The present study investigated the role of coping in the relationship between perceived stress and night-eating syndrome (NES) in college students. Participants were 95 undergraduates 18 to 29 years of age, and predominantly female and white or Caucasian. Anonymous paper-and-pencil surveys were completed on campus to measure NES, coping styles and level of perceived stress. Significant associations were found between perceived stress and NES (β = 0.259, p < 0.05), perceived stress and maladaptive coping (β = 0.575, p < 0.001) and maladaptive coping and NES (β = 0.252, p < 0.05). Mediation analyses indicate that experiencing higher levels of stress may lead to night-eating behaviours because of use of maladaptive coping strategies. Furthermore, tests of moderation suggest that individuals who experienced stress and engaged in less adaptive coping were more likely to exhibit night-eating behaviours (versus those who engaged in more adaptive coping). Of note is the differential impact of adaptive versus maladaptive coping in this association. Current findings provide some insights into possible mechanisms to weight gain in college students. Further, this information may be useful in guiding the development of interventions aimed at improving the psychosocial and behavioural health of college students. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.