Night Eating Syndrome-Recurrent Need to Eat During Sleep

Night or nocturnal eating syndrome (Sleep – Related Eating or NS-RED) considered a parasomnia (Disorder that interrupts the sleep process and may require medical attention) disorder, when a person recurrently needs to eat during sleep (sometimes up to four times a night), without being aware of the event. The awakenings average about 20 minutes and convinced the need to eat in order to get back to sleep. Also, cannot recall any incident of eating the night before. This problem maybe chronic or appear once or twice and then disappear.

People having nocturnal eating syndrome must be aware of significant weight gain, possibility of choking while eating during sleep, injury may occur while starting fires or while preparing foods during sleep, and feeling a loss of control. In 1955, Dr. Albert Stunkard, professor of psychiatry and director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, first diagnosed this disorder. Statistics have shown, up to fifteen percent of those having an eating disorder affected by night eating disorder and one to three percent of the general population. Sleep related eating effects all ages, both sex, but is more common in young women, and develops in the late 20s. Often nocturnal eating syndrome is triggered by a stressful or emotional event, such as a divorce, pregnancy or loss of job. Estimated that ten percent of obese people seeking treatment have night eating syndrome. In some cases, people that have sleep related eating disorder have histories of alcoholism, drug abuse, and other sleep disorders. Those having nocturnal eating syndrome are common to skip breakfast, eat more than half the day’s calories after dinner, pattern has persisted for at least two months, feeling of guilt while eating, and suffer from insomnia.

According to Dr. Stunkard, suffers have three separate problems, an eating disorder, a sleeping disorder and a mood disorder. Most people that suffer from this syndrome, experience in their lives stress, and poor sleep, often walking up three to four times a night, and choosing to eat high carbohydrate foods (“comfort foods”) such as biscuits or cakes. Also, night eaters during the day consume on average 500 calories more than normal. Dr. Stunkard attributes the high consumption of carbohydrates, increases serotonin in the brain, which stimulates sleep. (Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin, which lead to increase levels of tryptophans in the brain. The substance from which serotonin is derived.)

Information gathered studying night eating syndrome. Tests have shown, having night eating syndrome experience a decrease of two hormones, linked to sleep and appetite, melatonin and leptin. This suggests treating night eating disorder by prescribing melatonin and leptim. Untreated this condition causes obesity and being tired during the day. Dr. Stunkard found that 36% of those with night eating syndrome had at least one relative that had this disorder, compared with 22% of those who were not night eaters. Common reaction, when diagnosed with this disorder, denial and cannot admit having the ability to control themselves. A specific gene hasn’t been found yet.

Binge eating or bulimia (Episodes of significant overeating, followed by various methods to prevent wait loss including vomiting or laxative abuse.) causes of different symptoms compared to nocturnal eating syndrome. Bulimia patients eat large amounts of food or infrequent binges, while sleep related eating individuals consume relatively small snacks (with high calorie content), at night and frequently.

Researchers found diabetic patients reported more frequent depression or ate more in response to anger, sadness and other negative emotions. The patients are more prone to have night eating syndrome, which increases the risk of serious complications. This had been reported in the journal of Diabetes Care. Treatment option includes behavioral therapy to treat underlying causes of depression or emotional issues.

Treating nocturnal eating syndrome, begins spending a night at a sleep disorder center where brain activity can be monitored. Prescribing Zoloft medication is an effective method to treat night eating syndrome, according a study funded by the National Institute of Health and the Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (manufacturer). The study had shown, average awakening fell by 60%, nighttime eating reduced by 70% and number of calories consumed after dinner decreased by 40%. The research findings of this study are published in January 2004, issue of the International Journal of Eating Disorders. During clinical trial administering sertraline, researchers at Penn Behavioral Health demonstrated dramatic benefits treating night syndrome eating disorder.

Some people that have nocturnal eating syndrome enlist the help of family members, by having them lock areas were food can be accessed, including cupboards and refrigerator at night, and then hiding keys. Also, disconnecting the stove or installing an alarm system to the stove, would be turned on at night, and activated to alert family members, preventing a fire. Avoid consuming prior to bedtime alcohol and caffeine. Prescribing sleeping pills is not an affective method to treat this syndrome. Actually, can make the condition worse by increasing confusion, clumsiness that can lead to injury and dependency.

The Food and Drug Administration received reports that some people, having been prescribed Ambien (manufactured by Sanofi-Aventis) for sleep aid, experienced eating or binge eating, while they slept under the influence of the medication. First reported in 2002, by Dr. Michael H. Silber, CO-director of Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorder Center, most had no memory or recall of the event, after awakening in the morning. The drug manufacture stated the side effect is known to be rare. More information available: Newsweek Magazine, March 27. 2005, page 54.

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