By Michael Heffernan

Night Snacking and Night Eating Syndrome

Night Snacking and Night Eating Syndrome

Many of us older folks remember the 1970s lemonade advert “secret lemonade drinker” where the bespeckled man sneaks down in the night to drink this sugary syrup (12.5 spoons of sugar in 2l bottle). But, in all seriousness, night snacking can be part of Night Eating Syndrome which is estimated to affect as much as 1.5% of the population and more so in individuals that are obese (6-16%). I must confess, until recently, as a dentist, I had never heard of Night Eating Syndrome before, and the scientific literature appears to demonstrate that this is not widely known or investigated. This worries me because it would seem to indicate there are people suffering unnecessarily from a treatable condition that can wreck havoc on physical and mental health. 

The concerns with regular snacking at night are that they cause sleep disturbance or be as a consequence in pre-existing insomnia and, as we have seen in previous sleep disturbance blogs, this can impact on general health and waking-hour abilities/accidents. For instance:

A typical report demonstrated by Carol: She would wake every night at 2 am and “would eat milk and cookies, pasta, peanut butter, and jelly, and/or raisins” (1)

Night eating has also been linked with a greater risk of weight gain and difficulties with weight loss and depression. In fact, night-snacking was first described among groups that were failing with weight loss programs. The good news is that with direct treatment of night snacking, weight loss management became successful. 

Treatment of Night Eating Syndrome can include medications that act on serotonin because of its effects on appetite, food intake, and circadian rhythms (all linked to night snacking!). SSRI medications have been seen in studies to be helpful in decreasing snacking, and improving depression, and quality of life measures.

Please, take note:

Recommended SSRI medications such as brand names Zoloft, Lustral, Cipralex, and Lexapro all cause dry mouth and therefore increase the risk of tooth decay and erosion. Dr. Heff’s Remarkable Mints are effective at reducing dry mouth and tooth decay, neutralizing acids, and are sugar-free so can be used even in the middle of the night!

Alternatives to medications to help with night eating syndrome are psychological help such as progressive muscle relaxation training, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), relaxation exercises, and lifestyle interventions. 

The core components of CBT include (2):

1) psychoeducation about NES and healthy eating

2) eating modification

3) relaxation strategies

4) establishing sleep hygiene

5) cognitive restructuring

6) improving physical activity

7) establishing social support

While researching this article, I had a new patient that was concerned about the tooth decay caused by his night snacking. He felt that he lacked the ‘willpower’ to stop which was, understandably, influencing his mental health. I was so pleased to be able to assure him that night snacking had nothing to do with ‘willpower’ but was a genuine and treatable health condition. If you are worried about Night Eating Syndrome please speak to your dentist or doctor. We are here to help! You needn't be alone. And, as outlined above, there are many effective treatments for you to try. 

Don't forget ! - 

Dr. Heffs Remarkable Mints contain natural ingredients and are caffeine-free and sugar-free. One of the main ingredients is green tea extract that is decaffeinated as this helps to protect the collagen that make up your teeth and is also antibacterial. Since Dr Heff’s Remarkable Mints contain de-caffeinated green tea you will get the benefits but will not harm your sleep even if you need to use a mint in the night to help with dry mouth or to help sooth a cough. 

They are ideal for people that suffer from dry mouth as they help to stimulate saliva and the mint leaves the mouth feeling fresh and clean. They are scientifically tested by international dental schools, recommended by dentists and endorsed by Toothfriendly International. 

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I hope you have found this helpful. Good luck on your health journey.

All the best,

Dr. Mike Heffernan



1)    Allison, K., Tarves, E. 2011. Treatment of night eating syndrome. Psychiatry Clinic North America

2)    Kucukgoncu S et al. 2015. Optimal management of night eating syndrome: challenges and solutions. Neuropsychiatiric Disease and Treatment Night Eating Syndrome