What Are Eating Disorders? Are there links between Eating Disorders And Sleep? Update 12/2022

More than 30 million people in the United States suffer from eating disorders, which can cause both physical and mental harm. Over the past three decades, the last week of February has been designated as Eating Disorder Awareness Week is a time to bring attention to the problem of eating disorders and to offer support and information to those who are struggling with it.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that sleep deprivation may be linked to an increased risk of developing an eating issue. Most research suggests a complicated, multilayered connection, while the exact nature of it is yet understood.

People who suffer from sleep or eating disorders can have a better understanding of their situation by learning about the connections between the two. In certain circumstances, improved sleep might help alleviate the symptoms of an eating issue.

An additional treatment option for those suffering from eating problems is to work on their sleep hygiene. People with eating disorders and their loved ones can call or chat with the National Eating Disorders Association’s (NEDA) helpline for immediate support and information.

What Are Eating Disorders?

An eating disorder is a condition characterized by irregular eating patterns and associated mental health issues. Problematic thoughts and attitudes regarding food, weight, and/or body image are usually linked to these activities.

Eating problems afflict tens of millions of Americans. Eating disorders can affect anyone, but they are more common among women and young people.

Eating problems can in a variety of forms. Binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa are the most common eating disorders. Eating disorders can all interfere with a person’s ability to sleep, but the night-eating syndrome is the one that has the most direct impact on it.

A man who has a nighttime sleep-related eating disorder is sleep eating as he sits in front of an open refrigerator eating ice cream out of the carton, oblivious to everything around him because he is actually sleeping.

Binge Eating Disorder

The most common eating disorder is Binge Eating Disorder. An estimated 2.8% of the population will experience it at some time in their lives.

Binge eating disorder is characterized by unrestrained overeating. Eating a lot in a short period of time and continuing to eat even when you are full are common features of episodes. Binge eating can lead to feelings of shame and guilt, as well as physical discomfort. Anyone can develop a binge eating disorder, but those who are overweight or obese are more likely to succumb to it.

Bulimia Nervosa

Similar to persons who suffer from binge eating disorders, those with bulimia nervosa suffer from episodes of excessive food consumption. In order to counterbalance the effects of binge eating, patients with this disease engage in purging behaviors, such as vomiting, exercising excessively, using laxatives or water pills, or fasting.

Bulimia nervosa is said to afflict one in every a hundred persons at some point in their lives. Consistent vomiting and other purging practices might have major effects on one’s health. People with bulimia nervosa might be underweight, medium weight, or overweight depending on their unique circumstances.

Alcoholic sleeping on couch

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a drastic reduction in food intake in order to achieve an extreme bodyweight loss. People with anorexia often believe they are overweight even though they are severely underweight.

Anorexia nervosa can be divided into two distinct forms. Restrictive diets limit the amount of food a person can eat. Binge purge is a type of eating disorder that involves reducing food intake while simultaneously engaging in behaviors like vomiting or taking laxatives in an attempt at weight loss.

Malnourishment can be life-threatening if you don’t eat enough. The greatest fatality rate of all mental health diseases is anorexia nervosa (AN). Anorexia nervosa affects approximately 0.6 percent of the population at some point throughout their lives, according to research.

Night Eating Syndrome

Around 1.5 percent of persons are thought to suffer from the night-eating syndrome. Between 25% and 50% of a person’s daily calorie intake is consumed post-dinner. As a general rule, they aren’t hungry in the morning but crave food at night.

People who suffer from the night-eating syndrome are more likely to suffer from insomnia. When a person wakes up frequently during the night, eating may be considered an essential part of getting back to sleep.

Obesity and night-eating syndrome go hand in hand. Sleep deprivation has been linked to daytime sleepiness and impairment, as well as feelings of shame or guilt.

A disrupted circadian rhythm is thought to be the cause of the night-eating syndrome. A person’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, helps regulate a wide range of physical functions.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are thought to be caused by a mix of genetic, environmental, social, and other variables. The actual cause of eating disorders is unknown.

When discussing eating disorders, it is crucial to underline that they are not caused by lifestyle decisions. Rather, they are medical illnesses with complex biological roots that require extensive treatment.

Families with a history of eating disorders may have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder, which supports a probable genetic link. Eating disorders may be influenced by social and cultural influences, concerns about body image, and other mental issues.

What’s the Relationship Between Sleep and Eating Disorders?

There is a strong correlation between eating disorders and sleeping issues. An eating disorder isn’t present in everyone who has trouble sleeping, and vice versa. Nevertheless, the frequency with which these problems crop up suggests a connection between them.

The association between eating disorders and sleep is widely accepted by professionals. This means that eating disorders can interfere with sleep, which in turn can exacerbate the symptoms of an eating disorder by causing sleep disturbances.

