SRED Causes Sufferers to Binge Eat While Asleep
Imagine going to your new love interest’s house for an overnight visit, and when you wake up in the morning, you’re mortified at what destruction you might have left in the kitchen.
This alarming scenario is a real-life possibility for Dave. A 50-year-old who lives in Montreal and works in the film industry, Dave is a sleep eater. In the simplest terms, that designation refers to someone who rises in the middle of the night, in a somnolent or near-slumbering state, and devours whatever they can find. Sufferers are often unaware of what they’re doing, despite the fact that it may happen several days a week—even multiple times in the same night.
As is often the case with sleep eaters, Dave harbours a lot of shame. “How do you explain that you’ve consumed a new jar of peanut butter, a half loaf of bread and an entire carton of milk?” he says. “And if you happen to be up when I’m emptying the pantry, just try to stop me.”
Sleep-eating disorder, also known as sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), is a type of parasomnia—an umbrella term for a group of disruptive sleep-movement disorders—that’s notoriously difficult to treat. Compared to, say, sleep aggression or sleep-related sexual assault (both on the parasomnia scale), devouring the contents of a fridge sounds relatively harmless.
But it’s no mere case of the munchies: SRED, which has nothing to do with bad habits or bingeing, can change everything from a person’s body size to their relationship with loved ones. Dave recalls a mortifying cottage trip with friends where he left a massive mess in the shared kitchen—and devoured all the bread that had been designated for group meals. In general, he says, he has constant anxiety whenever he winds up sleeping in the same place as other people due to his sleep disorder.
Little is known about SRED, which wasn’t officially recognized as a sleep disorder until the early 1990s; even less is known about how to cure it. Those who struggle with it have been written off as uncontrollable gorgers, people unable to tame their own urges.
Even today, those with this rare sleep disorder are often presented with stigmatizing psychological assessments or told they’re simply not eating properly. Many family physicians don’t have enough information about this condition and thus misidentify SRED as a compulsion that’s not sleep related. A full diagnosis can only be acquired with video polysomnography–based sleep tests—which involve machines to monitor one’s heart rate, muscle activity and other functions—plus psychiatric and neurological testing.
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