Sleep Eating

Sleepeating, sometimes called sleep related eating disorder, is a parasomnia event in which the subject awakens during sleeping hours, sometimes multiple times during one sleeping period, and eats or drinks, often excessively. The subject does this almost entirely unconsciously, and may have little to no memory of its occurrence. Others may be able to recall vividly the events during the night, despite happening during a sleep induced state. Sleepeating shares many similarities with sleepwalking, and may be confused with sleepwalking. Subjects afflicted with sleepeating will rarely indulge in other activities such as sleepwalkers, and once their eating episodes are completed, they will often return to bed. Like sleepwalkers, sleepeaters can be extremely difficult to rouse from their state, like sleepwalkers, and trying to do so may result in them getting angry or irritable with you.

Sleepeaters tend to have at least one episode every night, and these usually occur regardless of possessing any actual feelings of hunger or thirst detected by the brain. Sleepeaters also tend to eat foods high in calories or sugar, and may eat foods while sleepeating that they normally would not eat on their own, or which would not be seen as socially acceptable to eat on their own, such as peanut butter on its own, or sugar or syrup on its own. The food is also consumed much quicker than it would be during waking hours.

Is Sleep Eating Dangerous?

Sleepeating can be potentially dangerous, as subjects may injure themselves while trying to prepare a hot dish using appliances or may accidentally cut themselves while hurriedly chopping up ingredients. They will likely leave behind a slovenly kitchen, which is often the easiest method of detection for people living alone and with no memory of the episodes. The sleepeater’s only goal is to eat, and they have no interest in wasting time cleaning, either before, during or after the episode.

Another serious problem that can result from sleepeating is ingestion of bizarre and/or dangerous combinations of food. This can include eating or drinking of non food items such as cigarettes, coffee beans or cleaning liquids. This can lead to serious illness or stomachache.

Sleep eating is a serious sleep disorder

Sleepeating is more likely to develop slowly, with occasional nights of eating, but may start off with consistent sleepeating episodes right from the start, usually brought on by recent changes to diet, or issues related to stress or depression. Sleepeating may also develop in people who have recently quit smoking or drinking alcohol, with the use or discontinued use of certain medications, or those with sleeping disorders while awake.

What Is The Negative Impact of Sleep Related Eating Disorder?

In addition to causing potential undesired weight gain or even injury, sleepeating also disrupts sleep, sometimes multiple times per night, which can lead to other health concerns.

People with other sleeping disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and sleepwalking itself are at a higher risk of developing sleepeating. Sleepeating is more common in women, and usually develops in early adulthood, often in conjunction with dieting, anorexia or stress. When the issue that resulted in the commencement of the sleepeating is dealt with, the sleepeating will usually cease as well, though this is not always the case.

What Is The Treatment For Night Eating Syndrome?

When sleepeating is suspected, a doctor should be consulted to try and rectify it. The doctor will need to know any past medical history, including medications you have been on or are on currently, any diets you may be trying, any past or current sleeping disorders you may be afflicted with, and other personal issues that may be having an effect on your mental health. You may need to take a polysomnogram sleep study test to ascertain the number of parasomniac activities you are engaging in, and if any other sleeping disorders may be causing the problem.

Sleepeating is effectively treated with medications to suppress both sleeping parasomnias, and sleepeating incidents in particular. To decrease the possibility of injuries incurred while sleepeating, any dangerous foods or substances should be kept away from the kitchen. The path to the kitchen should also be cleared of anything that could be tripped over or crashed into.

Having a proper, well balanced diet overseen by a dietician is also important for those who have recently gone on diets. This will limit the body’s cravings that can result in sleepeating through insufficient nutrition.

Having good sleep hygiene is necessary to limit all parasomnias, and this can be discussed further with a doctor or sleep specialist. This could include implementing a rigid sleeping schedule and having a proper sleeping environment.


Reviewed January, 2017

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4 thoughts on “Sleep Eating

  1. Speaking as one who has suffered enormously with sleepeating virtually every night for the past 45 years, and who has consulted — and continues to consult — the top sleep specialists and neurologists in various countries, I think it is important for you to state clearly that there is no known cure. The cause is obscure. The cure is unknown. Sometimes it disappears on its own. But to include things like a balanced diet and a rigid sleep schedule is really to give false hope and false information, in my opinion. This is a potentially deadly condition and the cause and cure are, as yet, completely unknown to medical science. Saying otherwise is misleading.

  2. This just blows me away, I’ve been suffering from this for 11 years, I’m currently 24, the article is perfectly accurate in defining the affliction. Agreeing with the earlier comment, sleep schedule and diet correction is false hope.. my girlfriend is a registered dietitian and I eat to a very balanced diet, etc. and follow health sleep habit, no luck…. also, a doctor is very unlikely to prescribe medication for this, as there is no known cure…

  3. I have been a sleep eater for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid. Into my teen years I had a few scarey moments drinking a bottle of benadryl lotion like it was a bottle of water for example…very sick after that. I’ve ate an entire apple pie in my sleep. And I try to keep simple healthy things in my fridge so when I do get up I will find that first. I sometimes wake up with up to six empty bottles of water next to my bed with no memory of getting them. But I can recall how often I wake up to pee through the night…. cause it worries me sometimes but my fiance says he’s caught me at the fridge drinking juice out of the container. It can’t reallyou be stopped. I’ve tried eatting before bed thinking maybe I won’t wake up hungry. Dr recently gave me meds because I have trouble falling asleep at night and don’t feel like I sleep well… well it works. I fall asleep fast and feel like I slept through the night but food and drinks are still disappearing. So I’m apparently still doing it. The thingift is my dad is a sleep eater. Not nearly as bad as me… his is only sometimes. My 11 year old son is too. He goes to bed but in the mornings there might be am empty brownie box in bed with him or Pringles… this morning it was an empty bag of grapes. I’m told one of my dad’s parents was known to sleep eat too. I’m just saying. Changing diet and sleep and meds may not work. Assuming it’s stress or whatever may not be the cause either. It might just be us.

  4. I too have suffered from sleep eating off and on for about 20 years. It has come and gone,depending on the stress in my life,I think. Currently its been ongoing for about 2 years and getting worse. I mostly buy heathy foods at the store so I sleep eat massive amounts of fruits, cheese,yogurts, rice crackers,rice cereal, but also things like cocoa powder,honey, etc. A few times I’ve woken myself up from eating due g food,laundry detergent, and weird food combinations like coffee creamer filed with sundried tomatoes. I’m exhausted and cranky during the day and its really starting to take a toll on me physically and emotionally. I’ve gained weight and have developed IBS which I can’t seem to properly digest any foods,probably because my meals aren’t “normal”, and am constantly having gastrointestinal issues.
    If I take melatonin or a sleep aid,it only gets worse and I sleep eat even more.
    I usually wake up to the sink is a mess w dirty dishes and or the trash can reveal evidence which I vaguely remember and then I begin to fee even worse.
    I’m searching and praying I’ll be able to and relief because I dont know how much longer I can live this way.
    Oh, my sister suffers from the same thing and my mother too.

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