Sleep-related eating disorders(SRED), or sleepeating, is a parasomnia that only affects between one and three percent of the population; however there are some serious risks associated with this type of disorder. One of the most common symptoms of an individual with SRED is unexplained weight gain. Similar to sleepwalking, sleepeating episodes are rarely remembered upon waking, so sufferers can consume excessive amounts of calories without ever realizing it. The foods consumed during a sleepeating episode are typically high caloric, high fat, sugar laden foods.
The development of SRED can usually be attributed to a change in a person’s diet, stress, depression or in those who have recently quit smoking or consuming alcohol. It can also be a side effect of short-acting sleep medications such as Ambien. Individuals who have been diagnosed with other types of sleeping disorders such as restless leg syndrome, sleepwalking or sleep apnea also have a greater risk of developing SRED than those without.
Sleepeating can affect both men and women, however it is more common in women and usually develops in early adulthood. If there is a history of other eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, then the likelihood of developing SRED is increased. Treating these underlying conditions can oftentimes reduce or eliminate the sleepeating. If this doesn’t work, there are also medications that can be prescribed to suppress the parasomnia.
One of the greatest potential dangers of sleepeating is that individuals don’t always differentiate between foods and nonfoods which can be excessively dangerous; it is not uncommon for sufferers to consume nonfood items such as cleaning agents, cigarettes, coffee grounds etc., which can lead to serious illness. There is also the risk of injury during a sleepeating episode such as getting burned during food preparation or getting cut since their coordination and cognitive intuition is disrupted.
The potential dangers of SRED need to be taken into consideration and as such, a consult with a physician is necessary to determine the cause and implement a treatment plan. A polysomnogram (sleep study) will most likely be ordered to determine the severity of the disorder and to ascertain if any other sleep disorders are causing the sleepeating. Having a well-balanced diet and practicing good sleep hygiene can also go a long way to help treat or even prevent the development of SRED.