Sleep Related Eating Disorder: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

 

Sleep Related Eating Disorder (SRED): What Is It?

Sometimes referred to as sleep eating or a nocturnal sleep eating disorder (meaning it happens at night), sleep related eating disorder (SRED) is classified as a non-REM sleep parasomnia—an involuntary, abnormal behavior that occurs at some point during the four non-REM stages of sleep.

SRED is exactly what it sounds like: it involves eating and drinking food or other substances while asleep. This behavior can begin at any stage in your life, and it can last for a short period (up to a few months at a time) or it can be chronic and escalating. Sleep eating can also go away temporarily but recur during periods of stress.

It’s important to distinguish the difference between sleep related eating disorder and nocturnal eating syndrome (NES), as they’re not the same thing:

Signs & Symptoms of Sleep Related Eating Disorder

 

 

How do you know if you or someone in your life has sleep related eating disorder? 

The biggest giveaway, of course, is that the person engages in eating while asleep. If you live with someone who’s a sleep eater, you may witness this behavior firsthand. Typically, someone with a sleep eating parasomnia awakens—but only partially— in the middle of the night to binge eat or drink.

“Binge” is just as important a distinction as “awakens partially.” A sleep eater doesn’t wake up, prepare and eat a light snack, then go back to sleep. (That would be a midnight snacker.)

Rather, a nocturnal, sleeping binge eater experiences a partial arousal during any one of the stages of non-REM sleep, then consumes a vast amount of high-calorie food in a short period of time (often as little as ten minutes). The eating session is out of control and can sometimes involve consuming uncooked foods (like raw spaghetti), inedible items (like cigarettes), or toxic substances (like cleaning agents). 

If you witness a bout of sleep eating, you’ll recognize it by the following: 

If you’re the one experiencing the parasomnia, the clues may be more subtle. In all likelihood, you will not remember sleep eating, or if you do, it’ll be a vague, foggy memory. You may think you dreamed you ate in the night.

Absent any witnesses or actual memory of the event, you’ll need to pay attention to clues. Is your kitchen or any part of your home a mess when you wake up? Is the trash open or spilled? Is the oven on? Is the microwave door open? 

Pay attention to your body, too. Do you have any unexplained cuts, bruises, or burns? Are there food stains on your pajamas? Do you wake up feeling strangely full, with no interest in eating breakfast? Are you gaining weight for no apparent reason?

Keep track of these symptoms. If you notice them for two months, tell your doctor.

Dangers of Sleep Eating

 

This sleep disorder can be very risky to your health. Adverse effects of sleep eating can include:

 

Causes of Sleep Eating 

 

Sleep eating can be idiopathic, meaning it arises out of nowhere, with no discernible cause. It can also be closely connected with having another sleep disorder or condition.

Medication may also be a cause (certain sleep drugs have been known to list sleep eating as a side effect).

Though SRED can happen to anyone, there are some known risk factors:

Treatment of SRED

 

 

If you have the symptoms and signs of SRED, the first step is getting a diagnosis. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep medicine physician with an expertise in parasomnias and sleep disorders. 

After an initial physical and discussion, you’ll be scheduled for an overnight sleep test in a sleep lab, where your brain activity can be monitored for diagnosis. 

If you receive a diagnosis of SRED, treatment approaches vary depending on whether your parasomnia is idiopathic (spontaneously occurring on its own, with no definitive cause) or related to some other cause, such as drug and alcohol use, nicotine withdrawal, stress, an eating disorder, or another sleep disorder or parasomnia.

Your physician will design a treatment plan tailored to your needs, based on the root causes of your problem.

 

Medication is often prescribed, as well. Treatment of SRED usually involves some or all of the following: 

 

If you have any questions or if you think you might suffer from Sleep Related Eating Disorder, please call us at (425) 279-7151 today!

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