Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

If you're gaining weight and discovering a mess in the kitchen every morning, talk to your doctor about whether or not you might have Sleep-Related Eating Disorder.

By Ellen Michaud with Julie Bain from Sleep to Be Sexy Smart and Slim

Sometimes the only clue you have to SRED is the trail of bread crumbs you leave behind. You wake up on the groggy side, feeling stuffed and a little anorexic, walk to the kitchen, and there you find the remnants of a midnight snack — usually high-fat, high-calorie foods. There are probably no fruits or vegetables, but there may well be such oddities as buttered cigarettes, dog food, salt sandwiches, even eggshells, and — dangerously — kitchen cleaners.

The out-of-control eating occurs almost nightly, sometimes more than once a night. It begins after a period of sleep. The next morning the sleep eater may be able to recall vague images of what she did. Or not.

Scientists are just beginning to unravel the complicated brain circuitry that connects eating and sleeping. But they have been able to figure out that SRED is sometimes associated with sleep disorders such as restless legs, narcolepsy, or obstructive sleep apnea and can be triggered by medications such as zolpidem (Ambien), triazolam (Halcion), and lithium (Lithobid). It can also apparently be triggered by major relationship stress, by dieting, and by the cessation of cigarette smoking, alcohol, and recreational drugs.

SRED, or sleep-related eating disorder, is a serious problem. It not only can make you gain serious amounts of weight and disrupt your sleep, it may also cause you to inadvertently eat toxic substances or foods to which you’re allergic. Here’s how to get a handle on it.

     

  • 1.

    See your doctor.

    If you’re gaining weight and discovering a mess in the kitchen every morning, talk to your doctor about whether or not you might have SRED. Tell her about any medications you’re taking that she might not know about, including any recreational drugs or alcohol. Tell her about your eating habits, relationships, and any recent dieting. Even if she can’t find the precise cause of your eating, there are medications she can prescribe that will help you control the disorder..

  • 2.

    Stay off diets.

    Dieting is a natural response to the weight gain you’re experiencing, but it may be counterproductive. In fact, it may be exacerbating your problem. Run any low-calorie eating plans by your doctor..

  • 3.

    Rebuild relationships.

    If a close relationship with a parent or partner is stressing you out, see a therapist pronto. You could be paying the price of a nonfunctional relationship with your health..

  • 4.

    Frisk your home

    Get everything out of your home that would be harmful if you ate it. That means kitchen cleaners, bathroom cleaners, paint, lamp oil, whatever. Leave medication at the office or with a trusted friend — anywhere you can get it when you need it, but not at home while you’re sleep eating.

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