Could Insomnia Be Causing Your Nighttime Binge Eating?

Patient Expert
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Nighttime binge eating, sometimes referred to as night eating syndrome is a fairly new eating disorder that often comes with lack of morning appetite and nighttime overeating.

Studies show that insomnia and agitation often come with this eating disorder, which leads some experts to question: _Could insomnia be the cause of nighttime binge eating? _

The Connection Between Sleep Disturbances and Eating Disorders

In 2001, an article in La Encephale took a closer look at the connection between sleep disturbances, such as insomnia, and eating disorders. This review looked more closely at night eating syndrome and sleep related eating syndrome, and their potential link to insomnia.

In the case of sleep-related eating syndrome, individuals may wake up and binge during awakenings, without ever experiencing low blood sugar, hunger, or abdominal pain. However, it’s unclear whether insomnia is causing these nighttime eating disorders or if the eating disorders are contributing to problems with insomnia.** Insomnia and Changes in Brain Chemicals May Cause Binging**

Perhaps a look at the link between insomnia and obesity may shed some light on whether insomnia could cause nighttime binge eating.

The potential link between insomnia and obesity traces back to cells within the brain’s hypothalamus region. When they are over-activated by stress, they may cause sleeplessness and sustained arousal, which can result in overeating - particularly at night.

Disturbed Sleep and Overeating

A Columbia University study also found a connection between getting too little sleep and overeating.

People who deal with insomnia often feel sleepy, and when people are sleepy and hungry, they often make the wrong food choices or over-indulge. This suggests that shortened sleep has the potential to make people more likely to binge.

The Importance of Treating Both ProblemsEven though insomnia may be contributing to your problem with nighttime binge eating,** both insomnia and the eating disorder need to be treated**. For both insomnia and eating disorders, cognitive behavioral therapy may prove helpful.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often useful for treating insomnia by helping you eliminate or at least control worries and thoughts that may be keeping you awake.

This therapy also can address eating disorders by:

  • Helping you eliminate self-defeating thought patterns* ** Helping you focus on eating more regularly*** ** Encouraging you to keep a diary of nighttime binge eating to help change the way you think and feel about eating and food**

If you think your insomnia may be causing nighttime binge eating or another eating disorder, it’s essential to seek medical advice. Eating disorders and chronic insomnia have the potential to cause serious health problems, so early treatment is important.


Martin is the creator of Insomnia Land’s free online sleep training for insomnia. His course aims to teach you how to fall asleep and stay asleep without sleeping pills. Over 4,000 insomniacs have completed his course and 97 percent of graduates say they would recommend it to a friend.

See more helpful articles:

Don’t Let Insomnia Become a Phobia

How Dieting Can Cause Sleep Problems

High Cortisol May be Causing Your Insomnia

Sources:

Eiber R., Friedman S., "Correlation between eating disorders and sleep disturbances", National Center for Biotechnology Information. September 2001. Accessed February 23, 2016.

Horvath, Tamas L. et al. "Input organization and plasticity of hypocretin neurons." Cell Metabolism , Volume 1 , Issue 4 , 279 - 286. Accessed February 23, 2016.

St-Onge, M.-P. Presentation to the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism/Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention 2011 Scientific Sessions, March 23, 2011.

Stunkard, A. J., Allison, K. C., Geliebter, A., Lundgren, J. D., Gluck, M. E., & O’Reardon, J. P. Development of criteria for a diagnosis: lessons from the night eating syndrome. Compr Psychiatry. 2009; 50(5):391-9.