (NES) was formally recognised as an eating disorder nine years ago, and is characterised by delayed patterns of food intake. More specifically, people affected by NES typically don’t feel like eating earlier in the day, but often eat excessively after dinner (perhaps a quarter of their daily intake) and then regularly wake in the night and may feel they have to eat to get back to sleep. The symptoms of NES may cause marked distress and are often associated with sleep problems as well as low mood.

NES affects people of any gender and is thought to affect about 1.5% of the population, but it is more prevalent in people of higher weight. The night-eating episodes in NES are different from the binge-eating episodes seen in bulimia nervosa (BN) and binge eating disorder (BED). While binge-eating episodes often involve eating large amounts of food in a short period of time, people affected by NES may instead graze on food in the evening or frequently wake up to eat during the night. But even though NES is a separate diagnosis, previous research has found that NES may be present in up to 52% of those with BED  and 35% of those with BN. Unfortunately, the additional burden of NES is also linked to higher levels of impairment and psychological distress in people affected by another eating disorder.

NES is associated with disturbed circadian rhythms, though the direction of causality is not year known. Regardless, modifying social rhythms may also prove be a useful additional treatment target. Current treatments include serotonergic medication and psychotherapies which include a focus on normalising eating patterns and addressing other aspects of people’s lives that are related to or affected by NES. There is still much that is unknown about NES, with recent research examining whether it is a psychiatric, sleep, or metabolic disorder and the extent to which genetics makes a contribution to NES and associated conditions.

If you have ever experienced an eating disorder at any point in your life, we encourage you to visit edgi.nz to learn more about our genetic study of eating disorders. If you need assistance with a current eating disorder or think that you might have one, please contact your general practitioner in the first instance.

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