The Dangers of Sleep-Eating Disorders

By Chrisanne Grise 03/06/13

Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder sufferers report little to no memory of nighttime binges.

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We now have to worry about binge eating, even in our sleep. A person suffering from Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NSRED) may get up during the night to eat, and wake up with only vague recollections (or none at all) of raiding their fridge, according to a profile of the disorder in i09. The disorder usually hits during a person’s thirties after an event like sickness, extreme stress or withdrawing from certain drugs—particularly nicotine. NSRED sufferers have been known to eat just about anything they can find, including unthawed frozen food, pet food, uncooked pasta and cigarette, i09 reports. Aside from being unhealthy, it can also be hazardous, as people with NSRED may cut or burn themselves, or even choke. One man reports waking up with a hazy memory of riding a motorcycle to the supermarket in the middle of the night. Those with NSRED may get up to eat as many as four times and a night, and most feel ill upon waking. So far, therapy has been found largely ineffective for treating the disorder, but some patients have responded well to treatments inlcluding anticonvulsants, opiates, and insomnia medications. 

But is NSRED a sleep disorder, an eating disorder, or both? The subject remains up for debate. Patients are often characterized as “sleepwalkers who happen to eat,” but this description is probably too simple, says John W. Winkelman, PhD. But experts hope that including NSRED in the revised International Classification of Sleep Disorders (ICSD) will help them uncover more answers once it is officially recognized as a problem. Says Winkelman: "Recognition of NSRED in the revised ICSD may ultimately provide legitimacy to this highly impairing disorder in an era suspicious of 'new' diagnoses." 

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.