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What is Sleep Eating Syndrome?

written by: Rafael • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 9/25/2009

Did you know that there are people who overeat at night while sleeping? Learn about a poorly understood and rare eating disorder known as Sleep Eating Syndrome.

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    What is Sleep Eating Syndrome?

    Sleep eating syndrome (SES), also known as sleep eating, nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED), or sleep-related eating is a poorly understood and recently recognized eating disorder characterized by episodes of sleepwalking combined with food overeating or bingeing. Sleep eating disorders is part of a group of eating disorders not well characterized called EDNOS (Eating Disorders Otherwise not Specified).:

    According to the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Disorders Center sleep-eating disorders are more common in women with an occurrence of 1 to 3% of the population. Ten to 15% of people with eating disorders may be affected by sleep-related eating disorders.

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    Sleep Eating Syndrome Signs and Symptoms

    The basic signs of SES are sleepwalking and food bingeing both occurring during nighttime. However, as in sleepwalking, people affected by this disorder do not have recollection of their food eating at night. A nocturnal sleep eater will sleepwalk to the kitchen, eat big quantities of food (sometime non-food items too) and go back to bed without even knowing they did so. When told about their behaviour they have no recollection at all. The disorder is usually discovered by another person who may see rests of eaten food on the floor or used cookware on the kitchen.

    Food consumed by people with SES tends to be sugary or high in fat. Uncommon combinations of foods are usual such as potato chips with peanut butter or hotdogs with butter. Non-food items could be eaten too (soap bars for example).

    This kind of disorders has many associated risks. For example, injury from knives and cooking surfaces may occur. The potential for starting a fire is also a concern. Additionally, people affected by SES may have all the health complications derived from eating disorders such as weight gain (due to the compulsive hyperphagia). The disorder will also affect the emotional state of the person. Feeling angry and anxious is common among sleep eaters.

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    Sleep Eating Syndrome Treatment

    Sleep eating is usually the manifestation of other underlying causes that may be physical or not: nicotine withdrawal, chronic autoimmune hepatitis, encephalitis or acute stress. Treating the underlying problems is of paramount importance to alleviate SES. Interventions have proven helpful. Stress management techniques, counseling (group or one-on-one) may also help. Certain drugs such as Sinemet (carbidopa or levodopa) and Mirapex (pramipexole dihydrochloride) have been found helpful for sleep eaters.

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