SOS: I eat while I sleep

“I must have been 15 years old, the first time my mother surprised me in the kitchen, a pot of yogurt in my hand. Until now, I never realized that I was getting up at night to snack. The only clue was the little spoons and wrappers I left behind. »

One night, I swallowed 24 bread puddings, and another where 2 packets of whole biscuits went through

Anthony has been getting up every night to eat for nine years now. The problem is that he is not aware of it, since these nocturnal meals are eaten during his sleep. Yogurt, ham, but also rusks… His refrigerator and cupboards are regularly pillaged. “During my last nighttime craving, I know, thanks to the packaging, that I ate a packet of appetizer biscuits. But there was also one night when I swallowed 24 loaves of milk, and another where two whole packets of biscuits were eaten. »

A case far from isolated

In 2014, Chris Perez told his story, also surprising, in the columns of the New York Post. For years, the journalist did not understand where the cake wrappers he found in his bed came from. Not to mention that between 2009 and 2014, he gained up to 36 kg, despite following a strict diet. Finally, his aunt, after discovering him in the middle of the night, with his hand in a box of biscuits, but dozing off, will give him the explanation. From then on, she recommended a specialist, doctor Disha Patel, member of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. The diagnosis falls, Chris suffers from NSRED (nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder), or food sleepwalking.

Sleep eating disorder and night eating syndrome

NSRED is a disorder characterized by nocturnal eating, of which the patient has no memory when waking up, and may occur in approximately 1 to 5% of adults. Like sleepwalking, it belongs to the family of parasomnias. Seizures thus occur during the first phases of sleep, during deep sleep.
It is thus distinguished from night eating syndrome, which is characterized by nocturnal but conscious food intake, and is considered an eating disorder.

Multiple factors involved

Typically, NSRED occurs in people with restrictive diets. Besides, Anthony admits it himself. “I think that at the beginning, it all started because I was doing a lot of sport, between 3 to 4 sessions a day, every day, and I wasn’t eating enough. I was down to 59kg, from my base weight of 66kg. My body had to find a way to compensate. »

If there’s any leftover in my fridge, I’m sure it will be finished overnight.

If today, the young man’s diet is much more flexible, and he has reduced his physical activity to one or two sessions per day, the problem persists. Over time, it even got worse. “At the beginning, I mainly ate yogurt or compotes. Then two years ago, I started making real meals based on pizzas or sandwiches. Today, if there is any leftover in my refrigerator, I am sure it will be finished overnight. »

Dr Pascale Ogrizek, a general practitioner specializing in sleep, also highlights the heredity of parasomnias. “Patients suffering from NSRED often have a family history, with a close family member having previously had sleepwalking attacks. » Indeed, Anthony’s father had several problems with sleepwalking, while Chris Perez’s aunt had been followed for sleep disorders for many years.

Also, it may be a symptom of another illness or an unwanted side effect of certain medications. Dr. Ogrizek cites the example of one of his patients, who had no history, and yet found his kitchen ransacked one morning. “By questioning him, I learned that he had ingested a sleeping pill that he was not used to, which may explain his behavior that night.”

The last factor also affecting sleep and eating disorders is of course stress. If he is not responsible for the phenomenon, he is sure to make it worse. The patient may thus see the frequency of their attacks increase, during periods of high stress.

What solutions?

For Ophélie Reisler, psychologist-clinician specializing in eating disorders (TCA), there are multiple avenues to consider for a cure. “As a first step, a consultation with a neurologist would be interesting, in order to exclude any neurological pathology, such as epilepsy for example. Also, we can take care of the person suffering from parasomnia by offering cognitive and behavioral therapy to re-educate sleep, or a few hypnosis sessions in order to change the mode of action during somnambulistic episodes, for example learning to return to sleep. bed. There are sleep centers that treat this type of problem.

Finally, we cannot neglect the psychological and dietary aspect of the problem, especially in patients like Anthony, with dietary hypercontrol. So, I would advise them to get help from a clinical psychologist, with the aim of finding a more peaceful relationship with food. »

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