Unexplained Nighttime Binges May Be Due to Sleep Eating Disorder

Eating While Asleep Associated with Sleep Disorders, Medication Use

If you are having difficulty shedding those extra pounds, and you find evidence of unexplained nighttime binges, this may be due to sleep eating disorder.

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.

The food that is consumed may be quite unusual and is often high in calories. Odd concoctions may 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.

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.

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.


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

Continue Reading