The Nocturnal Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (NSRED) or somnambulistic eating is actually a combination of a sleep disorder and an eating disorder. Here, a person who is apparently fast asleep may go searching for food and end up gorging on large amounts of food without being aware of it.
While sleepwalking or somnambulism is far more common disorder, a small proportion of people who sleepwalk may also binge eat or display abnormal eating patterns while asleep.
Sleep related eating disorders are different from Nocturnal Eating Syndrome or NES which is characterized by eating during the night while fully conscious – here a person may find it impossible to fall asleep without eating.
Those who have a personal history of addictions or other sleep disorders may be more at risk of this disorder. Here are some of its major symptoms:
Rousing from sleep
Typically a person with this disorder may fall asleep and then within a couple of hours may partially rouse from sleep and proceed to seek and eat large quantities of food. Unlike other somnambulists, people who have a sleep related eating disorder will head straight to the kitchen or pantry.
Fast and frequent eating
The person may eat very fast and in an out of control manner while unconscious. They have no choice about when and how frequently they get up in the night and how they behave afterwards. The choice of food eaten may be random but a preference seems to be shown for sweets and high carb foods.
Food preparation style
People with the disorder may prepare foods by heating, mixing in a blender, making a sandwich and so on. There could also be strange good combinations, raw, frozen or spoiled foods and may even consume inedible or toxic materials.
There could be rapid weight gain over a short duration as a result of the out of control nocturnal eating. In cases there could be other symptoms such as injuries resulting from the nocturnal activities: there could be injuries from cutting up foods, opening cans, bumping into furniture or walls, or getting scalded.
A person may wake up in the morning feeling tired rather than well rested and may be irritable through the day. This disorder is also sometimes characterized by very vivid nighttime dreams.
As a result of the nocturnal behavior of a person with a sleep related eating disorder, they may develop nutritional problems. A person could experience shame and distress and this could in turn lead to depression.