BOSTON—Patients with restless legs syndrome (RLS) are more likely to engage in nocturnal eating or have sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) than patients with psychophysiologic insomnia, according to research presented at the 26th Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. Dopaminergic agents reduced nocturnal eating and SRED by approximately half among patients with RLS. These findings help confirm that the unusual eating behaviors seen in RLS patients are not caused by dopaminergic agents.
Nocturnal eating, defined as breaking the overnight fast more than twice a month, can be dysfunctional or normal. “I would speculate that, in many cases, nocturnal eating is actually an intrinsic feature of RLS,” said Michael J. Howell, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “It’s not merely an association, but it’s actually part of the condition.” Nocturnal eating has been associated with RLS since its original description. In 1960, Karl Ekbom wrote: “They often have to get up and walk ‘like a caged bear,’ to quote one of my patients, or they go into the kitchen and get something to eat.”
A Restless Basis for Nocturnal Eating?
Dr. Howell and colleagues followed consecutive adult patients with difficulty falling asleep because of RLS or psychophysiologic insomnia to determine whether nocturnal eating in RLS is a product of the patient’s awakenings or whether its roots are intrinsic to RLS. The researchers also sought to examine whether patients with RLS were more likely to manifest SRED when they were exposed to sedatives and to determine whether dopaminergic drugs affected nocturnal eating behavior.