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To sleep perchance to dream--sleep and eating disorders

Posted Jul 06 2009 7:39am

Lately, I've been thinking about sleep and the impact an eating disorder can have on it. Prior to my trip, we had a lot of bad weather here with rain and thunderstorms just about everyday. Some of these storms occurred in the early morning which would suddenly wake me. Then, I was up, the dogs were up, and neither of us could get back to sleep.

What just occurred to me was how my sleeping habits have changed since the introduction of an ED. Before ED, I was always a very sound sleeper. I could sleep through anything--thunder, lightning, rain, loud noises, etc. The house could have been robbed, and I would never have noticed. However, after ED began, I became a very light sleeper, waking up from subtle noises. In some ways this was good. If the dogs made a whimper or movement, I could wake up and let them out. At other times, this backfired, especially when all I wanted to do was sleep.

I also noticed that I've conditioned myself to wake up at about the same time every morning despite what time my head actually hits the pillow. This isn't an unusual phenomenon. Many people condition their bodies similarly unknowingly. This was made especially evident while I was in Pensacola, practically waking up at my usual time.

This made me think about the general question of how sleep affects eating disorder individuals. Does an ED affect the number of hours of sleep your body needs? Does it change a person's sleeping habits? What role does starvation have on sleep? Does weight restoration and recovery impact sleep quantitatively or qualitatively?

There's no doubt that sleep deprivation affects hormones and metabolism. Recent research has shown sleep deprivation as one reason for the increase of obesity worldwide . This article gives a thorough look at sleep deprivation, hormones, and metabolism.

But most of us have already heard about this, the rest of the research on sleep and eating disorders is scant. However, in sleep-wake studies, both those with anorexia and bulimia reported significant sleep disturbances on self reported questionnaires. A few other studies show that weight restoration helps those with anorexia in slow wave, deeper, nocturnal sleep as well as qualitative sleep. (Studies here and here ) In an interesting older study of the relationship of weight gain and sleep in 10 anorexic individuals, it confirmed how sleep changes during the weight restoration process through the use of EEGs..

It is my hope that there will be future studies on eating disorders and the role of sleep. I think it is a neglected area of research with important factors involved.

Has your ED affected your sleep/sleeping habits? Do you notice a difference in sleeping habits between periods of your eating disorder, i.e. at your worst period versus in recovery?

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