How to Stop Compulsive Nighttime Binges Due to Sleep Eating Disorder

Eating While Asleep Associated with Sleep Disorders, Medication Use

Sleep eating binges may occur due to other sleep disorders and it is possible to learn how to stop them
Sleep eating binges may occur due to other sleep disorders and it is possible to learn how to stop them. Tetra Images/Getty Images

If you are having difficulty shedding those extra pounds, and you experience undesired nighttime binges, this may be due to sleep eating disorder. Your dieting and weight loss efforts may be sabotaged by this compulsive intake of calories at night. Learn how to stop these nighttime binges due to sleep eating and the role of medications like Ambien and conditions like obstructive sleep apnea.

What Is Sleep-Related Eating Disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is characterized by repeated involuntary episodic eating that occurs during nighttime sleep.

It is more than a midnight snack, and individuals with this disorder remain largely asleep while they are eating. If awareness is present, the person is unable to stop the compulsion to eat.

The food that is consumed may be quite unusual and is often high in calories. Leftovers in the fridge may be eaten. Entire desserts may be eaten. Odd concoctions may also be prepared, including salt or sugar sandwiches, flour, or even kitty litter and other inedible substances. Individuals may even dine on things they wouldn’t normally like eating while awake, such as vegetables. The food is eaten quickly, and the binge episodes typically last less than 10 minutes. The episodes typically occur nightly, but may occur more than once during the night.

As a result of these binge episodes, affected individuals are at risk for injuries during the food preparation such as burns, fires, or cuts. In addition, if they consume toxic substances such as cleaning supplies they may become poisoned.

The next morning after binging a person will feel full and have a poor appetite. There is typically no or only partial memory of the night’s events, but they may wake to discover the kitchen is a mess. Not only can this binging behavior lead to unwanted weight gain, it may also be significantly disruptive to sleep.

People with SRED often complain of insomnia, unrefreshing sleep, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

What Causes Sleep-Related Eating Disorder?

SRED more commonly occurs in women and typically begins in their 20s. Its cause is not known. It does sometimes occur in association with other sleep disorders, including:

In addition, it can be induced by some medications including zolpidem (Ambien) and triazolam. It seems to occur more often in those who are dieting or restricting caloric intake during the day.

Diagnosis and Treatment of SRED

If sleep-related eating disorder is suspected, it is necessary to have a polysomnogram. This sleep study will often show frequent confusional arousals that most often occur from slow-wave sleep. As above, this problem can be triggered by other sleep disorders and these will be identified as part of the study. Sleep apnea is often identified and treatment of this condition may help.

If SRED is diagnosed, it will be important to follow basic sleep guidelines. It is also necessary to make both the sleep environment and kitchen a safe place. This may involve making unsafe objects inaccessible, including knives, appliances, and even cleaning supplies. If a sleep disorder is identified during the sleep study, this will require separate treatment. In addition, medications such as clonazepam, levodopa, or topiramate may be helpful.

Sources:

Auger, RR. "Sleep-Related Eating Disorders." Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006 Nov;3(11):64-70.

Mowzoon, N et al. "Neurology of Sleep Disorders." Neurology Board Review: An Illustrated Guide. 2007;742.

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