Thursday, July 2, 2009

To sleep perchance to dream-sleep and eating disorders

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 effects 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 both 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?


Just Eat It! said...

The ED has definitely disturbed my sleeping habits. For a long time, I would deprive myself of sleep because it wasn't "productive." I also had this fear that I would dream of food, so I rarely got the deep sleep that I needed.

Now, in recovery, I still have some trouble sleeping. It's not as bad, though. I still wake up at a ridiculous hour of the morning at the exact same time everyday. But I'm not terrified of dreaming about food anymore.

Cammy said...

The metabolism-sleep link is an interesting one, because as people age they tend to sleep less and less at night, but to nap more during the day. This coincides with slowing metabolism, although correlation in no way implies causation. I say we sic Carrie on the topic. ;)

Cammy said...

Oh, I didn't answer your question. My sleep was definitely disrupted during periods of strict restriction and low weight. This was partly due to my heart palpitations, too. I have never required that much sleep, though, ever since I was a kid I have only needed/wanted about 7 hours a night, even when I didn't have to get up for school or work. It's funny how different people are wired differently for that, I have one brother that is like me, and another that can easily sleep 12 hours at a time.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes when I try to sleep, I have trouble drifting off because I'm interrupted by either my stomach growling or by some sort of heart act-up.
I also wake up at random intervals during the night.
After a while of this, I become so tired that I will literally sleep for fourteen hours trying to catch myself up for all the sleep that I've missed.
I dream about food constantly.

Kim said...

My ED has definitely affected my sleeping. I think it's related to hormones, actually. My mom started going through menopause when I was anorexic and I swear we had the same sleep difficulties! I used to be a very, very sound sleeper before my ED. I could sleep anywhere, anytime. Since my ED, I've had more fights with my bed than I'd like. And, being very rule-based, I still notice that I can't "sleep in"; I just get up at the same time regardless. I know I love sleep, so I hope I can get back to normal with it!

Tiptoe said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone! I'll be posting another post on sleep soon.

JEI, I certainly relate to intentionally depriving myself of sleep for "productive" purposes.

Glad you know your sleeping is better and you are no longer afraid of food dreams.

Cammy, I'm wired similarly in not needing a lot of sleep. My mom, on the other hand, needs like 10 hours or so to really be at her best. I used to just imagine sleeping that much at times but know my body just doesn't do that.

"Julia," I remember those type of nights being interrupted by stomach growls. It does make sleeping more difficult. Please take care of yourself. Your body is giving you signs.

Kim, I've always had trouble with the whole "sleeping" in thing too. Sometimes, I really do want to though.

Glad to know someone else used to be a sound sleeper, though of course, it doesn't really help either of us! Hopefully, things can get better.


When I was anorexic I had the worst insomnia. When I was bingeing I was the deepest sleeper. Now that I'm not doing either, I am sleeping beautifully, waking up recharged. I think there's definitely a connection.

Sarah said...

I was think about this this week. Previous to my anorexia (starting at 16, lasting a couple of years chronically, a few more in a borderline way), I slept so heavily it was a family joke that I had once slept through a fire alarm

Throughout the anorexia and depression, I barely slept, feeling slightly manic and edgy constantly. As my body was in fasting mode, I guess I had to be alert constantly. At a low weight, I felt physically exhausted, but rarely sleepy.

From recovery to now (I consider myself healthy, but vigilant) I have had intermitent insomnia, sleeping three hours at a time (I aim to two cycles a night) and rarely feel rested. Eating properly, a couple of hours before sleep, and not drinking alcohol or caffeine has helped a lot. Feeling tired has been another thing to fight against.

It's worth pointing out that sleeping too much or little is a symptom of depression. Good sleep behaviours (cool dark room, banning laptops in bed, meditating or reading before sleep) really do help, but you have to commit to them.

Tiptoe said...

The Actors Diet, yes, I think there is some connection, though I'm not exactly sure the mechanisms. Maybe more research will be done.

Sarah, I agree with you that taking steps for proper sleep does warrant commitment. In the past, I've been better at it than I am currently. I just need to realize this more and actually DO it. Habits are hard to break as always.

I agree with you about sleep and depression as well. I probably have a touch of that which doesn't help matters.