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Sleep-related Eating Disorder

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Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) or nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NSRED) is a sleep illness which belongs to the parasomnia family. It is distinguished by frequent and abnormal eating patterns during the night while in a sleep state.

People with this condition usually start by getting out of bed, heading to the kitchen and preparing a strange combination of foods they do not commonly consume. They eat twice as much as they would normally eat and sometimes more. They may even consume inedible items.

A sleep-related eating disorder is associated with sleepwalking. People with this disorder generally have no memory of their episodes the following day.

Is nocturnal eating syndrome the same with a nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder?

They are two very closely related conditions but they are not the same. The nocturnal eating syndrome occurs when someone binge eats at night before they go to bed. This is characterized by the difficulty of falling asleep unless a person eats.

This means a person with nocturnal eating syndrome is fully aware of his actions. A person with a nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder is not aware of his episodes. All of his actions happen during the sleep state.

Who is at risk and what are the risk factors?

Both men and women can acquire this disorder. However, it appears to be more common in women. Recurrent episodes typically start at age 20 and can last up to age 40.

A variety of factors can increase the risks of acquiring NSRED. Sleepwalking is the most common. Some of the other factors include:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome (RLS), narcolepsy, and other sleep disorders
  • Sedative drugs (e.g. Zolpidem), antipsychotics and antidepressants (e.g. Pramipexole)
  • Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Excessive stress
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Genetics

What causes NSRED?

This sleep illness usually attacks during the NREM sleep in the first few hours of the evening. This occurs just as someone transitions from non-rapid eye movement (NREM) to arousal during shut-eye.

There is still no concrete explanation as to why NSRED occurs. However, NSRED is often associated with an underlying sleep disorder, with a history of sleepwalking being the most common.

What are the complications of having NSRED?

Most of the members of the parasomnia family are considered gentle and are often outgrown. However, NSRED is dangerous and shouldn’t be overlooked. Because people with this sleep disorder do not have any idea how much food they eat during their episodes this could lead to health issues such as weight gain, obesity or diabetes if not assessed.

People with this sleep disorder are also prone to injuries such as cuts and wounds due to the knives they use to prepare their meals. This is because people are unconscious during their episodes and are thus not aware of the food they prepare and how they prepare it. They are also likely to become ill because of improper cooking of these meals.


Treatment of NSRED is focused on administering the factors that trigger your eating disorder. Your doctor will assess any underlying sleep disorder associated with NSRED (e.g. sleepwalking, obstructive sleep apnea). He may also recommend a change of dose intake of any other medications you are currently taking.

If all else fails your doctor may give you regular medications. The type of drug depends on the underlying cause of your sleep disorder.

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