Solutions and Treatments of Sleep Eating Disorders

Eliminating Sleep Disruption and Medications May Prove Helpful

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For those who experience sleep eating, there can be significant effects that might motivate treatment. What are the best solutions and ways to treat sleep eating? Consider how addressing the underlying cause might help, especially if it is due to another sleep disorder or a medication. Learn how to avoid common precipitants such as sleep deprivation and about the role of medications in treating sleep eating. Review treatments of sleep eating disorders and finally stop those unwanted midnight snacks.

What to Know About Sleep Eating

Verywell / Dennis Madamba

What Is Sleep Eating?

Sleep eating may sound strange to someone who doesn’t struggle with it, but it is a relatively common condition that can have some very real consequences. It is one of the behaviors that can occur in sleep. Along with sleepwalking, sleep talking, and night terrors, sleep eating is classified as a parasomnia.

Sleep eating occurs during partial or complete unconsciousness. The eating is uncontrolled and may involve odd combinations of foods. Eating late at night, while still awake, is not considered to be sleep eating but instead represents a different disorder called night eating syndrome.

According to a 2015 review article, sleep‐related eating disorder (SRED) is a relatively rare condition that primarily affects people with pre-existing sleep disorders. SRED is more common in women than men (females outnumber males 2:1 to 3:1).


Eating while asleep may lead to dangerous situations. In preparing the food while unconscious, commonplace action such as cutting vegetables or cooking with boiling water may become dangerous. People with sleep eating have been known to perform very complex actions while remaining asleep. Frequently, the food preparation is somewhat clumsy, resulting in messes in the kitchen. Once the food is consumed, stomach upset, bloating, and even weight gain may result.

The condition can often be a source of embarrassment, resulting in an average delay to diagnosis of 11-15 years. Fortunately, treatment options for sleep eating exist.


The most important treatment for sleep eating is to identify and treat any coexisting sleep disorders. Most commonly these include sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. These conditions are present in 80% of people with sleep eating, and diagnosis requires an overnight sleep study called a polysomnogram.

Another major factor that may provoke sleep eating is the use of medications, especially sleeping pills and psychiatric drugs. As it is widely prescribed, Ambien (sold as the generic zolpidem and also under the brand names of Ambien CR and Intermezzo) is a relatively frequent cause of sleep eating, though it is a rare side effect. Other medications reported to cause sleep eating include Halcion (or triazolam) and Zyprexa (or olanzapine).

Many people with sleep eating have a prior history of other parasomnias, such as sleepwalking. People who sleepwalk and begin to sleep eat, often begin to exclusively sleep eat from that point forward. Parasomnias require safety precautions to prevent unintentional harm to the actor as well as to others in the sleep environment. These precautions may include locking doors and windows, hiding keys, and limiting access to other dangers that might prove harmful in a state of unconscious action.


To reduce the frequency of sleep eating, it is very important to ensure proper sleep habits. By following basic recommendations to improve sleep hygiene, sleep deprivation and fragmentation will be reduced. Each of these things may cause these mixed states of consciousness to occur more often. Rather than being all awake or all asleep, the brain may be in a transition state that suppresses consciousness and memory but allows the body to engage in activities, including eating. Many people who sleep eat are helped by keeping a consistent sleep pattern with adequate total hours of sleep to meet their needs.

In select circumstances, it may be necessary to use medication to treat sleep eating. After consultation with your sleep specialist, medications that affect dopamine (such as Mirapex, Requip or Sinemet) or narcotic medications called opiates may be tried. In addition, Topamax (or topiramate) has been shown to cause some weight loss and may be helpful in sleep eating. Previously, the drug D-Fenfluramine was used as a treatment for sleep eating, but this medication has been withdrawn from the market in the United States due to the risk of causing heart disease.

If you are interested in seeking treatment for sleep eating, start by speaking with your healthcare provider. After a review of possible causes, including evaluation with a sleep study, there may be other treatment options and medicines that could be appropriate to treat this parasomnia.

1 Source
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.
  1. Inoue Y. Sleep-related eating disorder and its associated conditions. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2015 Jun;69(6):309-20. doi:10.1111/pcn.12263

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Sleep Medicine. International Classification of Sleep Disorders Third Edition. American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Darien, 2014.

  • Kryger, MH et al. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine. Elsevier, 5th edition. 2011.

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