According to a study that just appeared in The American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the University of Minnesota found that night-eating syndrome is a common disorder among psychiatric outpatients, and is associated with substance use and obesity.
Night-eating syndrome is a condition characterized by two main features: excessive eating in the evening (hyperphagia) and nocturnal awakening with ingestion of food. Its prevalence has been estimated to be 1.5 percent in the general population and 8.9 percent in an obesity clinic.
"This is the first study that looks at the connection between psychiatric conditions and night- eating syndrome," said Jennifer D. Lundgren, Ph.D., lead author of the paper and postdoctoral research associate in Penn's Department of Psychiatry, Division of Weight and Eating Disorders.
"Night-eating syndrome is often associated with life stress and depression, so we were particularly interested in looking at the prevalence of the condition in this population," she said.
The research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease.
The study consisted of 399 participants from psychiatric outpatient clinics. Participants were screened using a questionnaire to assess hunger and craving patterns; percentage of calories consumed following the evening meal; insomnia and awakenings; nocturnal food cravings and ingestions; and mood.
Those who scored above cutoff on the questionnaire were then interviewed by phone, and diagnosed with night-eating syndrome if one or both of the following criteria were met:
• evening hyperphagia and/or
• nocturnal awakenings with ingestions of food occurring three or more times per week.
Based on the total group, the prevalence of night-eating syndrome was 12.3 percent, which exceeds the prevalence of the condition in an obesity clinic.
Substance abuse was more likely to occur among patients with night-eating syndrome (30.6 percent) than among those without it (8.3 percent). It was reported that alcohol was the most commonly abused substance.
"Given the prevalence of night-eating syndrome among outpatients with psychiatric conditions, our findings indicate that mental-health practitioners will need to screen for and incorporate appropriate treatment options into their practice," said John P. O'Reardon, M.D., a co-author of the study, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Penn and director of Penn's Treatment Resistant Depression Clinic.
Recent studies have found the antidepressant setraline to significantly improve symptoms of night-eating syndrome.