If you wake up in the morning to find your kitchen messy with half eaten food containers on the floor or counter you, or someone in your household, may have nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder. Even though it isn’t as common as sleepwalking, walking around in the middle of the night and raiding the refrigerator or pantry is a parasomnia. 65-80% are women, many who haven’t eaten enough during the day because they are on a diet, are suffering from an eating disorder, are taking medication for depression or sleeping pills like Ambien or Zolpidem.
The biggest symptom is walking into the kitchen, preparing or eating food while asleep and not remembering it in the morning. The eating is usually compulsive, can happen every night and the food eaten is usually “forbidden” during the day: high calorie foods with a lot of sugar and fat. Like sleepwalkers it can be extremely difficult to wake someone up who is sleep binge-eating and they may be angry or aggressive. The dangers involved from this are twofold. Not only can your health and weight suffer from constantly eating high calorie, unhealthy foods, you can also hurt yourself by eating toxic or inedible substances or cutting or burning yourself in preparing the food.
I have had patients who put locks on their cabinets or refrigerators to prevent themselves from sleep bingeing but a more effective and long term solution is to uncover whether there is something else –physical or psychological –underlying your problem. If this happening more than once or twice, you need to discuss this with a sleep specialist.