Well, sleep eating is more or less what it sounds, it's eating that happens at or around the time of sleep. There are various types of sleep eating problems that can actually be quite disruptive for folks and are very much meriting a consultation with a physician to figure out what's going on.
Let me tell you about different sleep eating problems that are out there. A type that I see is something that I see in my practice is called night eating syndrome. And that's a syndrome where greater than 25 percent of eating occurs after the last meal of the day, after dinner. And in some cases of night eating syndrome, eating can actually happen in the middle of the night. A person awakens in the middle of the night, has a real urge to eat and feels that they can't actually even get back to bed unless they're eating, something and sometimes those events can even turn into a binge type of eating. For someone struggling with night eating syndrome, that type of eating will happen quite regularly. So waking up in the middle of the night might happen two or three times a week or even more. That's something that's experienced consciously by a person and often what's happening in that type of syndrome is the person is also dieting or not eating very much in the earlier portion of the day, and part of the behavioral strategy in trying to remedy or address some of that eating that's going on at night is as simple as things like behavioral strategy of redistributing calories over the course of a day so that eating is a little bit more stable.
There's a different type of sleep eating problem that is actually a bit more like a sleep walking syndrome, or is associated with sleep walking, where a person gets up in the middle of the night and actually completely unconsciously or unaware that it's going on. They may walk into the kitchen and bump into things along the way. They may even injure themselves, and then again without being fully awake or alert at all may start eating various amounts of food. Even large amounts of food and the person may not even know it's happening. They may not know on a given night that they've done it. They may not know for several nights until maybe they wake up on a given morning and then see food wrappers and other evidence that it's going on. This can be a syndrome with medical ramification because a person can be waking up repetitively in the middle of the night eating out of their awareness, gaining weight, and not understanding the reasons why weight gain is occurring. So in any case, if any of these types of problems are going on consultation with some sort of mental health professional with experience in eating problems or even in some cases especially the types of sleep eating problems that are out of a person's awareness with a sleep specialist like a neurologist or another type of physician that has experience conducting sleep studies can be a tremendous benefit in trying to get to the bottom of what's going on with the sleep eating problem and beginning to address it.