Sleep Eating: Eating During the Night

Sleep eating, 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. Sleep eating shares many similarities with sleepwalking, and may be confused with sleepwalking. Subjects afflicted with sleep eating will rarely indulge in other activities such as sleepwalkers, and once their eating episodes are completed, they will often return to bed. Like sleepwalkers, sleep eaters 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.

Sleep eaters 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. Sleep eaters also tend to eat foods high in calories or sugar, and may eat foods while sleep eating 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? sleep and diet

Sleep eating 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 sleep eating 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 sleep disorder

Sleep eating is more likely to develop slowly, with occasional nights of eating, but may start off with consistent sleep eating 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 sleep eating. 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 sleep eating is dealt with, the sleep eating will usually cease as well, though this is not always the case.

What Is The Treatment For Night Sleep Eating Syndrome?

Food and sleep

When sleep eating 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.

Sleep eating is effectively treated with medications to suppress both sleeping parasomnias, and sleep eating incidents in particular. To decrease the possibility of injuries incurred while sleep eating, 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 sleep eating 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.

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22 thoughts on “Sleep Eating: Eating During the Night

  1. Michelle Reply

    It’s a bit of a relief to know that I am not the only person experiencing this! I had Gastric Sleeve surgery in Jan. 2017 and had never had this issue (that I’m aware of) prior to this surgery. For the last year, at least, I wake up with evidence of sleep eating, but I don’t remember it. I lock my bedroom door, with hopes of deterring me from going into the kitchen, but it’s not working. I don’t remember getting up or eating. My thing is jars of peanut butter, sweets, and snacks that I have bought for my grand babies, but I also eat sandwiches and fruit. This is so frustrating because I am slowly gaining my weight back. Any suggestions???

  2. Lucy Davis Reply

    I just read all of the comments and I am honestly speechless. All of my life I have talked, even full conversations, as well as walked in my sleep. Not every night, but noticeably. My mother, son or husband has always been there to direct me cautiously back to bed. I have left my house and had other odd adventures. My husband died 1.5 years ago. I guess he is not here to redirect me either in walking or talking. No one ever gave me any idea of the extent of this, or it has gotten worse. Now I eat in my sleep too. I have had foods I rarely eat but everyone has in the cabinet. Bags of popcorn with hot sauce, a jar of peanut butter, a box of cookies from the bakery. One thing is I finish whatever I open, all of it. I tried to hide foods, I guess I know my hiding spots. I don’t remember a thing until I find the evidence. I don’t ever clean. Needless to say I have been under great stress this year, I am positive that has something to do with it. In the beginning I thought someone was breaking into my house and I booby trapped the house so I could catch them. I woke up with baby powder on my feet. I never thought anyone else had this problem. In the day I eat healthy and exercise. I looked to find any answer and stumbled on this article. This is where I started and I am not sure if I am glad to have found the answer on the first try. I am considering changing my days and nights since I don’t work, or relying on my episodes and only eating at night.

  3. Natalie Reply

    I’ve been sleep eating for awhile now. I was by the refrigerator eating donuts on the floor. My husband took a video showing me. I feel stress has brought this on or depression. Should I go talk to a therapist to talk too. Last night I ate 6 or 7 prices of chicken wingettes. It was my husband’s lunch for the next day. I don’t even know if I ate it cold or warmed it up. Any advice?

  4. Adonica Reply

    I agree with you so wholeheartedly!!! Of all the people that’s been “studied” they have NO idea what its is or how to treat it. This is not and eating disorder and this is not a sleep disorder and you cannot treat this that way. I truly believe this is a subconscious coping mechanism used to deal with some type of emotional stress or trauma we may not even know about or remember. IDK…I’ve been doing this since I was a pre-teen and I am 47 now. Whenever I check in to read up on this nothing that’s written ever rings valid for me. we need fresh eyes to look at this from a different point of view. WTH…go to cannot always be medication!

    • Dee Reply

      I’ve been doing it since I was a teen and I’m 50. I won’t remember it most nights. I find pretzels in my pocket or my husband tells me about it. It’s… a struggle.

    • Helen Blake Reply

      There is a study from another country where they are using ecstasy (yup, the illegal) drug during counseling to get to the root of the problem then help the person to come to terms with it. Problem is in the USA that can’t be done.
      One guy said he saw his mom get raped and killed as a child and did a lot of strange things and they put him in the program and he said it worked for him too.

  5. stacie Reply

    My grandaughter is 12 yrs old, she sleep ate as A toddler, we would find ice cream 1/2 ate and melting under her bed, melted boxes of pop cicles, whole pks of cheese 1/2 ate, boxes of gummys all gone. After she turned 5 she stopped for a while, but has been unable to sleep without meds since then, She was always a tiny thin child never grew right until age 10, even then she was only in size 6x, she took trazadone everynight just to fall asleep, we slowly weened her off it and tried just melatonin, it barely works then her sleep eating started again at age 11, she has gained 40 lbs in just around A year, we had her join dance for exercize, had her eat only healthy food as much as she wanted so she wasnt starving her body , but it didnt help she gained 10 more in the last 2 months, we dont know what to do, she is very very short just 4′ 7″ all the kids in her class are over 5 feet+ she now looks like a mature adult with a bad weight problem, she is so stressed about her weight, but barely eats during the day, we find her eating food uncooked right out of the can in her sleep, she can remember sometimes and sometimes not, whole jars of peanut butter, boxes of snakes, cans of soup or vegetables she dont even like

