If you've been on a diet for any length of time, you've probably had days when you just didn't stick to it. You cracked and ate a lot of food which wasn't so good for you. You may even have eaten some weird food combinations.

For a few unfortunate folks, such binging is a fact of life - and they're not even awake to enjoy the food.

Sleep eaters make up around 1% of the population, and tend to be women. They get out of bed whilst still asleep, head for the kitchen, and often binge on high-fat, high-sugar snacks like chocolate. One woman, 54 year old Shirley Koecheler, told the New York Times:

I've gained seven pounds in the past two months. I bought the Easter candy for the kids and had my husband hide it, but I must have found it during the night. I found the wrappers in the wastebasket from the solid chocolate bunnies.

The technical name for the condition is nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED), and it isn't just a harmless quirk. As well as causing disrupted sleep and weight gain, it can lead to physical harm. Sufferers may injure themselves while preparing food, or eat something which they'd never consider in waking life - like nail varnish, or food that's frozen solid.

Taking sleeping pills, like the sedative Ambien, can actually make the problem worse. But, there are various treatments available, and new drugs being trialled. Many people afflicted by sleep eating are afraid to go to the doctor, though:

Sadly, many sleep eaters and others with related disorders suffer for years without telling their doctors because they consider it a personality quirk rather than a medical disorder... Others worry they'll be labeled with a mental illness, a notion that mental health experts now dismiss.

If you get up to snack in the middle of the night, your condition is probably more common than you think, and you can get medical help.

For those of us whose binges occur whilst awake, it's still worth considering how conscious you are at those times. For example, do you eat large quantities of chips and chocolate when you've had a few alcoholic drinks? Do you find yourself eating when you're very tired?

If you've had experience of sleep eating, it'd be great to hear your stories in the comments section...