Sleep eating disorders may have to do with the shutdown of the brain's frontal lobes during sleep. The remainder of the brain remains active and direct sleep eaters to get out of bed and find food, according to research from Dr. Carlos Schenck, a psychiatrist who has spent 20 years researching this topic.
"They can get up, they see their environment," Dr. Schenck said, "and they know where the kitchen is. However, they have no judgment, no inhibition - and that's the problem."
As part of his research, Dr. Schenck videotapes people who "sleep eat." When they watch themselves, their tapes are often quite upsetting to them.
"Patients who have a sleep behavioral disorder such as sleep eating, when they see the tape of themselves, they are truly shocked, saying, "My God, I didn't realize I was capable of doing this,'" said Dr. Schenck.
Sleep eaters usually have no memory of what happened or why they ate strange substances such as Elmer's glue and SOS soap pads. Some create dangers for themselves, for example, the patient who set fire to his house when he tried to cook napkins in his toaster.
"People have also cut their fingers chopping food," the psychiatrist said. "We're talking about major risk of injury during the night from both sleep eating and the associated sleep walking."
Dr. Schenck said that sleep disorders remain a mystery even to him, although he is one of the foremost experts in the world.
"It's not about willpower," he said. "It's not a psychological problem. It's a major physiological force coming from within your brain and body to eat at night so inappropriately."
Labels: sleep, sleep eating
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