Restless nocturnal eating: a common feature of Willis-Ekbom Syndrome (RLS)

J Clin Sleep Med. 2012 Aug 15;8(4):413-9. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.2036.


Study objectives: To determine the frequency of nocturnal eating (NE) and sleep related eating disorder (SRED) in restless legs syndrome (RLS) versus psychophysiological insomnia (INS), and the relationship of these conditions with dopaminergic and sedative-hypnotic medications.

Design: Prospective case series.

Setting: Sleep disorders center.

Patients: Newly diagnosed RLS or INS.

Intervention: RLS or INS pharmacotherapy with systematic follow up interview for NE/SRED.

Measurements and results: Patients presenting with RLS (n = 88) or INS (n = 42) were queried for the presence of NE and SRED. RLS patients described nocturnal eating (61%) and SRED (36%) more frequently than INS patients (12% and 0%; both p < 0.0001). These findings were not due to arousal frequency, as INS patients were more likely to have prolonged nightly awakenings (93%) than RLS patients (64%; p = 0.003). Among patients on sedative-hypnotics, amnestic SRED and sleepwalking were more common in the setting of RLS (80%) than INS (8%; p < 0.0001). Further, NE and SRED in RLS were not secondary to dopaminergic therapy, as RLS patients demonstrated a substantial drop (68% to 34%; p = 0.0026) in the frequency of NE after dopamine agents were initiated, and there were no cases of dopaminergic agents inducing novel NE or SRED.

Conclusion: NE is common in RLS and not due to frequent nocturnal awakenings or dopaminergic agents. Amnestic SRED occurs predominantly in the setting of RLS mistreatment with sedating agents. In light of previous reports, these findings suggest that nocturnal eating is a non-motor manifestation of RLS with several clinical implications discussed here.

Keywords: Nocturnal eating; Willis-Ekbom Syndrome; benzodiazepines/benzodiazepine receptor agonists; dopaminergic therapy; psychophysiological insomnia; restless legs syndrome; sedative-hypnotics; sleep related eating disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Benzodiazepines / adverse effects
  • Comorbidity
  • Dopamine Agents / adverse effects
  • Dyssomnias / chemically induced
  • Dyssomnias / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / chemically induced
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / chemically induced
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / chemically induced
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Syndrome


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Hypnotics and Sedatives
  • Benzodiazepines