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Sleep-related eating disorders

Sleep-related eating disorders combine sleep problems with symptoms of eating disorders during the night.

A person with a sleep-related eating disorder may partly wake-up, then rapidly eat food, but then will have mostly forgotten about it by the morning.

Although it is not as common as sleepwalking, nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED) can occur during sleepwalking.

People with this condition often walk into the kitchen and prepare food without a recollection for having done so. If NS-RED continues, a person can experience weight gain.

A closely related disorder, known as night eating syndrome (NES), is diagnosed when a person eats during the night with full awareness and may be unable to fall asleep again without eating.

Symptoms of NES include the following and often persist for at least 2 months:

  • No appetite or little appetite for breakfast.
  • Eating more after dinner than during the meal itself.
  • Eating more than half of your daily recommended food amounts after dinner.
  • Waking in the night often and needing a snack to help get back to sleep.

Who gets sleep-related eating disorders?

Sleep-related eating disorders are more common in women.

In some cases the problems begin after dieting during the day causing hunger later on.

Some people with sleep-related eating disorders have also experienced alcoholism, drug abuse or other sleep disorders.

How are sleep-related eating disorders diagnosed and treated?

A doctor will ask about the symptoms, eating habits, medical history and may carry out a physical examination.

Diagnosis may involve an overnight stay in a sleep laboratory. Brain activity is monitored during the night.

Treatment may include medication, stress management classes, assertiveness training, counselling, and limiting the amount of alcohol and caffeine being consumed.

Find the help and support you need for eating disorders.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on October 27, 2016

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