Home » Sleep Disorders » Sleep Eating Disorder
September 2020 |  Reviewed by:  John Saito, MD and Virginia Skiba, MD

What is sleep eating disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is a sleep disorder characterized by unusual eating behaviors during sleep. If you have this disorder, you sleepwalk and sleep eat without remembering the event afterward.

Most people with SRED have an episode of eating nearly every night. Sleep eating can occur at any time in the night. You may have more than one sleep-eating event per night. These episodes tend to occur even though you aren’t hungry or thirsty.

People with SRED tend to prefer thick, sugary, and high calorie foods such as peanut butter or syrup. The foods you eat during sleep-related events may be ones you don’t normally enjoy. Alcoholic drinks are rarely consumed.

During a sleep-related eating event, you eat food very quickly. An entire episode may last for only ten minutes. This includes the time it takes to get from your bed to the kitchen and back to bed again.

You will often sloppily handle food during these events. You may or may not prepare hot or cold foods properly. You may get injured during an episode from handling knives and utensils. You may also start a fire or get burns from careless cooking.

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
  • Insomnia due to sleep disruption
  • Sleep-related injury
  • Loss of appetite in the morning
  • Stomach pain
  • High cholesterol
  • Excessive weight gain and obesity
  • Worsened control of diabetes

What are symptoms of sleep eating disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder is defined by repeated episodes where you rapidly binge eat and drink during the night. These episodes are out of control and tend to occur when you are only partially awake. You may only have a slight memory or no memory of the binge. This may occur nightly. The food is often highly caloric and consumed in strange combinations. People with sleep-related eating disorders might accidentally injure themselves by eating toxic substances, burning themselves or causing fires.

People with sleep eating disorder often:

  • Have repeated episodes of “out-of-control” eating and drinking when you sleep
  • Eat strange forms or combinations of food
  • Eat or drink inedible or toxic substances
  • Have eating episodes that disturb your sleep, causing insomnia. As a result, your sleep is not refreshing or you are very tired during the day
  • Injure yourself
  • Do something dangerous while getting or cooking food
  • Have a loss of appetite in the morning
  • Have your health decline from eating foods that are high in calories

It is also important to know if there is something else that is causing your problem. It may be a result of one of the following:

  • Another sleep disorder
  • A medical condition
  • Medication use
  • A mental health disorder
  • Substance abuse