Updated at: 05-01-2022 - By: Jane Brody

People with eating problems are estimated to affect 30 million people in the United States. 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.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that sleep deprivation may be a contributing factor to eating disorders, which have been linked to sleep deprivation. Even while this relationship’s exact nature is uncertain, most research suggests a complicated, multilayered interaction.

A greater understanding of the relationship between sleep and eating disorders can be beneficial for those who suffer from either of these diseases. Improving sleep can help some people feel better and perhaps lessen the symptoms of eating disorders.

An additional treatment option for those suffering from eating problems is to work on their sleep hygiene. Phone and online chat services are available from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) hotline for people with eating disorders and those who care for them.

What Are Eating Disorders?

There are various mental health issues characterized by irregular eating habits that go under the umbrella term of “eating disorders. Many of these habits are linked to negative attitudes or sentiments about food, weight, and body image.

Eating problems afflict millions of American citizens. Eating disorders can affect anyone, but they are more common among women and young adults.

Some people suffer from a wide range of eating disorders. Binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, and anorexia nervosa are the most common eating disorders. Although all eating disorders can have an impact on sleep, night eating syndrome is the one that has the most direct impact on sleep.

Binge Eating Disorder

Most people have a Binge Eating Disorder (BED). 2.8 percent of the population is anticipated to be affected at some point in their lives.

Those who suffer from binge eating disorders are unable to control their food intake. Episodes sometimes involve consuming significant quantities of food in a short period of time and then continuing to consume food even though one is already satisfied. Anxiety and depression are common side effects of binge eating. Anyone can develop a binge eating disorder, but those who are overweight or obese are more likely to do so.

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Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa, like those with binge eating disorders, have periods 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.

About one percent of the population will suffer from bulimia nervosa at some point in their lives, according to research. Consistent vomiting and other forms of purging can have major health repercussions. Some people who suffer from bulimia nervosa are overweight or underweight depending on their specific circumstances.

Anorexia Nervosa

As a result of their great desire to be slim, anorexics often restrict their food intake to the point of starvation. People with anorexia often believe they are overweight even though they are severely underweight.

Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa exist. Restrictive diets limit the amount of food a person can eat. In addition to reducing eating, the binge-purge type incorporates actions like vomiting or taking laxatives in an effort to maximize weight loss.

Malnourishment can be life-threatening if there is not enough food consumed. In terms of mental health diseases, anorexia nervosa is the most deadly. Anorexia nervosa affects an estimated.6 percent of the population at some point in their lives, according to research.

Night Eating Syndrome

An estimated 1.5% of the population suffers 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 prone to insomnia. Eating can be perceived as a necessity to get back to sleep if you wake up several times in the middle of the night.

Obesity and night-eating syndrome go hand in hand. Anguish and sleep disruptions can produce daytime tiredness and impairment due to the emotional distress caused by it.

The circadian rhythm is thought to be out of sync in people who suffer from the night-eating syndrome. A person’s circadian rhythm regulates a wide range of body activities.

What Causes Eating Disorders?

It’s impossible to pinpoint the exact etiology of an eating disorder, but researchers believe it’s a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, social, and other influences.

Eating disorders do not develop as a result of a person’s personal preferences or habits. Rather, they are medical disorders with complex biochemical roots that are difficult to diagnose.

Families with a history of eating disorders may have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder, which supports a probable genetic link. Social and cultural influences, self-image issues, and other emotional challenges can all contribute to an individual’s susceptibility to developing a disordered eating pattern.

What’s the Relationship Between Sleep and Eating Disorders?

Many studies have found a strong correlation between eating disorders and sleep disturbances. ‘ 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.

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Sleep and eating problems are thought to have a two-way interaction. Sleep deprivation may exacerbate the symptoms of an eating problem, and vice versa is true when it comes to eating disorders.

Examples of this type of relationship between the two parties include:

  • Of the 500 women who were studied, 25-30% of those with eating disorders were found to have sleeplessness symptoms while just 5 percent of those without eating disorders were found to have such symptoms.
  • During a seven-year follow-up study of more than 12,000 young adults, those who had been diagnosed with an eating disorder were more likely to experience sleep issues.
  • Sleeping problems have been linked to more severe eating disorder symptoms and a poorer response to treatment in people with eating disorders.
  • Purging has been connected to a decline in sleep quality and daytime impairment symptoms. The physical impacts of these activities may make it difficult to get to sleep and to stay asleep, as well.
  • 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 a binge eating disorder were shown to have much greater sleep issues than those who did not have the disease.
  • Insomnia is a common cause of the night-eating syndrome. Circadian rhythm disturbances may have a significant role in the development of the disorder.

