What is sleep eating?

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics

Many people awake in the middle of the night and find themselves eating. Or people may awaken in the morning and see that someone has been in the kitchen during the night. They have no idea that it was them! If someone has metabolic syndrome they may wake in the night and eat. Metabolic syndrome is a triad of high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes or prediabetes. People wake in the night because their blood sugar may be dropping and they get up to eat to raise their sugars. They are often not aware of this. Another cause is taking sleeping pills. Right before sleeping it is not unusual for people to eat when they are really almost asleep.

Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics

Sleep eating is essentially eating when sleep-walking. Sleep eating may be a symptom part of an eating disorder, and may people with a diagnosed eating disorder experience sleep eating as a symptom. The foods most eaten during an episode of sleep eating are high in sugar, simple carbs, and/or fat. Non-food items, or strange combinations of food has also been reported as eaten during episodes of sleep eating, such as raw meats covered in ketchup or another condiment. The sleep eater awakes in the morning with no memory of the event.

There are several dangers associated with sleep eating. Sleep walking of any kind poses the risk of self-injury from running into things, falling down stairs, etc. Those that are sleep eating are at risk of injury from eating uncooked food or non-food items, choking, using knives, and even cooking while sleeping, and starting a fire. In addition, sleep eating also carries the same risks as binge eating, such as weight gain, obesity and diabetes.

Symptoms of Sleep Eating include:
• fatigue and/or excessive daytime sleepiness
• depression, anger, and/or anxiety
• inability to lose weight despite proper diet and exercise
• family history of sleep disorders, night terrors, sleepwalking and/or sleep eating disorders
• personal history of eating disorder
• personal history of alcoholism and/or drug use
• sleep eating often starts during times of stress, and may only abate after the initial stressor is resolved

Brooke Randolph
Marriage & Family Therapy
Also sometimes called sleep-related eating (disorder), nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED), or sleep-eating syndrome, sleep eating is a rare and dangerous sleep disorder (not an eating disorder) that affects up to three percent of the population. There can be comorbidity with eating disorders; however, ten to 15 percent of those that suffer from eating disorders also experience sleep eating.

Sleep eating is classified by episodes of sleep walking during which one eats. Often the foods eaten during sleep are high in sugar or high in fat. Non-food items (such as soap) or odd combinations (such as raw bacon covered in mayonnaise) have also been reported as eaten during episodes of sleep eating. The sleep eater often awakes in the morning with no memory of the event.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.