T Nation

Sleep Eating: The Ultimate Excuse

Ok, now I think I’ve heard just about everything.


Bloomfield woman never dreamed her problem was sleep eating

Pigging out nightly without waking up

Wednesday, December 10, 2003
By Byron Spice, Post-Gazette Science Editor

For a woman who ate little besides strawberries, apples and cottage cheese, Susan Fair had an extremely hard time controlling her weight.

Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette

A wiser – and thinner – Susan Fair at Heritage Shadyside Nursing Home.
Click photo for larger image.

Despite her careful eating habits, her weight over a 20-year period had sometimes fluctuated wildly. Though never a petite woman, she went through periods when she would mysteriously pack on the pounds. At one point, she tipped the scales at almost 260 pounds.

But the mystery began to dissipate three years ago when her husband, Dana, began to notice all of the food crumbs, wrappers and boxes that littered the bedroom floor of their Bloomfield apartment each morning.

It turned out that Fair, 51, is a sleep eater.

A disorder akin to sleep walking, sleep eating occurs when someone becomes partially aroused from a deep sleep. Though unconscious, the person nevertheless can get up, walk around and pig out. And, like a sleepwalker, the sleep eater will have no recollection of this nocturnal noshing the next morning.

As careful as Fair was with her diet when she was awake, she was heedless when asleep.

“I could eat, like, a whole box of cereal,” she recalled. “If someone had given us a box of candy, I’d eat that. I would dig out all of the treats in a carton of ice cream. … It was all of the stuff I would never permit myself to eat.”

And she was oblivious to all of it. Looking back, she suspects it began about 20 years ago, noting that her periods of weight gain seemed to occur while she was married (Dana is her third husband) or while she was living with a boyfriend, or with relatives.

When she lived by herself, she explained, she kept little in the refrigerator besides fruit. “I’ve always been a person who wanted to be skinny,” she said, “but I’m a big girl.” It was only when she was living with a man, or in somebody else’s house, that cookies, candies and other junk food would be within her sleepy reach.

“My sisters used to laugh at me,” Fair said. “They’d say, ‘You can always tell when Susie’s happy because she gains weight.’ And I thought, I know I’m happy, but I can’t be that happy.”

Even though she was unaware of her nighttime habits, there were hints all along. While staying at her sister’s house during one period, her brother-in-law couldn’t help but notice her kitchen raids while he was watching late night television.

“He said, ‘Susie, you come down every night and eat cookies and never say a word,’” she recalled. But the two often kidded each other and she shrugged off his comments.

But when her husband began stepping on the evidence – and her family physician warned her that her excessive weight could be leading to heart problems – she sought help and was referred to Dr. Daniel Buysse, a sleep medicine specialist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

Sleep deprivation, irregular sleep patterns, alcohol use and stress can all contribute to sleep walking and sleep eating. In Fair’s case, Buysse prescribed drug treatment.

Benzodiazepines – a group of drugs typically referred to as “sleeping pills” – often are effective, he said, probably because they suppress arousal.

Fair, a licensed practical nurse at the Heritage Shadyside nursing center in Squirrel Hill, wasn’t crazy about taking the pills and eventually tried several types before finding the right one. But the effect has been dramatic.

She still occasionally has her midnight rambles, but she can tell that the number of excursions is down substantially just by reading her bathroom scale.

“I have lost probably 80 pounds over a two-year period,” she said.

So after 20 years of this, her third husband was the first to notice the crumbs and empty pachages on the bedroom floor in the morning? Never a single “damn, I’d have swore there was like, a case of Oreos here just yesterday. Now there’s just empty boxes. Where’d they go?”?

What next? “Sleep Killers”?

hahahaha. i wish i could do that! i have trouble eating when i get up at night.

and why would she have the cookies and junk anyway? wouldn’t she notice that she was buying like 5 boxes of cookies a week? lol what a retard.

If I could, I’d stab her with a fork.

Right on morg! How do you not notice the missing food?!