Sleep-related Eating Disorder

What is a Sleep-related Eating Disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is a rare condition where a person prepares and eats food while they are asleep. This disorder is similar to a nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED); however, unlike NS-RED, a person with this condition will have no memory of preparing a meal and eating it.

Both men and women are prone to SRED, but is more commonly seen in women—especially those who are prone anxiety disorders or to other eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa. Because some people with SRED do extreme dieting during the day, they may be famished in the evening, causing them to binge eat in their sleep state. Sometimes SRED is caused by those who abuse drugs or alcohol. The condition can also manifest with other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.

What are the Symptoms of Sleep-related Eating Disorder?

The signs of SRED usually last for more than a couple of months. People with the condition may have no appetite in the early morning since they may be full from binging in the middle of the night. People with SRED may also eat more food or even as much as half as their caloric intake after dinner. Those with SRED may have daytime drowsiness from repeat awakenings, and they may not be able to fall back asleep unless they eat something. Similar to NS-RED, those with SRED can develop anxiety, depression, and shame if they are aware of their disorder, gain weight, or don’t stick to a strict diet.

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder Causes

It is not fully understood what causes sleep-related eating disorders (SRED), but it is often found in people who have other sleep disorders, such as:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Irregular sleep-wake rhythm
  • Restless legs syndrome
  • Periodic limb movement disorder
  • Narcolepsy

It’s also known that many people with SRED used to sleepwalk when they were children.

Some medications are known to cause SRED, particularly antidepressants and those used to treat sleeping problems.

Other lifestyle factors can also contribute to SRED. Ending a habit such as smoking, alcohol abuse or drug abuse can cause the disorder. Stress is also known to contribute to SRED. People who are following strict diets during the day can experience SRED, and those with another eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder could also develop it.

Finally, a few medical conditions completely unrelated to sleep can lead to SRED. Hepatitis, which is an infection of the liver, and encephalitis, which is swelling on the brain, are both linked with the eating disorder.

How is Sleep-related Eating Disorder Treated?

To be diagnosed with SRED, a person may need to stay overnight at a special clinic and undergo a sleep study. Sometimes selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed, but sleeping pills in general usually aren’t prescribed since they can cause confusion and exacerbate nighttime behaviors.

People with SRED are recommended to use child-proof locks or other means of securing dangerous chemicals or combinations of food, since some people with the condition can accidentally ingest cleaning liquids and other non-edible substances. Counseling is recommended to reduce stress and change any negative behaviors associated with food. Lastly, avoiding certain substances, like caffeine, can also help a person reduce their symptoms.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 09, 2017