International Journal of Obesity (2003) 27, 970–978. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802320

Night eating syndrome: effects of brief relaxation training on stress, mood, hunger, and eating patterns

L A Pawlow1, P M O'Neil1 and R J Malcolm1

1Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Weight Management Center, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, SC, USA

Correspondence: Dr PM O'Neil, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, MUSC Weight Management Center, Medical University of South Carolina, 67 President Street, Suite 410 South, PO Box 250861, Charleston, SC 29425, USA. E-mail:

Received 17 September 2002; Revised 21 January 2003; Accepted 9 March 2003.



BACKGROUND: Night eating syndrome (NES) is characterized by a lack of appetite in the morning, consumption of 50% or more of daily food intake after 6:00 p.m., and difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. It has been associated with stress and with poor results at attempts to lose weight.

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine whether a relaxation intervention (Abbreviated Progressive Muscle Relaxation Therapy, APRT) that has been shown to significantly reduce stress levels in normal, healthy adults would also benefit an NES sample.

RESEARCH METHODS AND PROCEDURES: A total of 20 adults with NES were randomly assigned to either a relaxation training (APRT) or a Control (quietly sitting for the same amount of time) group, and all subjects attended two laboratory sessions 1 week apart. Pre- and postsession indices of stress, anxiety, relaxation, and salivary cortisol were obtained, as well as Day 1 and Day 8 indices of mood. Food diaries and hunger ratings were also obtained.

RESULTS: The results indicated that 20 min of a muscle relaxation exercise significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and salivary cortisol immediately postsession. After practicing these exercises daily for a week, subjects exhibited lowered stress, anxiety, fatigue, anger, and depression on Day 8. APRT was also associated with significantly higher a.m. and lower p.m. ratings of hunger, and a trend of both more breakfast and less night-time eating.

DISCUSSION: These data support the role of stress and anxiety in NES and suggest that practicing relaxation may be an important component of treatment for this condition.


night eating syndrome, stress, relaxation, cortisol, eating disorder

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