How to Stop Nighttime Binges Due to Sleep Eating Disorder

If you are having difficulty shedding those extra pounds, and you experience undesired nighttime binges, this may be due to sleep eating disorder. Your dieting and weight loss efforts may be sabotaged by this compulsive intake of calories at night. Learn how to stop these nighttime binges due to sleep eating and the role of medications like Ambien and conditions like obstructive sleep apnea.

A women suffering from insomnia.
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What Is Sleep-Related Eating Disorder?

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is characterized by repeated involuntary episodic eating that occurs during nighttime sleep. It is more than a midnight snack, and individuals with this disorder remain largely asleep while they are eating. If awareness is present, the person is unable to stop the compulsion to eat.

The food that is consumed may be quite unusual and is often high in calories. Leftovers in the fridge may be eaten. Entire desserts may be eaten. Odd concoctions may also be prepared, including salt or sugar sandwiches, flour, or even kitty litter and other inedible substances. The food is eaten quickly, and the binge episodes typically last less than 10 minutes. The episodes typically occur nightly but may occur more than once during the night.

As a result of these binge episodes, affected individuals are at risk for injuries during the food preparation such as burns, fires, or cuts. In addition, if they consume toxic substances such as cleaning supplies they may become poisoned.

The next morning after binging a person will feel full and have a poor appetite. There is typically no or only partial memory of the night’s events, but they may wake to discover the kitchen is a mess. Not only can this binging behavior lead to unwanted weight gain, it may also be significantly disruptive to sleep. People with SRED often complain of unrefreshing sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.


SRED more commonly occurs in women and typically begins in their 20s. Its cause is not known. It does sometimes occur in association with other sleep disorders, including:

In addition, it can be induced by some medications such as Ambien (zolpidem). It seems to occur more often in those who are dieting or restricting caloric intake during the day.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If sleep-related eating disorder is suspected, it is necessary to have a polysomnography. This sleep study will often show frequent confusional arousals that most often occur from slow-wave sleep. As stated above, this problem can be triggered by other sleep disorders and these will be identified as part of the study. Sleep apnea is often identified and treatment for this condition may help.

If SRED is diagnosed, it will be important to follow basic sleep guidelines. It is also necessary to make both the sleep environment and kitchen a safe place. This may involve making unsafe objects inaccessible, including knives, appliances, and even cleaning supplies. If a sleep disorder is identified during the sleep study, this will require separate treatment. In addition, medications such as clonazepam, levodopa, or topiramate may be helpful.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep eating disorder

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep-related eating disorders.

  4. American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Sleep eating disorder – symptoms & risk factors

  5. Inagaki T, Miyaoka T, Tsuji S, Inami Y, Nishida A, Horiguchi J. Adverse reactions to zolpidem: case reports and a review of the literature. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2010;12(6). doi:10.4088/PCC.09r00849bro

  6. Chiaro G, Caletti MT, Provini F. Treatment of sleep-related eating disorder. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2015;17(8):361. doi:10.1007/s11940-015-0361-6

Additional Reading

By Brandon Peters, MD
Brandon Peters, MD, is a board-certified neurologist and sleep medicine specialist.