Sleep-related eating disorder involves frequent episodes of out-of-control eating and drinking behaviors while in a state of sleep. You may be partially or fully unaware of your behavior while preparing and eating food, with little or no memory of these actions the next morning.
Sleep-related eating disorder can be dangerous because you could injure yourself during food preparation or eat inedible or toxic items. Sleep-related eating disorder can also have an impact on your health due to weight gain and obesity from eating high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods.
Sleep-related eating disorder can be associated with certain medications, eating disorders and other sleep disorders. Addressing these issues often resolves sleep-related eating disorder.
Sleep-related eating disorder is a parasomnia — abnormal activity or behavior that occurs while you're falling asleep, sleeping or waking up.
Episodes of sleep-related eating disorder occur in the first half of the night after you've been sleeping and include:
- Frequent episodes, generally nightly, of eating and drinking in an out-of-control manner
- Impaired consciousness while preparing and eating food
- Little or no memory of these actions the next morning
- Eating high-carbohydrate and high-fat foods or odd combinations of food
- Possibly eating inedible or toxic substances, such as frozen foods, coffee grounds, cleaning solutions or cigarette butts
- Possibly experiencing injuries or engaging in dangerous food preparation activities
- Not being easily awakened or redirected during the episode
- Experiencing a negative impact on your health from the nighttime eating
When to see a doctor
Sleep-related eating disorder can be dangerous and impact your health and safety. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor.
Sleep-related eating disorder usually occurs during non-rapid eye movement sleep in the first half of the night and is associated with the transition from non-rapid eye movement to arousal during sleep.
The exact mechanism for why it occurs is not known, but sleep-related eating disorder often occurs in people who have a history of sleepwalking, so these conditions may be related.
Sleep-related eating disorder is more common in women and typically starts in the teenage years or the early 20s.
Increased risk of developing sleep-related eating disorder is associated with:
- Other sleep disorders, such as obstructive sleep apnea, sleepwalking, narcolepsy and restless legs syndrome
- Hypnotic sleep medications, such as zolpidem (Ambien, Edluar, Intermezzo, Zolpimist), and certain other medications, such as antidepressants or antipsychotics
- Having a daytime eating disorder, such as bulimia or anorexia
- Having a mental health disorder, such as stress, anxiety or depression
- Having a first-degree relative — a parent, child or sibling — with sleep-related eating disorder or sleepwalking
- Experiencing sleep deprivation
A sleep-related eating disorder can result in:
- Dangerous use of kitchen appliances, falls, cuts, burns, choking, injury from eating something inedible or toxic, or eating something you're allergic to
- Health problems, such as weight gain, poor diabetes control or dental cavities
- Feelings of guilt and helplessness over the lack of control
- Daytime tiredness from disrupted sleep