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Eating During Sleep? - Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

Updated on March 8, 2011
Finding empty potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers in the morning, with no recollection of eating them?
Finding empty potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers in the morning, with no recollection of eating them?

Sleep Walking And Eating?

Do you wake up feeling full in the morning, with no recollection of eating? Find crumbs on your pillow, empty food packaging in the kitchen or on the floor? No, you're not crazy. You may be suffering from Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED).

Contrary to its name, NS-RED is not strictly categorized as an eating disorder, but rather a parasomnia, a sleep disorder that involves performing activities that one normally does awake--in this case eating. People with sleep-eating disorder, similar to sleepwalkers, have no memory of engaging in the behavior after the fact, or perhaps a vague recollection that might seem more like a dream than reality, until the evidence of eating is discovered.

What Causes Sleep-Eating?

About 1-3% of the population may suffer from nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder, compared to the 18% who suffer from somnambulance (or sleep-walking). The exact causes of sleep-eating are as yet unknown, but there seem to be some common contributing factors.

Regularly going to bed hungry and chronic dieting can contribute to sleep-eating. The food consumed during sleep-eating episodes usually consists of high-fat and high-sugar products that people deny themselves while awake. During waking hours, a person may be able to deprive him- or herself, but at night the body may take back control and seize the opportunity to ingest the extra calories it is missing.

Sleep apnea may also feed NS-RED, since the cycle of half-waking in response to stopped breathing can provide an easy gateway into the semi-concious state in which sleep-eating occurs. Part of the brain is active and awake, enabling the sleep-eater to find his or her way around the house, prepare food, etc, while the parts that might be aware of (or interfere in) the behaviors are not. In the same way, stress and anxiety that impede restful, normal sleep can lead to nocturnal eating.

Like most parasomnias, there is probably also a genetic componant to sleep-eating.

Sleep-Eating and Ambien

The FDA received reports that some users of the prescription sleep aid Ambien experienced episodes of binge-eating while asleep after taking the medication. Most of these had no recollection of the binge when they awoke. These claims are still under investigation, and a scientific paper on the subject is pending.

Treatment of Sleep-Eating

In some cases, the prescription of SSRIs has proven beneficial in the treatment of NS-RED. Sleeping pills can only make matters worse, increasing confusion and lethargy which makes injury during episodes more likely.

Therapy and stress-management techniques are very helpful in reducing risk for sleep-eating. Many of those who suffer find that episodes are fewer and farther-between if they listen to soft music or rhythmic sounds such as ocean- or white noise.

Proper nutrition is also important. Self-deprivation triggers episodes, so eating a healthy, well-balanced diet including a variety of flavors, textures and colors can help prevent them. Eating a little bit of dairy product such as cottage cheese or yogurt, or drinking a warm glass of milk, can help you fall asleep and ward off night-time binges.

Anyone who believes he or she might be suffering from nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder should seek out a doctor's advice, and, if possible, pursue observation at a sleep disorder center.


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    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Maddie, you suggest another reader may be confusing ns-red with nes, however you seem to be guilty of the same. As a sufferer of ns-red l can tell you with absolute certainty that neither stress management nor proper nutrition will improve this condition. This is a parasomnia not an eating disorder and neither hunger nor anxiety motivate this behaviour. I have heard recently that there has been some promising research done using a drug called topiramate so l will get back to you when l find out more.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      thank you for this article because i neeeded information for this project for health class

    • profile image

      Carmel feeney 

      12 years ago

      Thank you for this information. I feel I am going mad....I cannot keep any food in my house or else I will eat it at night time. I wake up and find plates, cups, crumbs ect around my bed and I am so shocked. The biggest problem is I have mobiliy problems due to an RTA and dont know how I could have prepared any food without damaging myself. I live alone. Please me. Carmel

    • profile image

      Dr. R. 

      12 years ago

      I've seen people sleep eat. They never remembered doing it. However, they were one of the people using Ambien to help them sleep. Ambien is powerful.

    • JennHollowell profile image


      12 years ago from Richmond, Maine USA

      Great hub! I watched a program about this in recent weeks and found the topic of sleep eating to be VERY interesting. It made me really start to question the rapid weight gaining I've seen in some of my family members. Thank you for presenting this information!

    • packerman profile image


      12 years ago

      O man this is the first time I have heard (read) of any such thing. Good job Maddie. There have quite a number of times when I have been to bed without having my dinner just because I felt so tired and lazy after coming back from office. Thanks for the hub, I will change my habit.

      I was told by one of my friends to join your fan club so I did, but now I know why he told me to do so.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      Good explantion of the disorder, imo. Thanks for the Hub.

      I have not known anyone who has suffered from this disorder, but I knew one young man that sang in his sleep - usually the national anthem and Take Me Out to the Ball Game. His mom would find him standing up in bed asleep, singing loudly. All very interesting.

    • qlcoach profile image

      Gary Eby 

      12 years ago from Cave Junction, Oregon

      The sleep disorders are a challenge to treat. I think anxiety management techniques can help with the process of recovery. Thank you for sharing this Hub. Feel fee to see how I try to help people in new ways too. Sincerely: Gary Eby, author and therapist.

    • Veronica Bright profile image

      Veronica Bright 

      12 years ago from Nebraska

      Great hub. My Brother in Law has that. He raids the Refrigerator every night and does not remember doing so!

    • topstuff profile image


      12 years ago

      Good to know some more detailsabout nocturnal sleep related eating disorder.Thanks Maddie

    • Victel profile image


      12 years ago from Breda, The Netherlands

      Very informative hub - well done.

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      12 years ago from Oakland, CA


      I wonder if you might be confusing this disorder (which includes eating while actually asleep) with Night Eating Syndrome (NES), which is an eating disorder in which someone consumes more than half their calories in the later part of the day, often including night-time binges.

      You can read about NES on another one of my hubs:

    • Georgiakevin profile image


      12 years ago from Central Georgia

      Great hub! I have had to battle this all of my life. For me I simply have to keep food out of my bedroom as I am simply too lazy to go to the kkitchen at night to get food. However if it is in my bedroom I eat whatever is there until it is no longer there.


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