Midnight snacking is not an indulgence but a disorder that doctors are giving the ominous label of Night Eating Syndrome (NES).
Nearly 5% of 230 patients of Sion hospital's psychiatry department whom doctors studied for two years had symptoms indicating NES, characterised by an urge to eat sweet and oily food at night. "Awareness about this syndrome is low even among the medical community," said Dr Nilesh Shah, the department head. "Yet if not controlled, it can lead to obesity and obesity-related problems such as diabetes and arthritis."
The study found that people suffering from the syndrome exhibited morning anorexia, a condition in which people did not feel hungry in the morning but felt progressively hungrier as night approached, said Dr Ameya Amritwar, who conducted the study. "They also show signs of melancholy in the evenings, disturbed sleep patterns — with an average of two night-time wakings — and the need to eat before they can fall asleep again," he said.
The Archives of General Psychiatry, an Indian peer-reviewed journal, will publish the findings in an upcoming issue, he added. The hospital decided to conduct the survey after a middle-aged woman undergoing treatment for chronic depression gained almost 15 kg in just a few months yet tested negative for hormonal disorders.
"She consistently denied that she overate," Amritwar said. "One day, out of frustration I asked her whether she ate at night, and she said 'yes'."