Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

People with sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) eat while they are asleep. Nocturnal eating syndrome (NES) occurs when a person eats during the night with full awareness.


Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is a type of parasomnia (sleep disorder) characterized by abnormal eating patterns during the night.

Sleep-related eating disorder can occur during sleepwalking. People with this disorder eat while they are asleep. They often walk into the kitchen and prepare food without remembering they did so. During these episodes, people with SRED may consume different foods than they would typically eat during the daytime, and may even eat inedible substances or strange combinations of foods.

Many diet during the day, which might leave them hungry and vulnerable to binge eating at night when their control is weakened by sleep. In some cases, people with SRED have histories of alcoholism, drug abuse, and other sleep disorders.

If SRED occurs often enough, people with the condition may:

  • Gain weight.
  • Develop metabolic conditions (Type 2 diabetes or elevated cholesterol).
  • Have unrefreshing sleep and feel sleepy or tired during the day.
  • Injure themselves preparing food (lacerations, burns).
  • Become ill from inadequately cooked food or ingesting toxic substances.
  • Develop cavities or tooth decay from eating sugary foods.

What is nocturnal eating syndrome?

A closely related disorder, known as nocturnal eating syndrome (NES), is diagnosed when a person eats during the night with full awareness and is usually unable to fall asleep again unless he or she eats.

Symptoms of NES include:

  • Little or no appetite for breakfast
  • Eating more food after dinner than during the meal
  • Eating more than half of daily food intake after dinner hour
  • A persisting pattern for at least 2 months

SRED and NES differ in that people with NES are fully aware that they are eating. Patients with SRED may have no recollection or faulty recollection.

Even if patients with SRED are aware of eating, they seem to have no control of what they are doing. Patients with NES consciously make the decision to eat at night. There is much overlap with these two disorders in that they both are hybrids of sleep and eating disorders. Both of these conditions can interfere with an individual’s good nutrition, cause embarrassment, and result in depression and weight gain.

Both men and women can have this disorder, but it is more common among women. Onset is typically age 20-40. About 1% to 3% of the general population appears to be affected by SRED. Ten to 15% of people with eating disorders are affected. A history of sleepwalking is common. Other sleep disorders or medical conditions that disrupt sleep or cause abrupt awakenings can also trigger SRED.

Treatment of nocturnal eating behaviors begins with a clinical interview and might include an overnight stay in a sleep laboratory, where brain activity is monitored during the night. Medicine sometimes can be helpful for these disorders. Additional treatments might include methods to decrease stress and anxiety. Examples of these methods include stress management classes, counseling, and a limited intake/avoidance of alcohol and caffeine.

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