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January 5, 2012

Understanding Sleep Eating Disorder

Tina Fey recently parodied feasting while asleep, in her TV comedy, Thirty Rock, but for people who suffer from it, sleep eating is ANYTHING but funny. Known formally as nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder, or NS-RED, sleep eating may affect more than one million Americans, most of them women. People with NS-RED get out of bed at least once every night and eat to excess. People who sleep-eat engage in these nighttime activities unconsciously. Sleep eaters tend to prefer foods very high in calories and fat, or foods they would not usually eat alone, such as syrup or mayonnaise. Unsurprisingly, this often leads to obesity, heart problems and diabetes. Sleep eaters may also consume things that are not even food, such as bars of soap, medication, or cleaning products, which can lead to choking, poisoning, and even death! In Thirty Rock, Fey's character Liz Lemon demonstrated both of these eating patterns when she was caught on camera consuming an entire pizza and a pack of cigarettes. Like Liz Lemon, NS-RED sufferers usually have very little to no memory of their nocturnal eating. If they are caught in the act, they are difficult to wake, and may become angry. In an effort to understand NS-RED, doctors have learned that the brain patterns of sleep eaters differ from sound sleepers. During a bout of sleep eating, the part of the brain that controls movement "wakes up," allowing the sufferer to get up, prepare, and eat food. But the part of the brain that controls reason and judgment remains asleep. Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorders are more common in people who were sleepwalkers as children, and they tend to run in families. In addition, NS-RED has been linked to other sleep-disorders, like restless legs syndrome, narcolepsy, and obstructive sleep apnea. As such, people with the condition tend to suffer from extreme tiredness during the day. Because they are not conscious of their actions, it can be very hard for sleep eaters to combat the disorder on their own. The good news is that doctor-supervised treatment can be very effective! Most NS-RED sufferers benefit from improving sleep hygiene which includes going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, and setting up a quiet, dark, peaceful sleeping environment. Some also respond well to treatment with anti-seizure or anti-depressant medication. All sleep eaters should also make their homes safe for nighttime roaming by keeping the path to the kitchen clear. Remember: Nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder can be life threatening! If you suspect you may suffer from this condition, make an appointment with a doctor!


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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012