Sleep Related Eating Disorder: Symptoms

Sleep-related eating disorder involves frequent episodes of out-of-control eating and drinking behaviors while in a state of sleep. You may be partially or fully unaware of your behavior while preparing and eating food, with little or no memory of these actions the next morning.

Sleep-related eating disorder can be dangerous because you could injure yourself during food preparation or eat inedible or toxic items. Sleep-related eating disorder can also have an impact on your health due to weight gain and obesity from eating high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.

Sleep-related eating disorder can be associated with certain medications, eating disorders and other sleep disorders. Addressing these issues often resolves sleep-related eating disorder.

Symptoms

Sleep-related eating disorder is a parasomnia — abnormal activity or behavior that occurs while you’re falling asleep, sleeping or waking up.

Episodes of sleep-related eating disorder occur in the first half of the night after you’ve been sleeping and include:

• Frequent episodes, generally nightly, of eating and drinking in an out-of-control manner

• Impaired consciousness while preparing and eating food

• Little or no memory of these actions the next morning

• Eating high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods or odd combinations of food

• Possibly eating inedible or toxic substances, such as frozen foods, coffee grounds, cleaning solutions or cigarette butts

• Possibly experiencing injuries or engaging in dangerous food preparation activities

• Not being easily awakened or redirected during the episode

• Experiencing a negative impact on your health from the nighttime eating

Causes

Sleep-related eating disorder usually occurs during non-rapid eye movement sleep in the first half of the night and is associated with the transition from non-rapid eye movement to arousal during sleep.

The exact mechanism for why it occurs is not known, but sleep-related eating disorder often occurs in people who have a history of sleepwalking, so these conditions may be related.

Risk factors

Sleep-related eating disorder is more common in women and typically starts in the teenage years or the early 20s.

Increased risk of developing sleep-related eating disorder is associated with:

• Other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleepwalking, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome

• Hypnotic sleep medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist), and certain other medications, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics

• Having a daytime eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia

• Having a mental health disorder, such as stress, anxiety or depression

• Having a first-degree relative — a parent, child or sibling — with sleep-related eating disorder or sleepwalking

• Experiencing sleep deprivation

Complications

A sleep-related eating disorder can result in:

• Dangerous use of kitchen appliances, falls, cuts, burns, choking, injury from eating something inedible or toxic, or eating something you’re allergic to

• Health problems, such as weight gain, poor diabetes control or dental cavities

• Feelings of guilt and helplessness over the lack of control

• Daytime tiredness from disrupted sleep

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