In order to improve our knowledge of the connection between sleep and eating disorders, further study is needed. However, what is known so far indicates multiple connections that can be helpful to patients and health care providers alike.

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. Sleep, nutrition, and mental health are all intertwined in intricate ways that make it difficult to pin down exactly what causes one to affect the other.

There are a number of theories as to how sleep and eating disorders are linked.

  • There may be a link between eating disorders and insomnia because of mental health issues including depression and anxiety. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorders are all associated with a high percentage of patients who suffer from depression or anxiety. Sleep is frequently disrupted by these mental health disorders, and the other way around.
  • The quality of your sleep and how tired you are during the day can be influenced by your eating habits and the nutrients you consume. Sleep and wakefulness are controlled by the synthesis of chemicals and hormones that are affected by anorexia.
  • Hormones that control hunger and fullness are produced in the body when you sleep. Hormone levels might be disrupted by sleep disturbances.
    Purging or over-exercising can alter sleep patterns or make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.
  • When the circadian cycle is disrupted, it can cause night-eating syndrome and other eating problems.
  • Drugs that are taken to treat eating disorders and other mental health concerns may have an impact on sleep quantity and quality.

Eating disorders and sleep are linked by several factors, and further research is needed to better understand the underlying causes of this relationship.

Sleep Disorders That Affect Eating

Sleep disorders that affect eating are as numerous as eating disorders linked to sleep deprivation or inability to sleep.

A person with a sleep-related eating disorder (SERD) wakes up in the middle of the night to eat. There is no conscious awareness of one’s actions throughout these episodes. It is possible that kids will eat food that has gone bad or be exposed to potentially harmful substances.

An aberrant behavior sleep condition known as parasomnia is what SERD is like. SERD is distinct from night eating syndrome in that the person is unaware of what they are putting in their mouths.

Other sleep disorders may also influence eating patterns. Affecting hormones that regulate hunger is a possibility with sleep disorders. In addition to impairing memory and concentration, sleep deprivation has been shown to have a negative impact on mood and appetite regulation. a Reliable Resource NIH’s National Center for Biotechnology Information and the National Library of Medicine By making biomedical and genetic data readily available, the National Center for Biotechnology Information contributes to the advancement of both science and health. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

Getting Help With Sleep and Eating Disorders

People who suffer from eating disorders have a fighting chance. The effectiveness of many treatment options may be enhanced by taking steps to improve sleep quality.

What Are the Treatments for Eating Disorders?

Doctors and/or psychiatrists are often involved in coordinating treatment for eating problems. One or several approaches may be used in treatment, depending on the patient’s needs and circumstances.

Treatment often includes counseling as a key component. When it comes to treating mental health issues, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular option. As an alternative, family members and friends might participate in behavioral therapies that focus on fostering better eating habits.

Mental health medications can also be provided to help treat the symptoms of eating disorders. Eating disorders may be less severe if depression and/or anxiety are lessened in this manner.

Families, friends, and organizations and support groups can all be valuable resources for those struggling with eating disorders. Support can help many people overcome the stigma attached to eating disorders and better manage their health as a result.

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How Can People With Eating Disorders Improve Their Sleep?

It’s nearly always a good idea to make an effort to improve your sleep quality because it’s so important for so many different elements of your health. Improved sleep may have an even greater impact on the symptoms of an eating disorder for those who suffer from it.

The first step is to tell your doctor or psychiatrist about any sleep problems you’ve been having. 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. Creating a sleep environment that is conducive to a good night’s rest is an important part of this process. While there are numerous techniques to improve your sleep hygiene, the following are particularly significant:

  • Using the same bedtime and wake-up time every day, even on weekends.
  • Sleeping, in the same way, each night
  • 30 minutes of screen-free time before bed and resisting the temptation to check your phone while you’re still in your PJs
  • Investing in a comfortable and supportive mattress and sheets for your bedroom
  • Take measures to ensure that light, noise, or an uncomfortable bedroom temperature do not disrupt your sleep.

Light therapy, which employs a specific lamp to replicate daylight and deliver a concentrated dose of light in the morning, has shown promising results in the early stages of research on persons with the night-eating syndrome.

In light treatment, the primary goal is to improve circadian rhythm, which is strongly tied to light exposure. Some mood disorders, such as SAD (seasonal affective disorder), are treated using light treatment.

There has to be more research done to see if light treatment can be used to treat the night-eating syndrome. As a result, anyone considering light treatment should consult with their physician about the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

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