AT LEAST four million Americans are trapped in a living nightmare. They all suffer from a bizarre disorder called the night-eating syndrome or NES.
The strange affliction compels victims to raid refrigerators and kitchen cupboards to satisfy their uncontrollable craving for food — while they are still sound asleep!
NES can get so out of control and destructive that sufferers often plead with family and friends to padlock refrigerators, lock them in their rooms, or even handcuff them to the bed.
LITTLE IS KNOWN
“This is a real and very disturbing medical condition that can play havoc with the lives of many people,” Dr. Carl Hunt told The ENQUIRER. “Little was known about it until a few years ago when it was established that it is a bona fide sleep disorder and not a psychological aberration.
“At that point, researchers began to study it more intensely,” said Dr. Hunt, director of the Bethesda, Md.-based National Center on Sleep Disorders Research. “There are no up-to-date statistics on how many people in the U.S. suffer from NES, but a fair estimate is four million sufferers.
“As more and more people come forward, this is rapidly becoming an important area of research — particularly because there is still no known cure.” Some victims become convinced they are going mad. They wake up and find food in their bed and scraps on the kitchen table that weren’t there the night before.
LOCKED UP AT NIGHT
One woman worried about the disorder so much that she instructed her roommate to lock her in the bedroom — then found she could not get to sleep at all because she was terrified of being trapped if a fire broke out.
Another victim tried locking her food in her car at night — only to wake up in the morning and find food she had retrieved from the vehicle, half-eaten and strewn all over her kitchen.
Sleep disorder expert Dr. Neil B. Kavey of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York says that even if a sleep-eater wakes up in the middle of the behavior it is very hard to stop.
“If a person is sleepwalking to the kitchen and wakes up fully, they are still usually driven to continue because they feel so hungry.”
HARD TO TREAT
There is no single treatment. But Dr. Kavey says the condition can often be alleviated by combining behavioral control and medication.
However, the disorder persists for many who exhaust all avenues of help, according to Lea Montgomery, B.S.N., M.S., who specializes in the problem and teaches at Texas Christian University’s Harris School of Nursing in Fort Worth.
“It’s an amazing disorder which leaves people frustrated and depressed,” said Montgomery. “It interferes with their relationships at work and at home. It invades every part of their lives.
“If you have this problem, seek help and don’t give up hope.” For more information on NES, visit: www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sleep. — BILL BURT