It's a problem that begins overnight, but develops over weeks and months. Night eating syndrome or "midnight hunger" is an eating disorder that is characterized by late-night binge eating.
Psychologists say night eating syndrome typically begins with someone who uses food to cope. Those who engage in emotional eating are more likely to turn to food in the middle of the night to help them fall back asleep or deal with feelings of depression or anxiety.
Although it can affect all ages and both sexes, night eating syndrome is more common in young women. It not only disrupts someone's sleep pattern, but it can contribute to health and weight-related issues.
Waking up and eating in the middle of the night becomes part of the nighttime routine, and the pattern can continue for months. Experts say it's important to recognize the signs and stop the cycle before it even begins.
"If they tend to be more of an emotional eater, so somebody who turns more towards food when they're bored, or sad, or lonely, you know, encourage them to engage in other activities. So, if they are feeling sad and lonely, maybe you go for a brisk walk around the block, or you read a book or you listen to music, or you talk about your feelings with somebody else," said recommended Cleveland Clinic Psychologist Margaret Richards, Ph.D.
Efforts could also be made to increase serotonin levels in the body to create a better night sleep.