Sleep Related Eating Disorder: Symptoms and signs to contact a doctor

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Although the terms ‘sleeping‘ and ‘eating‘ are in the name, sleeping or eating disorders are about more than just regular sleeping and eating habits as they are complex health conditions that need the intervention of medical and psychological experts so that patients who suffer from them can overcome them effectively. Wonder what is SRED? Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED) is Parasomnia or abnormal behaviour during sleep.

Sleep Related Eating Disorder: Symptoms and signs to contact a doctor (Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Minal Shah, Chief Nutrition Therapist at Fortis Hospital in Mulund, explained, “In this condition, people prepare and eat food during sleep, with little or no recollection of what they ate once they are awake. The level of consciousness during an episode of SRED can range from partial consciousness to dense unawareness, typical of somnambulistic (sleepwalking) episodes. For many SRED patients, eating episodes usually involve a preference for high-calorie foods, which can sometimes include inedible or toxic items. In addition, SRED is sometimes associated with psychotropic medication, particularly sedative-hypnotics, and other sleep disorders, including Parasomnia, Narcolepsy and Restless Legs Syndrome.”

He elaborated, “At night, most people are sleep, due to which they experience a prolonged period of fasting. However, recent advances in the field of sleep and Circadian Physiology have shown that there is a link between Obesity and sleep deprivation. This has led to an increased interest in the relationship between food intake and metabolism in association with sleep & circadian rhythm. It is observed that despite a lack of food intake, the serum glucose level is adequately maintained throughout the nocturnal sleep period in contrast to fasting during sedentary wakefulness, which demonstrates a fall in glucose levels over twelve hours.”

Symptoms And Side Effects of SRED:

Minal Shah shared, “The most common and often most troublesome adverse effect of SRED is weight gain due to repeated consumption of high-caloric foods during night-time eating episodes. This symptom is one of the diagnostic features of the disorder in the ICSD (International Classification of Sleep Disorders). Another vital consequence of SRED is psychological distress due to ‘lack of control’, shame, guilt, and helplessness over night-time eating. Due to multiple night-time awakening and eating episodes, SRED patients also suffer from disrupted sleep cycles, leading to day-time fatigue and sleepiness. This can also lead to concern regarding accidents, including falls, burns, and cuts that people with SRED might encounter while searching for and preparing food. The risk of such incidents is high for people with reduced alertness during the behaviour episodes.”

She cited, “Take, for instance, the case of a 26-year-old man who suffered from anxiety and sleep disorder. After consultation with a specialist; he was put on medication, although his condition did not improve. After change in medication, his condition improved and he got better sleep. However, he gained more than 22 kilograms in six months during this period. When he visited the specialist with this concern, he was finally given a clinical diagnosis of SRED, as it was found that he used to sleepwalk and eat junk food from the refrigerator. Although he seemed awake, he had no memory of it. He used to eat junk food like sandwiches and chocolates, which he avoided in his diet during his wake hours. As a result of this diagnosis, his medicines were changed, post which his condition improved dramatically. His weight gain stopped and he is now on a structured weight loss plan to achieve the ideal weight.”

Impact of SRED on a person’s health:

Minal Shah revealed, “Evident from the case above, there is a high chance that if a person suffers from SRED, they prefer thick, sugary, and high-calorie foods such as peanut butter or chocolate spread. In the long run, these episodes can lead to Obesity, weight gain and health problems like Diabetes and cardiac issues. It has also been noticed that such patients sometimes consume food they do not always like; although alcoholic drinks are rarely consumed. During a sleep-related eating event, food is consumed very quickly, as these episodes rarely last more than ten minutes (including the time to get from the bed to the kitchen and back to bed again).”

When to contact a doctor?

Minal Shah answered, “Good quality sleep is essential for overall well-being and health. Some people who suffer from sleep disorders can keep it in check without professional help, but others cannot. It is vital to seek help if a person’s sleeping/ eating habits impact their quality of life, happiness, or concentration. Remember, the earlier you consult an expert, the easier it is to prevent worsening any physical or psychological effects related to the illness.”

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