How Sleep Affects Your Weight

Sleeping baby boyIf you want to address your weight, before you focus on the mirror, diet or exercise, try developing a healthy and consistent sleep routine.

15 year study published  in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that partial sleep deprivation relates to weight gain prevention and weight loss promotion. *photo

Recommendations are: "Establish a reasonable bedtime and wakeup time that works for your life.  Make sure you get eight hours of sleep each night.  Work up to the eaight hours gradually, if necessary.  Adjust your activities so that you are in bed in time to get those hours."   from Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, chapter 5, "Boundaries: a challenge in early recovery."

Statistics show that more than 35% of American adults are obese and more than 28% are sleep deprived, i.e. sleep less than six hours a night. This study shows there is a connection between these numbers.  Studies are showing what many clinicians have suspected for years. Inadequate sleep is part of the eating disorder profile.  

I am a clinician focusing on eating disorder recovery.  People come to me with the symptoms and problem behaviors that are part of a life lived while maintaining and sustaining an eating disorder.  They want help. They want relief. I continually look at what recovery looks like, what it means, and what's required to set recovery in motion.

If a person is willing to go for recovery (rather seek than a quick fix to minimize symptoms) we can work together with lasting recovery as our goal.  Looking at sleep habits is part of the work.

Sleep may not seem relevant to eating or starving except, perhaps, to relief that comes with knowing that at least, while you are sleeping, you are not eating. Yet, I have to take that back.  Some people get up in the night and eat while they are still asleep.

Recovery, to me, means recovering a healthy, graceful and harmonious balance within your mind, spirit and body so that you are resilient and can deal with life challenges without resorting to eating disorder or any other destructive behaviors designed to numb you to reality. You have to grow and develop into a more complete and whole person without your eating disorder filling in the cracks.

Restoring or establishing for the first time, a balanced energy in your mind, body and spirit requires adequate nourishment on a regular basis.  Nourishment includes sleep. Your body and mind need sleep. Your emotions and responses are on a hair trigger when you are sleep deprived. 

  • Your perceptions are distorted when you are tired.
  • You get into arguments with others because you misinterpret their words or behavior.
  • You get angry or frightened or both because sleep deprivation doesn't allow you to be resilient and creative in the face of a challenge.
  • And, you eat.
  • You eat because you misinterpret your fatigue as needing an energy burst that comes with food, especially sugar and carbs that turn quickly into sugar.
  • You eat because high emotions coming from your sleep deprived state are too much too bear. 
  • You want soothing food to calm you down and take your feelings away.

Sleep is not a miracle cure for an eating disorder.  But adequate sleep will smooth out your day and allow you to work on your real issues rather than those caused by or magnified by sleep deprivation.

Your Sleep Check

  1. Do you fall sleep in front of the TV?
  2. Do you fall asleep while reading in a chair?
  3. Do you avoid getting into your bed to sleep?
  4. Do you fall asleep while dressed in your day clothes?
  5. Do you need the alarm to wake up?
  6. Do you roll over and go back to sleep in the morning?
  7. Do you drag yourself unwillingly out of bed in the morning?
  8. Do you sleep 10, 12, 14 hours now and then?
  9. Do you need caffeine to get you through the day?
  10. Do you pride yourself on needing very little sleep?

Please journal about your sleep patterns and attitudes about sleep.  You may find that your sleep issues have more impact on your life, your eating disorder and your weight than you realized.

* We never outgrow our need for safe, peaceful, healing, life supporting and serene sleep.  Photo by "Officer" at Media Commons.

P.S.  From Shakespeare

’ the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
Macbeth (2.2.46-51)

Joanna Poppink, MFT is a private practice psychotherapist. For a free telephone consultation email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


0 # exhaustedmylifex2 2012-10-24 18:20
I am so exhausted all the time.  I have a B12 deficiency that was brought on by years of malnutrition, so if I don't get my monthly injection, i drag soooo hard. But I don't sleep well either.  I probably get about 6 hours of sleep a night, not counting all the times I wake up...I fall asleep on the couch, with the tv on, with my 5 year old on top of me...i hit the snooze atleast 3 times in the am, drink a lot of coffee, and when i have a day off and my kids are at school...I will choose to sleep all day instead of being more productive.
i feel like i have to stay up late to have quiet time to myself. My day is so hectic...i feel i need the down time. I force myself to stay awake.  I sleep with the tv on because my therapist and I discovered recently that the tv being on was an indicator that my grandfather was still up and in the living room...once the tv went off, things weren't safe for me...i have slept with the tv on for my whole life...
i agree that soothing foods can help take unbearable thoughts away for a little while...i have been binging for months now...I have "woken up" to realize the horror of what has happened to my body.  I started restricting again days ago. I think it has made me more tired. I do agree, that sleeping is one way of keeping yourself from eating...if you can get to sleep when you are so hungry..that is hard..
I have enought insight to know that I am having a difficult time in therapy right now because we are really, really working on my abuse stuff. The whole subject makes me feel crazy and out of control.   Restricting helps me reign some of that out of control feeling back in...(i know, it really doesn't). I don't think I am completely regressing and sliding horribly back into my ED, I think it is to be expected. So I keep coming here. I keep reading the stories. It helps me know I am not alone. I truly want to be "normal", but my life isn't normal right now. So I am doing the best I can.  Thanks for listening.
0 # exhaustedpinkjoanna 2012-10-24 19:24
It's possible to counter the effects of abuse with kindness, Tracy. Please find a way to be kind to yourself and give yourself the sleep you need.

