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Learn more about the results we get at Within

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Night eating syndrome treatment

Night eating syndrome (NES) may not be as well-known as other eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, but the condition still impacts as many as 1 in every 100 people.1

Thankfully, recovery from NES is possible with the appropriate help, and several types of night eating syndrome treatments are available.

7
 minute read
Last updated on 
March 25, 2024
March 25, 2024
Night eating syndrome treatment
In this article

What is night eating syndrome?

Night eating syndrome is an eating disorder that involves similar symptoms to both binge eating disorder and insomnia. NES is considered an “other specified eating and feeding disorder,” according to the American Psychiatric Association. The conditions in this category are related to eating disorders but do not meet enough criteria to receive another diagnosis.

People with NES may eat large amounts before bed or wake up several times throughout the night and proceed to eat large quantities of food. In fact, people with NES tend to eat a large portion of food throughout the night, with some consuming as much as 25% of their daily food intake during these episodes.2

Unlike sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), a specific type of condition that involves disordered eating behaviors while someone is not fully conscious, NES happens while someone is fully awake and aware of their actions.1 Someone can wake up with the specific intention to eat or feel that when they do wake up, they need to eat to fall back asleep.1

Like other eating and mental health disorders, night eating syndrome can have severe complications. But night eating syndrome treatment is not one-size-fits-all. The best course of care depends on several factors, including how long someone's been struggling, how severe their symptoms are, and whether they have any co-occurring medical conditions, among other considerations.

At Within, we personalize treatment to each individual case. Learn how our remote program can help you overocome night eating syndrome.

The experience

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Types of night eating syndrome treatment

How to treat night eating syndrome best depends on many factors, including the severity of someone's case. NES is typically treated on an outpatient level. However, as with all eating disorders, it can be addressed along a spectrum of care, including:3

  • Inpatient treatment: Staying full-time at a treatment facility for intensive daily care
  • Partial hospitalization: Treatment sessions that last for most of the day, most days a week, with patients returning home at the end of each day
  • Intensive outpatient treatment: Attending treatment or therapy sessions several times a week for several hours at a time
  • Outpatient treatment: Keeping up a regularly scheduled appointment with a therapist or another medical professional to check in on recovery and overall progress

While these levels of care dictate how rigorous a treatment program is, patients can participate in many different types of treatment for night eating syndrome while attending these programs.

Types of therapy for night eating syndrome

The most common treatment for night eating syndrome is psychotherapy, which involves discussing feelings, concerns, and experiences with an analyst and learning new skills and coping mechanisms to replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors.

Several types of night eating syndrome therapy have been shown to be effective.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Behavior therapy
Progressive muscle relaxation
Phototherapy

Medications to treat night eating syndrome

Pharmacotherapy, or the use of medication to help control certain disorders, has been the most-tested treatment for night eating syndrome.2

Most prominently, a class of medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been used to help with NES, with many cases showing these drugs to be effective.2 Doctors may also prescribe additional medications to help people with NES treat symptoms of related disorders, including depression or anxiety.

Medications are recommended on a case-by-case basis, and even throughout treatment, patients should have regular check-ins with doctors to measure dosage and progress.

It's important to note that while medications are the most-tested type of night eating syndrome treatment, they are in many cases considered supplementary treatments, with many doctors referring patients to work primarily through psychotherapy and other kinds of night eating syndrome therapy.

Nutrition counseling and meal support

Nutrition counseling and meal support can be a particularly important treatment for night eating syndrome since the condition is centered around a specific disordered eating pattern. 

Most people struggling with NES will not eat in the mornings but will wake up once or several times during the night to eat. There’s also a correlation between people struggling with night eating syndrome and people who diet because they don’t get enough food to nourish their bodies during the day.2

In these cases, nutrition counseling and meal support can help through the power of education and support.

For patients continually experimenting with diets, nutrition counseling can educate them about the damage diets do to the body and mind, why they don’t work in the long term, and why they often lead to weight gain. It can also offer new strategies to improve patients' relationships with food and their bodies. 

Meal support can also help correct eating patterns, encouraging patients to eat more in the morning and throughout the day before they go to sleep.5

How to treat night eating syndrome at Within Health

Night eating syndrome may seem difficult to overcome, but help is available, and recovery is possible. The approaches above have all been found useful for treating eating disorders, including night eating syndrome.

Remote, personalized treatment

The professionals at Within Health have specialized expertise in eating disorders and tailor personalized treatment programs for each individual’s needs. Our team offers virtual care programs for eating disorders, where we can help you from your home.

If you suspect you or someone you love may need help with night eating syndrome, contact Within Health to learn more about effective treatment options.

Call for help today

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.

Resources

  1. Night Eating Syndrome. (n.d.). Cleveland Clinic. Accessed January 2024.
  2. Allison, K. C., & Tarves, E. P. (2011). Treatment of night eating syndrome. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 34(4), 785–796.
  3. Levels of care in eating disorder treatment. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Accessed January 2024.
  4. Murphy, R., Straebler, S., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. G. (2010). Cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 33(3), 611–627. 
  5. Leman, C. (2010). Night Eating Syndrome. Today’s Dietician, 12(1), 8.

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