(Natural News) Sleep-eating, also known as sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), involves episodes of compulsive eating while in a state of sleep. And as is the case with other eating disorders, SRED can have “heavy” consequences.
In one of her articles online, nutritional scientist Judith Wurtman explained how SRED binges may lead to obesity. Wurtman, who founded a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility, drew from a 2014 report by Yuichi Inoue, president of the Yoyogi Sleep Disorder Center in Japan, on SRED and its related conditions.
In her article, Wurtman wrote that looking into SRED would allow experts to better understand brain functions in order to curb SRED binges before they lead to obesity.
SRED linked to antidepressant use, other eating disorders
SRED was discovered in 1991 when sleep researchers observed a woman who ate while sleepwalking. Experts have found that about one to three percent of Americans are affected by SRED today.
It’s not uncommon for people with SRED to have little or no recollection of their binge-eating episodes. In fact, people with SRED often exhibit signs of partial or total amnesia upon waking. They also tend to have no appetite and may be oblivious to their binge-eating episodes until they start gaining extra weight.
Furthermore, as with other eating disorders, SRED is linked to the state of an individuals’ mental health. In his report, Inoue found that 3.4 percent of people in an outpatient depression clinic had SRED.
Wurtman also noted that recent reports have linked the use of zolpidem, a sedative used to treat insomnia, and mirtazapine, an antidepressant, to SRED. In fact, there have been enough published reports of amnesia-associated eating binges following the use of zolpidem that experts recognize such eating binges as a side effect.
But according to Wurtman, people who have had amnesia-associated eating binges were able to stop after ditching the drugs. The same was true among people who were taking mirtazapine.
Sleep researchers suggest that those who take antidepressants experience binge-eating episodes at night due to the activation of a neurotransmitter called histamine. Histamine regulates many important bodily processes, including the contraction of smooth muscle tissues lining the stomach and the secretion of gastric acids. Therefore, stopping the medications that trigger SRED is the most effective way of treating the disorder.
But people taking antidepressants aren’t the only ones at risk of SRED and the health problems it brings. In his report, Inoue found that SRED also occurs among individuals who have daytime eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.
Taking these into consideration, Inoue suggested that SRED and daytime eating disorders may share a common psychological background. After all, people with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa usually have a skewed perception of self-worth and body image.
More often than not, these eating disorders are not about food but about coping with emotional problems. This can be said as well of SRED because a person in the middle of a binge-eating episode might become agitated and continue to eat if someone else tries to stop or wake them up.
The dangers of SRED
SRED is a little more dangerous than other eating disorders because a person sleepwalking can put all kinds of inedible items in his or her mouth, which can lead to choking or an upset stomach in the morning.
In his report, Inoue confirmed that the most troublesome effect of SRED is weight gain. Like individuals with a daytime eating disorder, those with SRED are also vulnerable to psychological distress since they may feel shame, guilt and helplessness following binge-eating episodes. Such negative feelings may fuel SRED.
Wurtman added that “sleep-eaters” are much more vulnerable to weight gain because of the amnesia that accompanies SRED. Because the person can’t recognize the amount of food consumed, he or she also can’t stop the binge-eating episode. (Related: Scientists look at binge-eating mice to understand why we overeat.)
People with SRED can also give themselves serious injuries while sleepwalking. There have been cases of sleep-walkers who tried to cut vegetables and boil water. Some have even ingested toxic, inedible items.
Researchers have tried treating SRED with anti-epileptic drugs like topiramate, which is known to cause weight loss. But such drugs cause a slew of adverse effects, such as fatigue, numbness, diarrhea and coordination problems.
Naturopathic treatments for eating disorders like SRED focus on following a balanced diet filled with nutrient-dense foods because nutrient deficiencies can lead to binge-eating episodes.
Holistic nutritionists also recommend eating foods that help balance blood glucose levels because glucose helps regulate various cellular functions.
Go to Mental.news to learn more about how mental health problems are linked to eating disorders.