Middle of the Night: Awakening While Binge Eating

By February 27, 2013

I often wake in the middle of the night to find myself standing in front of the refrigerator bingeing. What is this called and why do I do it? What can I do to prevent it?

Dear Visitor:

There may be a variety of things going on leading to your experience of awakening while binge eating. Some hypnotics (prescription sleep aids) can have adverse effects of amnesia (not being aware or remembering what you did) and binge eating episodes that occur during the night after taking the medication. If you are on any medicine like this, I would definitely talk to your medical or psychiatric provider about it.

There is also a condition called Night-Eating Syndrome that is classified as an Eating Disorder in the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5). This syndrome includes symptoms of night time eating, not being hungry in the morning, eating most of the daily calories in the evenings, and weight gain. There is a strong association with mood disorders (depression and low self esteem) and anxiety, and indication of low leptin and melatonin levels produced by these individuals at night (hormones that regulate sleep and food intake).

There is another possibility that what you are experiencing could possibly be a sleep disorder that consists of sleep disturbances and night time eating while you’re asleep. I would recommend a physical exam and a psychiatric evaluation to help you figure out what’s really going on.