A healthy and loved child in a warm and kind famiy has this kind of nighttime routine.

Time for bed.
Brush teeth.
Pick out cozy pjs or nightgown or t shirt
drink of water
into cozy clean bed
maybe stuffed animal/s for cuddlling
bed time stories
cuddles and kisses
last minute news sharing of the day
more water
maybe another story
maybe a tape of music or storytelling after lights out.

Can you adapt this routine for yourself? adult version?
0 # exhaustedmylifex2 2012-10-25 06:50

well, my version would be a more adult version.  I am working on getting to the point where I can wind down my day.  Right now this is not something I can do easily. Perhaps it is something I could bring up in therapy.  I know that I feel the constant need to stay busy. I know this has a lot to do with running from my problems and not wanting to feel anxious. Slowing down = thinking= horrible feelings.  Sitting with my feelings is unbearable right now...but I know it is something I can work on.

0 # exhaustedpinkjoanna 2012-10-25 09:13
Adult version:

pretty, orderly and clean bedroom
inviting and comfortable bed.
bedtime stories and/or music to wind down (book at side of bed, music that turns off after 15 minutes)
glass of water by bed
something nice to look at on the wall facing the bed

Be as kind and loving to yourself at bedtime as you would be to a child you love.

This is often a terrific challenge to a person with an eating disorder.  The benefits in meeting this challenge are vast.
0 # exhaustedmylifex2 2012-10-25 18:48
wow, Joanna. I wish it were easy. I talked to my therapist about how tired I am today at my session. how I nod off at stop lights and at my desk at work. i like your ideas. I think they will work better for me if i can get off work a little earlier and get my girls settled a little sooner at night...then have an hour of quiet time for me, then try and go to bed by 1030. I know i feel better when I sleep better. that is no surprise for me. Thank you for your suggestions :-)   (now, just to get out of the habit of the need to have the tv on while I sleep)....
0 # a believer!!KymL 2012-10-25 20:15
I am so careful to get at least 7.5, usually 8 hours of sleep a night1  I've been doing this for a couple years and it makes all the difference in the world.  On the rare occasions that I don't sleep well, I can tell the next day, so I'm extra careful to get a good night sleep the next night.  I never have to use caffine to wake up, but then again I've always been one of those annoying morning people....drives my partner and co workers crazy!! :-)  
0 # exhaustedpinkjoanna 2012-10-25 22:46
Great, Kym.  What was your process overall in getting to the point where you get 7.5 hours on a regular basis?

I recommend that a person take incremental steps gradually and take as much as a month to get into a good sleep situation.

Tracy, if you need the soothing of voices as you drift off to sleep, you can bring a tape or dvd voie recording into your bedroom and listen while someone reads you a story.  :-)   Lots of great books and short stories on tape.
0 # getting thereKymL 2012-10-26 18:09
Joanna, I've always been  aperson who needs a lot of sleep, but like many other healthy things, I talked myself out of it.  When I had to go on a C-pap machine (don't need it now), I quickly saw what a huge difference it made in my life to get sleep!  My headaches went away, I started to lose weight, my mind was clear and I was over all much happier.  Since then I've just made it a point to keep up the hours needed and when those sleepless night come along, they remind me why I'm so careful to protect my sleeping time!  Sleep, like many other self-care things for me has become addicting!  I enjoy feeling good now and I will do what I need to (and I have a list of things!) in order to feel that way!
Laura R
0 # SleepLaura R 2012-10-26 18:30
Everything goes better for me, mentally and physically, when I get a good night's sleep. For me, a good sleep is 4-6 hours w/out waking up. I struggled for 20 something years with only getting three hour chunks and waking up a couple of times a night due to chronic pain. Finally a couple of years ago I gave in to my doc's advice and started taking sleeping meds. It doesn't work every night but it sure helps. I do find that when I make a goal ealier in the evening to go up to the bedroom by a specific time to start getting ready for bed that I am able to take the time to do the kind of getting ready routine that helps me relax into sleep and I'm less likely to lay there and toss and turn. My hubby is a night owl so it takes great discipline to go to bed and not stay up with him and watch TV or do email or housework.

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