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The Role of Melatonin in Night Eating Syndrome

written by: Nicholas Kuvaas • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/26/2010

Night eating syndrome is a relatively new eating disorder, but studies have found support for biological differences among sufferers to support its existence. In particular, there appears to be a significant difference in melatonin levels for those who suffer from night eating disorder.

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    Night Eating Syndrome

    In this article, we will take a look at the connection between melatonin and night eating syndrome. Night eating syndrome has only recently been recognized as an eating disorder. People who suffer from this disorder tend to consume the majority of their calories in the evening and at night1. They are also not likely to eat breakfast or will postpone eating breakfast for several hours after waking from sleep. Hunger may occur until four in the afternoon or later for some sufferers. Insomnia among sufferers is also common, and this lack of sleep is when many who suffer from night eating syndrome snack.

    However, this disorder also affects the mood of those who suffer from it. As the day continues, depression begins to build. This continues until the evening or night when the sufferer begins to consume a large amount of high carbohydrate foods. However, this doesn't relieve the depression. Instead, depression and anxiety build leading to eating. This boost of carbohydrates actually helps the sufferer to fall asleep by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.

    At first glance, this disorder appears to be purely psychological, but it is not. Studies have found that hormone levels among those who suffer from night eating syndrome are actually different from the normal populace, especially in levels of melatonin. Night eating syndrome is more than a psychological eating disorder. Its mechanism will be discussed in the next section.

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    The Role of Melatonin in Night Eating Syndrome

    People have a normal cycle of waking and sleeping known as the circadian rhythym. This process is directly regulated by the hormone known as melatonin. Night eating syndrome sufferers have decreased levels of melatonin related to periods of insomnia and frequent wakening during the night2. Another hormone related to night eating syndrome is cortisol which is related to stress. People who suffer from night eating syndrome have higher levels of this hormone in their body which has been related to depression and anxiety. It is also related to an increased appetite. While still unclear, it is probably the combination of cortisol and melatonin imbalances that contributes to night eating syndrome.

    However, there are supplements that contain melatonin which may offer relief from those who suffer from night eating syndrome by bringing the levels of melatonin back to the normal levels3. This, in turn, returns sleep back to a normal cycle and decreases the incidence of night eating. Melatonin and night eating syndrome have a clear connection, but behavior treatments can also be included to lessen the problematic symptoms of night eating disorder.

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    Behavioral Treatment for Night Eating Syndrome

    Along with consuming melatonin supplements, there are behavioral changes which can help to change the cycle of night of eating2. It is recommended that eating breakfast with a source of protein is the best way to start treating night eating syndrome. This should be followed by eating lunch and then a small supper to satisfy your hunger. Hunger, during this eating cycle, will soon become common around breakfast and lunch and almost non-existent at supper time. Melatonin supplements may help to adopt this cycle.

    Night eating syndrome is a serious eating disorder which is directly influenced by decreased levels of melatonin in the body. Cortisol is also increased, and these factors together contribute to the symptoms associated with night eating disorder. Melatonin supplements and behavioral modifications can be used to return to a normal eating schedule.

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    Sources

    1. http://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/main/night-eating-syndrome/menu-id-58/

    2.http://www.ultraprevention.com/healing/night_eating_syndrome.htm

    3. http://ajpendo.physiology.org/cgi/reprint/282/2/E366

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