Sleep Education

American Academy of Sleep Medicine 

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Sleep Eating Disorder – Overview & Facts

Sleep related eating disorder (SRED) is a parasomnia. A parasomnia involves undesired events that come along with sleep. SRED consists of repeated episodes of compulsive binge eating and drinking after waking up in the night. 

Episodes always occur in an “out of control” manner. They tend to occur when you are only partially awake. You may have only a partial memory or no memory of the event afterward. Other people are very alert as they eat. They recall much of the episode in the morning. It may be very hard to wake you up during an episode of eating. Trying to stop a person during an episode tends to provoke anger and resistance. 

A majority of people with SRED have an episode of eating nearly every night. Some eat more than once each night. These episodes tend to occur even though feelings of hunger and thirst are absent. The episodes can occur at any time in the night. 

Foods that are high in calories tend to be eaten the most. It is common to eat or drink thick and sugary foods such as peanut butter or syrup. The foods eaten during sleep are usually not preferred during the day.

The foods are consumed very rapidly. An entire episode may last for only ten minutes. This consists of the time it takes to get from bed to the kitchen and back to bed again. 

Injuries may occur during an episode. Sloppy food handling often occurs. You may or may not prepare hot or cold foods properly. This can cause cuts and burns. Fires can also occur from careless cooking. Alcoholic drinks are almost never consumed. You may find a very messy kitchen in the morning. This may cause you to remember the episode.

SRED may develop slowly over time. It may also begin quickly with nightly episodes of eating from the start. It is long lasting and does not seem to ease up over time. It may be a factor in causing depression. This can result from a sense of shame and failure to control the eating. Some people with SRED may avoid eating during the day. They may also get too much exercise in an attempt to prevent obesity.

Problems resulting from SRED include the following:
  • Eating strange forms or combinations of food, such as raw bacon, buttered cigarettes or coffee grounds
  • Eating or drinking toxic substances, such as cleaning solutions
  • Eating foods to which you are allergic
  • Suffering from insomnia due to sleep disruption
  • Sleep-related injury
  • Loss of appetite in the morning
  • Stomach pain
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive weight gain and obesity
continue to Symptoms & Risk Factors »