Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Strange Midnight Binges Haunt Sleep-Eaters

Most people scoff at the thought of eating a blend of raw bacon, egg shells and coffee grounds. People with sleep related eating disorder are no different, yet they consume such sickening concoctions without thinking twice. Or thinking at all, for that matter.

SRED involves unconscious compulsive binge-eating in the middle of the night. Sleep-walkers rapidly prepare and consume whatever they can find, whether it’s high-calorie junk food or an unusual mix of kitchen ingredients. An episode can last about ten minutes, and the sleep-eater won’t remember a thing.

43-year-old Anna Ryan once tried to eat a steel wool dish detergent pad. She’s among the estimated one million Americans with SRED.

Her story was featured on the ABC Nightline special “Secrets of the Mind” Tuesday evening. The series investigates rare conditions of the brain. Past programs have addressed topics such as narcoleptic attacks caused by strong emotions, aneurysms and pathological violence.

Ryan would go on diets but mysteriously gain weight, unaware she was consuming thousands of calories every night. She’s at-risk for weight-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea.

SRED can also cause social embarrassment and physical danger. People can fall, start fires or even consume toxic chemicals while sleepwalking to the kitchen.

About 65 to 80 percent of people with SRED are women. The episodes usually begin sometime before the age of 30. Empty wrappers and missing food may serve as clues for SRED. A history of other parasomnias such as sleepwalking, sleep talking or REM sleep behavioral disorder is also a warning sign.

Ryan is on a medication to limit her midnight binges. Sleep Education reports SRED is treatable with a combination of medication and therapy.

If you think you have SRED seek treatment at an AASM-accredited sleep center immediately.

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