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Sleep Related Eating Disorder - Is it Real?

Updated on April 29, 2013

Do you have trouble losing weight but yet don’t eat that much during the day? Do you need to shop more often than usual because someone keeps emptying the fridge? You may not know this but that person could be you and you could be suffering from a Sleep Related Eating Disorder (SRED).

What is SRED?

SRED or Sleep Related Eating Disorder is sometimes also known as Nocturnal Sleep Related Eating Disorder (NS-RED), Sleep Eating Syndrome or Sleep Bingeing Syndrome. More women than men are affected by this disorder and it usually starts in the late teens or early twenties. Sufferers may get up as many as five or six times in the night to eat and normally do not recall this or have a very faint recollection. Often the food they eat is high in calories, sugar and fat. The bingeing session typically lasts no longer than about ten or fifteen minutes.

SRED is related to Sleep Walking and other parasomnias such as night terrors. Of the people who suffer with parasomnia about 2% of them are sleep eaters. When you consider that some people with sleep disorders carry out many different acts whilst sleeping such as car driving or even murder it’s not really much of a surprise that they prepare food and eat it.


What are the Symptoms?

  • Food disappearing from the cupboards, refrigerator and freezer
  • Messy kitchen on a morning
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises and burns
  • Food Poisoning
  • Feeling full on a morning
  • Crumbs and food wrappers in the bed

What Causes the Disorder?

The cause is not known but some research has shown that certain prescription sleeping medications can trigger it. Two in particular are Ambien and Benzodiazepine; paradoxically both are drugs used in the treatment of Insomnia.

What are the Consequences of Sleep Related Eating Disorder?

Because the sufferer is not awake when the binging takes place, injuries can be sustained from the equipment used to prepare the food. Cuts, burns and bruises are common because some people will even cook the food they are going to eat whilst asleep. Sufferers tend to walk into cupboard doors and walls and more unusually can sustain dental injury from attempting to eat unthawed frozen goods. Normally the sleep eating takes place only once per night but certain individuals head for the kitchen several times; this can obviously cause weight gain. Type II Diabetes is also a possibility.

Frozen Food
Frozen Food | Source

Is it always high calorie food that is eaten?

Not necessarily but sufferers do often binge on high sugar and fatty foods. Sometimes though weird food combinations are chosen, like vegetable sandwiches or pasta and honey. Sleep eaters have been known to eat kitchen paper towels and uncooked rice as well as unthawed frozen food. Dangerously, some sleep bingers eat toxic substances which can cause poisoning

Sleep Clinic
Sleep Clinic | Source

How is the disorder diagnosed?

A doctor or medical practitioner should refer you to a sleep clinic when the symptoms are reported so that Sleep Related Eating Disorder can be confirmed. Once confirmed, steps must be taken to make the night-time environment a safe one by putting dangerous items out of harm’s way; a lockable cupboard with the key being kept by some other family member is advisable.

Is SRED treatable?

Although side effects of numbness and tingling in the extremities and foggy thinking are common, the epilepsy medication Topamax helps 60% of sufferers. Dopamine containing drugs are also useful. Other treatments include counselling and stress management. Self help methods which can be adopted are keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum and avoiding caffeine containing drinks.

A Similar Disorder

There is another disorder that is similar to SRED which is known as NES or Night Eating Syndrome. The two conditions differ, in that sufferers of this disorder are fully aware of what they are doing but seem to be unable to control their urge to eat during the night. The symptoms of NES are as follows:

  • Eating large amounts of food after dinner; often in excess of 50% of food allowance
  • Repeated awakening to eat
  • Inability to go back to sleep until eating has taken place

Fortunately this disorder is usually only a short-term one and is easily treated with sleeping tablets so that the person does not awaken to eat.


Is Sleep Related Eating Disorder Real or Just and Excuse for Overeating?

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