What Causes Midnight Hunger?

Grabbing the occasional snack is okay when you're hungry at night, but overeating or binge eating most of your daily calories at night could be caused by night eating syndrome, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Midnight hunger can be caused by restrictive dieting, binge eating disorder or night eating disorder. (Image: torwai/iStock/GettyImages)

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Midnight hunger can be caused by restrictive dieting, binge eating disorder or night eating disorder.

Why do I Get Hungry at Night?

Getting hungry at night could be caused by restrictive dieting during the day. If you're restricting your diet, you could become absolutely ravenous at night, causing you to toss your diet rules aside and munch on anything and everything. This can be easily remedied by eating more earlier and during the day.

However, getting hungry before bed could be the cause of night eating syndrome or binge eating disorder. If you're eating while you're sleeping, you may have sleep-related eating disorder, which is related to sleepwalking. This is when people sleepwalk at night and eat, having no memory of doing so the next day. You may find open containers from the fridge or wake up with food wrappers in or near your bed.

Cleveland Clinic notes these symptoms of sleep-related eating disorder:

  • Weight gain
  • Feeling unrested after sleeping
  • Having elevated cholesterol
  • Getting diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes
  • Suffering cuts or burns or other injuries from trying to prepare food while sleeping
  • Getting sick from eating poorly prepared food or eating something toxic
  • Developing tooth decay or cavities

Harvard Health Publishing notes that there isn't much documentation about sleep-related eating disorders but if you think you might have this you'll need to see your health professional to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Night Eating Syndrome

Night eating syndrome, or nocturnal eating syndrome, is described as eating at night and not being able to fall asleep or fall back asleep until having eaten. Cleveland Clinic notes these symptoms of night eating syndrome:

  • Having no appetite in the morning for breakfast
  • Eating more food after dinner than during dinner
  • Consuming more than half of daily food intake after dinner
  • Being aware of eating at night
  • Waking up from sleep to eat
  • Binge eating at night or grazing
  • This is a pattern that continues for two months or more

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder is described in a 2015 abstract published in CNS Spectrums as recurrent episodes of eating a lot more food in one sitting than most people would eat in the same situation. People with binge eating disorder describe a sense of a lack of control when binge eating, and it occurs at least once a week for three months or more.

People with binge eating disorder eat late at night and often wake up from sleeping to binge eat. Harvard Health Publishing notes that it is often associated with depression and addiction problems. If you have this disorder, you probably experience a lack of sleep and weight gain.

Treating Eating Disorders

There are some steps to take if you think you may have binge eating disorder or night eating syndrome. First, see your primary health professional for a full health evaluation. Next, see a mental health professional to see if there are any underlying mental illnesses causing the binge eating disorder. If another mental illness such as depression or an anxiety disorder is contributing to binge eating, treating those illnesses can help improve eating and sleeping patterns.

Another appointment to make is with a dietitian who can help you make better food choices throughout the day and help prevent late night hunger.

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