Yes, football season has come to an end for me. My Saints nearly pulled off a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings, and I am certain my family up north is cheering up a storm. Though they are very kind people I am still in no mood for anything other than a Southern accent with a healthy dose of Creole seasoning. No offense to those of you north of Interstate 20; I just need to hunker down South for a few and not speak to any Fran Tarkenton fans.

Along with this Saints loss we have a friendly competitive weight loss challenge among friends. A small group of us is more or less trying to hold each other accountable for an exercise program that includes semi-healthy habits we as a group have come to ignore. For example, we gain points by working out for a half hour. We lose points by drinking soda pop.

The hardest for me is the loss of points for eating after 9 p.m. This isn’t because I eat dinner that late (I always have the table set and ready to go by at least 8:15 p.m. everyday), but because I have an odd condition where I sleep eat. I’m like a gremlin. In the middle of the night, I rise from my bed and float to the kitchen, never waking from my slumber. I terrorize the refrigerator, seeking leftovers, deli meat, pre-sliced cheese and pickles.

How do I know this? I leave evidence. Silverware, unwashed dishes, paper towels and other telltale signs of icebox disturbance litter the kitchen. The following morning is what I imagine a werewolf feels like the day after a full moon, piecing together the clues at the scene of his very own crime in his tattered, mustard-stained clothing covered in breadcrumbs and Dorito powder.

I’m afflicted by some kind of midnight snack lycanthropy, only I have yet to find the trigger that causes it. Family studies show that while drinking enhances it, it isn’t the cause. Sober as a judge, I still may wake the next morning to find a spoon with peanut butter residue resting on the edge of the sink. Perhaps I should pay more attention to the lunar calendar.

It’s a little funny when you first hear of this, but it’s problematic when you want to lose 15 pounds. I figured it was worth looking into and found that my problem isn’t as rare as I once thought. It’s called sleep-related eating disorder (SRED).

It’s hilarious to me that there is an actual name assigned to my lust for potato chips at the witching hour, but I am one of the fortunate ones that sees this dreaded disorder come and go. Upon further investigation, I’ve found many do it daily, often multiple times per night. My bouts may happen once or twice in a week followed by a welcomed hibernation period of months before another episode. I can’t imagine having an extra meal every night. I’d be dangerously obese and, more importantly, broke.

All kidding aside, SRED is potentially dangerous. After researching several websites including WebMD, sleepassociation.org and sleepeducation.org, I have found they all warn of the common dangers of SRED. People who suffer from late-night sleep eating have the potential to harm themselves by handling cutlery or even cooking in their sleep. I’ve committed both of these crimes without injury, but it’s only a matter of time before I get burned or cut.

There’s also the danger associated with the sleepwalking aspect of the illness such as running into the walls or stubbing your toes, but I already do that when I’m wide awake.

Other dangers have yet to affect me, but are common enough to make it to the pages of these sleep studies. Apparently there is a problem with people drinking toxic substances such as cleaning products. I may pound a Nehi peach an hour before sunrise, but the Pine-Sol is safe from me.

Strange combinations of foods such as coffee grounds or raw bacon can be dangerous, but more than one website mentioned buttered cigarettes! I’m telling you enough about myself when I admit to sautéing an onion in butter and covering it with a square or two of American cheese without any recollection, but if I were to eat a cigarette rolled in butter like corn on the cob, then I’d beg to you send me off for some kind of evaluation.

So what causes SRED? Not sure, but it could be many things. Often SRED can develop when someone already has a sleep disorder. I come from a family of vampires who get five to six hours per night, so maybe genetics plays a role.

Stress is considered a high candidate as a trigger. There isn’t a person I know who doesn’t think he or she has stress in his life, so maybe that’s a tough one to pin it on unless the bouts come only when extra stress is involved. Exercising to excess is thought to play a role in late-night dining. I’ll cut that out immediately.

From my limited research I’ve concluded it is best to keep a diary of what you eat and how you sleep and look for patterns of when SRED occurs (or, more importantly for some, when it doesn’t occur) and remove whatever triggers you may find. Until then you may have to keep the calories at bay by stocking only gross, healthy foods.

This has been a bit of an eye-opener for me, knowing others suffer from this and may put themselves dangerously in harm’s way. I’m just thankful there’s a giant bag of pretzels in my pantry instead of cigarettes. As for my friendly weight loss contest, I may have to resort to drastic measures and padlock the fridge in case this demon returns. If you are one of the few who suffer worse than I, consult a physician, and make sure he doesn’t giggle.