Bidirectional relationships include, but are not limited to

  • According to a study of more than 500 college-aged women, 25-30% of those with recognized eating disorders reported sleeplessness symptoms, compared to only 5% of those who did not have eating disorders.
  • Observational research of almost 12,000 young adults found that a diagnosis of an eating disorder was associated with sleep issues over the course of seven years.
  • Sleeping problems have been linked to more severe eating disorder symptoms and a poorer response to treatment in people with eating disorders.
  • Poor sleep and signs of daytime impairment have been connected to purging practices. Getting to sleep and stay asleep might be a challenge because of the physical effects of these habits
  • More sleep interruptions, lower quality sleep, and less time spent in restorative deep and REM stages have all been seen in persons with anorexia nervosa.
  • Binge eaters are more likely to have short sleep durations, according to an observational study.
  • Pregnant women with binge eating disorders had much more sleep issues, according to a recent analysis of the data.
  • Insomnia is usually associated with a condition known as a night-eating syndrome. Circadian rhythm disturbances, which can affect sleep, are thought to be a significant cause of the disorder.

Although additional research is needed to better understand the link between sleep disturbances and eating disorders, the current corpus of research indicates multiple links that can be of use to both patients and health care professionals.

What Is the Cause of the Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Sleep?

In terms of sleep and eating problems, as well as the relationships between the two, there is a great deal of unanswered research. Because sleep, diet, and mental health are so intertwined, determining what drives their relationship is incredibly difficult.

Researchers, on the other hand, have proposed a number of theories about how sleep and eating disorders may interact.

  • Depression and anxiety may play a role in the link between eating disorders and insomnia. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder sufferers are more likely to have a mood or anxiety issue. Depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are all known to affect sleep, and vice versa.
  • Sleep quality and daytime sleepiness may be affected by a person’s diet and food intake. Anorexia nervosa patients’ brain chemistry, particularly the generation of sleep- and wake-regulating neurotransmitters and hormones, is altered by malnutrition.
  • A good night’s sleep directly affects the synthesis of hormones that regulate hunger and satiety. Sleep deprivation has the potential to change hormone levels and, as a result, eating habits.
  • Purging or over-exercising can alter sleep patterns or make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
  • It is possible that night-eating syndrome and other eating disorders are linked to circadian rhythm disturbances.
  • Sleep quantity and quality may be affected by medications administered to treat eating disorders and related mental health concerns.

Many of these components could be present in any individual’s case, and further research is needed to better understand the link between eating disorders and insomnia.

Sleep Disorders That Affect Eating

Additionally, there are sleep disorders that have an effect on the way people eat.

A person with a sleep-related eating disorder (SERD) eats when they are asleep. The person is in a sleep-like state throughout these episodes and is unaware of their actions. As a result, they run the risk of ingesting stale food or other potentially harmful elements.

As with sleepwalking and sleep talking, SERD falls under the umbrella term of parasomnia, which refers to aberrant sleep behavior. SERD is distinct from night eating syndrome in that the person is unaware of what they are putting in their mouths.

Sleep apnea, insomnia, and other sleep disorders can all affect a person’s eating habits. Hormones that regulate hunger may be affected by sleep deprivation disorders. In addition to impairing memory and concentration, sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative impact on mood and appetite regulation.

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Getting Help With Sleep and Eating Disorders

People suffering from eating disorders have options. Treating symptoms with various methods can be successful, and actions to improve sleep may enhance the efficiency of those methods.

What Are the Treatments for Eating Disorders?

A doctor or psychiatrist usually oversees the process of treating patients with eating disorders. Treatment can be customized to meet the specific needs of the patient and may include a variety of methods.

In many cases, counseling is a key component of treatment. As an example, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) examines and reorients negative thinking that can lead to undesirable behavior. Family members and the establishment of new routines to promote healthier eating habits are examples of other sorts of behavioral therapy.

Mental health medications can also be provided to help treat the symptoms of eating disorders. The severity of eating disorders can be reduced by reducing depression and/or anxiety.

Families, friends, and support groups can also offer assistance to those with eating disorders. Many patients with eating disorders benefit from the support of others in their battle against the ailment.

How Can People With Eating Disorders Improve Their Sleep?

If you want to improve your health, it’s nearly always a good idea to focus on obtaining more sleep. Better sleep may provide additional benefits for persons with eating disorders.

It’s a good idea to tell your doctor or therapist about any problems you’re having sleeping. Some of the symptoms you’re experiencing could indicate that you have a sleep issue that can be treated right away to improve your quality of rest.

Another way to get a better night’s rest is to improve your sleep habits. To do this, you must cultivate good sleeping habits and create a sleeping environment that is conducive to restful sleep. Even though there are many techniques to improve your sleep hygiene, some of the most crucial aspects include:

  • Maintaining a consistent sleep and waking schedule, even on the weekends.
  • Using the same process each night to get ready for bed
  • At the very least, 30 minutes of screen time before going to bed, and avoiding the temptation to check your phone while you’re still asleep
  • Investing in a comfortable and supportive mattress and sheets for your bedroom
  • Light, noise, or an uncomfortable temperature in your bedroom can all disrupt your sleep. Take precautionary measures to ensure that your sleep is uninterrupted.

Early studies have revealed that light therapy, which employs a specific lamp to replicate daylight and offer a concentrated dose of light in the morning, maybe beneficial for persons with night eating syndrome.

When it comes to light therapy, the goal is to improve the circadian rhythm, which is strongly linked to light exposure. The seasonal affective disorder can potentially be treated with light treatment.

Light therapy may or may not play a role in the treatment of night eating syndrome. This is why anyone who is considering light treatment should consult with their doctor about the potential advantages and hazards.

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