'Night eating syndrome' is the newest eating disorder on the block
Whether you like vegging out with snacks in front of the television at night or raiding the refrigerator at 2 a.m., don't assume your behavior is benign, say researchers from the University of Pennsylvania.
A new study suggests that late-night snacking could indicate night eating syndrome, a condition that is linked to mental health problems like depression and self-injury.
"Night eating syndrome is characterized not only by eating at night - certainly many college students might have a late night study fest with eating - but it's also characterized by other things, like feeling that you can't eat in the morning, and feeling like you have to eat in order to go back to sleep," study author Dr. Rebecka Peebles told Reuters Health.
Night eating different from binge eating
The analysis showed that night eating is markedly different from binge eating, in that night eating isn't necessarily characterized by excessive food consumption. Some "night eaters" report waking up in the middle of the night with a need to eat in order to fall back asleep.
Night eating syndrome is more common in college students, the research found, and a 2008 survey revealed that students who have the condition have usually been depressed or have physically harmed themselves in the past. Night eating is also linked to other eating disorders - the analysis found that three percent of students experience night eating after controlling binge eating.
Night eating important to recognize
Study leader Cristin Runfola, researcher with the University of North Carolina Center for Excellence for Eating Disorders, said it's important to note that night eating syndrome can affect both men and women, as well as all races and ethnicities.
Spotting the condition, she said, could help a loved one avoid serious mental health consequences.
"Often times these people are eating throughout the night," she added. "They might even be waking up and feeding multiple times throughout the night, so if you're frequently hearing that someone's getting out of bed throughout the night and you're noticing that food is missing there might be something going on."