Woes of Narcolepsy Nightly Binge-Eating

Binge eating is a complicated issue with many possible sources of cause, from psychological to neurochemical. New medications are being developed that reduce binge-eating cravings. However, if the source of the cravings are psychological, or related to a sleep disorder like narcolepsy, medication may not be a hard-and-fast fix.

As a person with narcolepsy, my binge-eating is worsened by my sleep disorder. When I am untreated for narcolepsy, unable to get my medications, my binge-eating behaviors increase tenfold!

Waking up to an empty plate

One of the ways in which narcolepsy worsens my binge-eating behavior is due to automatic behaviors. These are behaviors that we experience in between states of wake and asleep. We don’t really realize what we are doing, but our body keeps doing it.1

Another example of automatic behaviors due to narcolepsy sleepiness is what happens when I fall asleep but keep taking notes during class. When I finally “come to,” I realize that my notes are simply scribbles! My body kept taking notes, but my consciousness was not present to direct the content of the notes.

In the case of binge-eating, narcolepsy automatic behaviors are a major trigger. It is easy to doze off while eating, only to wake up to an empty plate or an empty bag of food – and a tummy ache.

A vicious cycle

Some time ago I was gifted a box of Andes Mints from a friend of mine. I woke up in the dead of night, as I often do, with my stomach growling in hunger pains. I crept to my cabinet half-asleep. I told myself I would stop after two pieces, but I was groggy, and the flavor was so good - sweet and chocolatey and minty all at once. I was lost in the flavors, in the dreamy sensations.

Pretty soon, I realized I’d eaten half of the box! I disposed of the wrappers shamefully, and gave away the rest of the mint chocolates to another friend. My tummy ached the rest of the night, and I was too ashamed to eat breakfast in the morning. I told myself that it was because I had eaten enough calories for breakfast already.

But the truth is, I felt like I had to punish myself for letting myself binge-eat. However, restricting meals after a binge-eating episode is a great way for me to increase hunger and the chances of having another binge-eating episode. It’s a vicious cycle.

Hunger pains

I am grateful that my narcolepsy medications help reduce my binge-eating episodes by reducing my sleepiness. However, those intense nightly hunger cravings still hit hard. I lay in bed awake at night, stomach panging with hunger, and have to force myself to find something else to do. Or simply lay in bed for an hour or two, just waiting for sleep to find me again. (Because narcolepsy doesn’t just affect my waking hours - it also causes intense and frequent bouts of insomnia!)

Waiting for the nightly hunger pains to pass is difficult, to say the least. And although this feels embarrassing to talk about, I had to write this article because I know I can’t be the only one that struggles with this!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Narcolepsy.Sleep-Disorders.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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