There is a strong connection between sleep quality and eating disorders. The two tend to have a back-and-forth relationship, meaning that eating disorders can negatively impact sleep quality, and poor sleep quality can negatively impact the symptoms of eating disorders. This vicious cycle can severely affect one’s physical and mental health. Improving and enhancing sleep helps reduce eating disorder symptoms and vice versa.
How Do Eating Disorders Affect Sleep?
Eating disorders can negatively impact sleep due to their physical and psychological effects on the body. You may have different symptoms based on which eating disorder you suffer from, but poor sleep quality is often a side effect of eating disorders. The following are some ways different eating disorders affect sleep.
- Anorexia Nervosa: In individuals suffering from anorexia, food restriction and malnutrition can disrupt sleep patterns. Lack of adequate nutrition leads to difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and waking up early in the morning. Individuals suffering from anorexia may also experience anxiety and depression, which can contribute to sleep disturbances.
- Bulimia Nervosa: The binge-purge cycle that occurs with bulimia can disrupt sleep. Binge eating episodes often happen during the night, leading to discomfort and sleep interruptions. Purging behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting and laxative use, can also affect sleep because of gastrointestinal disturbances and abdominal discomfort.
- Binge Eating Disorder: Individuals suffering from binge eating disorder may have feelings of guilt, shame, and emotional distress associated with binge eating that can lead to insomnia or disrupted sleep. Eating large amounts of food close to bedtime can also cause discomfort, making it difficult to fall asleep (1).
Sleep Disorders That Affect Eating
Sleep disorders can also have an impact on eating and eating disorders.
Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED) is a sleep disorder characterized by unusual eating behaviors during sleep. Individuals with SRED are sleepwalking and consuming food without any memory of doing so. These episodes usually happen every night and often occur in a short period of time. This disorder also has added safety risks due to unintentional cuts, burns, and starting fires. You may be at higher risk for this disorder if you have an eating disorder, anxiety, depression, narcolepsy or if you take psychiatric medications.
Nocturnal eating syndrome (NES) is similar to SRED because it involves eating in the middle of the night. However, NES is considered an eating disorder and classified under the category of Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Individuals with nocturnal eating syndrome wake up several times a night and eat to fall back to sleep. They are fully awake during these episodes and have no trouble remembering that they ate during the night.
Regardless of being classified as a sleep or an eating disorder, both disorders contribute to feelings of guilt and shame, depression, increased sleep disruption, and health problems related to poor sleep quality and obesity. Some individuals suffering from these disorders compensate for overeating by restricting food during the day and excessively exercising to prevent weight gain2.
Can People With Eating Disorders Improve Their Sleep?
Improving your sleep involves establishing good sleep habits and creating a sleep-friendly environment. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medications to aid in sleep.
These are some basic steps you can take to achieve better sleep.
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to prepare your body for sleep.
- Create a comfortable and inviting sleeping space by investing in quality bedding.
- Ensure your sleep is not disturbed by light, noise, or an uncomfortable room temperature.
- Avoid using your phone or other electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed1.
Preventing Eating Disorders From Leading to Poor Sleep Quality
The most important thing you can do to prevent your eating disorder from affecting your sleep quality is to get professional help and treatment for your eating disorder. Addressing and treating the underlying eating disorder is crucial for improving sleep quality, ability to function, and overall well-being.
At Selah House, our team of eating disorder professionals will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your needs and goals. To learn more about how your life can improve through eating disorder treatment in a safe and caring environment, contact Selah House today at 866-324-8081.
- Suni, E. (2022, June 10). Eating disorders and sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/eating-disorders-and-sleep
- Cho, J, Lee, J. and Hong, S. (2020). Sleep-related eating disorder and nocturnal eating syndrome. Sleep Med Res, 11(2), 65-69. doi:https://doi.org/10.17241/smr.2020.00780
Kate Delaney Chen, BSN, RN-BC is a healthcare writer and registered nurse with over 17 years of bedside experience. She specializes in Psychiatric Nursing and Nephrology and currently works at a nationally recognized Inpatient Eating Disorders Program.