Night Eating Syndrome --- Causes and
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May 24, 2015
By Susan Callahan,  Featured Columnist

The pattern is familiar to many: you wake up during the night to eat.
For some, this “night meal” can be little more than a quick snack. For
others, the night meal amounts to a feast, an engorgement of many
different foods, a true binge. Scientists call this phenomenon “night
eating syndrome” and evidence is growing that it afflicts millions of us.
What causes night eating syndrome? Are there any natural remedies
that help to reduce the number of times you engage in night-eating?

Causes of Night Eating Syndrome

Night-eating syndrome has only recently been studied as a “syndrome”
per se by scientists. It is not yet officially a disorder – to qualify as such
it would have to be listed in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders”.  But the syndrome is marked by distinct patterns of
behavior and has been linked with specific triggers.

The most predictable trigger for night-eating is stress. Intense stress,
in fact, triggers night eating notable in college students. Night-eating is
in fact far more common among people 18 to 30 year old than it is for
people over 65, a 2006 study from Wesleyan University found.
Students who engage in night-eating have higher levels of the stress
hormone, cortisol, than students who do not, a 1999 study from
University of Tromsö, Norway.

A second feature of those who suffer from night-eating is more
obvious –they also suffer from sleep disturbances or sleep disorders.
The causes of sleep disorders can range from sleep apnea (cessation of
breathing multiple times which can rouse you from sleep), excessive
snoring, excessive ambient sounds or lights and , again, stress.

The same Wesleyan study found that night-eating is far more common
on the weekend.

How Much Do Night Eaters Eat?

Night -eaters awake 3.6 times during the night, the Norway study
found. They eat about 52% of the times.  In terms of calorie intake,
night eaters average “1136 KJ” --- equivalent to 270 calories --- at
their night meals and they also tend to eat less than non-sufferers
during the day.

Not All Night-eating is Bad for Your Health

Eating meals late at night is essential for some people, such as Type 1
diabetics and people with glycogen storage disorders, according to a
2015 study from Florida State University. This study suggest that small
meals, of no more than 150 calories, and which consist of single foods
rather than mixed foods, may in fact be harmless. More research is
needed to determine whether certain types of late night single-food
meals are  less harmful than others.

Remedies for Night-eating Syndrome

1. Prepare for the Feast  

With night-eating, you are using food to medicate other problems
usually related to stress.  Unless you can eliminate the source of the
stress, the best second option is to prepare for the feast in a health-
supportive way. Set aside a night meal in advance. Include
carbohydrates, as these will help to encourage your body to go back to
sleep. Avoid refined sugars, though, and opt for whole grain carbs such
as bowl of whole grain cereal with a bit of milk. Preparing a meal ahead
of time will also help to reduce the cycle self-blaming and bingeing that
accompanies night-arousal. You will be less likely to get angry at
yourself fro awakening if, once you awaken, you are aware that the
awakening is expected and you have prepared for it in advance.

2. Use  Vanilla to Stage Sleep Re-entry.  Make the night-awakening a
ritual that is designed to ease you gently back into sleep. Keep a bottle
of vanilla extract on the kitchen counter. After you obtain your night
meal, take deep breaths of the vanilla extract.

Lavender Oil Can Help Lull You Back to Sleep

Also, keep a bowl of water with 3 drops of lavender oil in it to place
next to your bed. Lavender oil helps to improve the quality of your
sleep, studies have found. A 2015 study from nurses at Johns Hopkins
University found that 50 patients who placed a bowl with 3 drops of
100% lavender oil next to their bed from 10PM to 6AM had lower blood
pressure than those who do not. And they slept more soundly.

A mega-study of 15 other studies confirmed this finding. In 2014
nurses from the University of Minnesota reviewed 15 other studies on
the effectiveness of aromatherapy in improving the quality fo sleep and
found that, indeed, aromatherapy does appear to help. Moreover,
lavender is the most often used aroma in these studies.

Should You Exercise Before Bedtime?

Intuitively, we think that exercising before bedtime should help us to
sleep more soundly at night. We would be wrong. Exercising
immediately before bedtime is not a good idea if you want to have a
sound night's sleep. Instead, exercising during the day helps, Studies
have found that people who exercise hard enough to sweat during the
day have fewer awakenings at night. Sleep and exercise are effects that
work both ways –they are “bidirectional” effects. If you exercise
regularly during the day, you will sleep better, And if you sleep better,
you will exercise more during the day, according to a 2014 study from
the University of Pittsburgh.

In fact, exercise may even improve the sleep quality of people with
sleep apnea. Exercise accomplishes this miracle by reducing the
inflammation that is a pre-condition to sleep apnea, according to a
2013 study from Universidade Federal de São Paulo-UNIFESP, São
Paulo, Brazil.

Use Yoga to Manage Stress

Stress, as mentioned, is the leading cause of sleep disturbances related
to night-eating.  Yoga practice has long been known as an excellent
strategy for managing stress. The interesting part of this connection is
that you don't have to wait until years to see the results. Simple yoga
stretching and adherence to a practice schedule bring almost immediate
stress relief. Many studies have been conducted in this area over
several decades. For example , a 2014 study from  the Kangwon
National University, Republic of Korea examined 27 undergraduate
nursing students. 12 of the students were assigned to a yoga exercise
group in which they performed 60 minutes each week of “surya
namaskara” yoga combined with relaxation and meditation (shavasana
and yoga nidra). The other 15 students were in the control group
which did not exercise.

At the end of 12 weeks, the researchers found that the group of
students who practiced yoga reported significantly lower levels of  
stress. What's more, they even experienced lower blood sugar levels as

Music Before Bedtime Improves Sleep Among Traumatized Patients

People with post-traumatic stress syndrome saw their sleep quality
improve after using music relaxation just before bedtime, according to
2012 a study from Haemek Medical Center, Afula in Israel. The type of
music which relaxes you is a personal choice.

But whether it's smooth jazz, classical, hip-hop, rhythm and blues or
rock, put your favorites on an hour before bedtime to reduce the
number of night awakenings and night-eating episodes.

Massage Before Bedtime Improves Sleep

Massage, in general, helps relieve stress and improve sleep quality.
Massage even helps to relieve stress in cardiac patients, according to a
study from Kashan University of Medical Sciences, Kashan, Iran. This
study of 120 cardiac patients discovered that whole body massage
lowered stress, reduced blood pressure by 5 points, and reduced
average heart rates and breathing rates. Whole body massage is hard
to do  by yourself but you can massage your own legs, face, arms and
lower back.


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Lavender oil beside your bed can reduce
night awakenings and night eating.