What is sleep-related eating disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder is characterized by abnormal eating patterns during the night.

Although it is not as common as sleepwalking, sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) can occur during sleepwalking. People with this disorder eat while they are asleep. They often walk into the kitchen and prepare food without a recollection for having done so. If SRED occurs often enough, a person can experience weight gain, develop Type II diabetes mellitus, have unrefreshing sleep and feel sleepy or tired during the day.

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 two months

SRED and NES differ in that people with NES eat when they are conscious. However, the disorders are similar 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.

Who is at risk for sleep-related eating disorder?

Both men and women can have this disorder, but it is more common among women. About one percent to three percent of the general population appears to be affected by SRED. Ten to fifteen percent of people with eating disorders are affected. These people may consume different foods than they would favor during the daytime or even inedible foods during these episodes. Many of these individuals 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.

How is sleep-related eating disorder treated?

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 release stress and anxiety. Examples of these methods include stress management classes, counseling, and a limited intake/avoidance of alcohol and caffeine.


  • Howell, MJ, Schenck, CH, Crow, SJ. A review of nighttime eating disorders. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 2009-02-01, Vol. 13, Iss.1, Pgs. 23-34 Accessed via www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed 11/6/2013.
  • American Sleep Association. Sleep Eating. Accessed 11/6/2013.
  • National Sleep Foundation. Sleep and Parasomnias. Accessed 11/6/2013.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.This document was last reviewed on: 10/20/2013...#12123