  6. Jessica Reply

    I’ve been sleep eating since April 2nd, 2016. It has been about a year and a half and I’ve gained about 40 pounds. I’m worried about gaining more weight and I just want to sleep normal again and feel rested. I wake up around the same time every night and sometimes I’ll wake up more than 4 times a night. It started the night after I was in a car accident. I’m currently also struggling with chronic pain since the accident. There has only been maybe 8 nights in the past year and a half when I did not sleep eat. I wake up with food in the bed, on my clothes, hidden plates in my drawers. I usually remember bits and pieces but not always. I’ve tried everything to stop myself and it still happens. I had one sleep study done but I was only able to sleep for 2 hours.

    Does any know any sleep doctors that specialize in sleep eating? Or has anyone found any soultions? Or any advice?

  7. Brittney Reply

    My son may be sleep eating. I can’t tell if he is just lying or not. When you sleep eat, do you hide the evidence? I find food hidden in the laundry basket.

    • Jesse Reply

      I’ve done that before with my mom. I didn’t hide it very well but it would be under my bed or something or just thrown in the closet

      • MG Reply

        I almost always hide my evidence… I find empty dishes in the strangest places. Even in the tool box.

  8. DENISE Reply

    I’ve been sleep eating off and on for about 41 years after my oldest child was born. It seems to occur during periods of stress. I am a widow living alone and it scares me because sometimes I don’t remember everything. I find strange things taken out of the cupboards and left on the counter. Once I ate frozen chicken. That was the worst. I have recently started Weight Watchers and it is working well for me but now the sleep eating has started up again. I think I should see a specialist but what kind? If there is no cure I don’t want to go through all the crazy testing for the Doctor to say “You are a sleep eater”.

  9. Joy Stone Reply

    I have been a sleep eater off and on for most of my life. The trigger for me starting up again is stress. One strange quirk of my sleep eating is that I always “sleep clean” after I eat. I’ll put my trash in the garbage and put dishes in the sink (weird) Sometimes my clean-up is so thorough that I’ve thought my housemates had eaten my food. As for a cure….I know there isn’t one but when my sleep eating starts up my doctor prescribes Ambien and I stop the behavior for a few months or if I’m lucky a few years. I think the Ambien throws a wrench into mix and creates a temporary but welcome glitch. I’ve been told that occasionally I’ll become angry or belligerent if someone tries to wake me but usually if I’m gently directed back to my room I’ll just go back to bed and to sleep. I personally have never had any recollection of any sleepeating/sleepwalking that I’ve done. I enjoyed reading all of the personal stories everyone told. It’s too bad we all have this health problem but I’m glad we are now talking about it.

  10. Casie Reply

    I have been a sleep eater since I was a child. I would walk downstairs and make toast and sit at the kitchen table. Sometimes I’d make cereal. My parents have a picture of me sleeping at the table and my hand is in the bowl of cereal. I’m 46 now and I have been sleep eating almost nightly for quite sometime. Through out my adult life sleep eating comes and goes. I have just reading on this and the stress part seems accurate for me. But as a child I’m not so sure. I do have sleep apnea. I’ve been using a bi pap machine for 21 years now. I almost always make toast when I sleep eat. And something sweet. Cookies most of the time. But I may eat leftover pizza or chips. I usually wake up eating but not always. Most of the time I wake up in the recliner in my bedroom. Even if I don’t remember eating, the taste in my mouth and crumbs every where tell me I did. If my boyfriend wakes up because of me sleep eating he will wake me up. I have never gotten angry or upset with him like some articles said could happen. It’s interesting to read the other stories of people who do this. I have never met another person who sleep eats.

  11. Mary Reply

    I’ve suffered from sleep eating for many years. Usually every night and sometimes twice a night. I have almost ingested poisonous liquids but the taste of them has jolted me awake. I hope it always has. Now I keep things like that tucked away and keep ready to eat foods easily accessible. This seems to really help me at least eat things that aren’t harmful to me and are healthy. It has stopped me from cooking too. I agree that there is no known cure. I’ve tried eating before I go to bed and eat throughout the day to no avail. In my sleep I’ve tried to eat the strangest things so I highly recommend preparing a healthy quick snack that is easily accessible before bed.

  12. Chris Reply

    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.

      • Phabulous 1 Reply

        I, too, sleep eat. I’m writing this now because it was just last night I remember off and on eating cookies in bed. I would take a cookie chew a couple of times, hold it in my mouth while going back to sleep, chew some more, swallow take another bite another cookie and repeat the process. For me, I believe my issue is subconscious emotionally related. I used to abuse food. I used to be bulimic; therefore, for me I’m almost sure it’s anxiety related. And, I do recall feeling anxious last night while at work. Kept feeling as if I was going to get in trouble. Kept feeling had to be on guard. So glad to read others experiences. It’s reassuring knowing I’m not alone in this struggle.

  13. Jen Reply

    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.

  14. Cody Lester Reply

    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…

  15. Don Melvin Reply

    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.

    • Ashley Nicole Reply

      Hi Don, is there really no hope. I am 35, and I have been doing this for 25 years plus.

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