Nearly 5% of the 230 patients studied by Sion Hospital’s psychiatry department for two years had symptoms indicating a little-known disorder called the night eating syndrome, or NES, characterised by an urge to eat sweet and oily food at night.
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.
The doctors had to differentiate her symptoms from other sleep disorders, such as one in which a person eats at night but does not remember it afterwards. “The patient remembered what she ate at night. This is when we further investigated her case and figured out that her symptoms matched those of NES,” said Dr Ameya Amritwar, who conducted the study.
Most patients with NES symptoms ate 50% to 75% of their daily food after dinner, could not control snacking between dinner and bed-time and were middle-aged, the study found. The doctors gave patients with the syndrome sertraline, an anti-depressant, for six months, and they reported an improvement in their condition.
“NES is not very common and the person has to have explicit symptoms,” said Dr Shubhangi Parkar, head of psychiatry in KEM Hospital.
"The person feels guilty that he has no control over his life. It can lead to emotional disturbances and even severe depression.”