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Sleep Terrors and Sleep Eating Disorder Explained

by Ultimate Sleep Staff

Sleeping isn’t exactly a restful activity for people who suffer from parasomnias, a group of sleeping disorders involving unwanted actions, experiences, and events that happen as the person affected is falling asleep, or sleeping, or just waking up. For these people, the abnormal movements, emotions and behaviors, even dreams, appear deliberate to others but these aren’t – the affected person actually remains asleep and wakes up with little to no memory of what happened.

Here, we will discuss two parasomnias that affect children and adults. You may be familiar with one of them, such as when you experience the symptoms or you have a family member who exhibits them. You can seek professional assistance for yourself or for your loved one, a piece of good news in an otherwise stressful time.

Sleep Terrors

Also known as night terrors, sleep terrors cause the affected person to wake up with a feeling of intense fear with little to no memory of a nightmare. The intense fear is such that there are actions that come with it, such as kicking, punching and thrashing about as well as a racing heart.

If you have it, you will typically sit up from your sleeping position suddenly and disturb others with a terrified scream, as if you have seen or experienced something terrifying. You may also shout or scream words that others won’t understand – babbling – as well as breathe and sweat heavily, as if you’ve been running hard. You may even actually run around and become violent when others try to intervene or restrain your bizarre action.

Your family members may try to wake you up by shaking your body and making loud noises but with little to no avail.  When you wake up, you will feel confused, perhaps not even know where you are and what’s happening.

You may not even have a memory of the event, and may or may not recall brief bits of a dream involving a terrifying person, place or event. You will feel that the dream actually happened so your family members can have a difficult time providing comfort or persuading you that it wasn’t real. Suffice it to say that successive episodes of sleep terrors will have a negative effect on your quality of life.

According to sleep scientists, sleep terror episodes often happens during the first third of the time during sleep, a time characterized by a slow-wave cycle. But in adults, these can occur at virtually any stage in the sleep cycle (i.e., REM and non-REM cycles).

Why the concern about sleep terrors in children and adults? Serious, even deadly, injuries can occur both the person affected and the persons restraining him, especially when there are violent actions on the part of the former.

Sleep Eating Disorder

Bingeing while awake is understandable. But bingeing while you’re only partially awake is another thing and it has a name – sleep-related eating disorder (SRED).

If you have it, you get up from your Beautyrest bed at odd hours of the night, go to your kitchen, and engage in compulsive binge eating and drinking behavior. You will likely have little to no memory of your eating spree but you seem to have no control over it. Your food combinations may either be strange or fattening, which may or may not be your usual eating behavior.

But there are also instances when affected persons are alert, as if they are in full control of their faculties or fully awake, when they binge eat after waking up during the night. They can recall most of the episode in the morning, too. For persons who are partially awake, however, it can be difficult to wake them up during the binge eating episode itself.

Regardless of whether you seem fully or partially awake, however, you can become irritated, angry and even violent in your attempts to resist another person’s attempt to stop your binge eating actions. Just as with sleep terrors, you and/or other persons can become injured due to the interference, no matter the good intentions behind it.

Each person with SRED engages in binge eating at a different frequency, duration and manner. You may, for example, have an episode almost every night but only eat once every episode, while another person can eat more than once every night but have an episode a few times each week only.

With these behaviors, it’s no wonder that people with SRED are at higher risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. There are also the risk of eating strange food combinations resulting in stomach pain, eating foods that contain allergens, and eating toxic substances.

Both sleep terrors and SRED are cause for concern for both the affected persons and their family members who witness the symptoms. Medical consultations are likely necessary to identify an underlying cause, such as an undetected or mismanaged health condition. Just remember that there’s hope for these sleeping disorders and it starts with your willingness to accept help from others and to help yourself.

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