The Role of Sleep in Eating Disorder Recovery

Monday, Nov 01  •  


Sleep is not discussed often when resources are brought up regarding eating disorder recovery, however, the role sleep plays in recovery is critical. As described by Matthew Walker, Author of Why We Sleep, “There does not seem to be one major organ within the body or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough”. 

Benefits of Sleep

Getting enough sleep is critical to overall physical, emotional, and mental health. On average, we need 8-9 hours of sleep each night. Benefits of adequate sleep include: 

  • Sleep improves our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions. 
  • Sleep resets our emotional brain circuits and allows us to navigate our days with less anxiety. 
  • Sleep restores our immune system. 
  • Sleep reforms the metabolic state by fine-tuning the balance of insulin and circulating glucose. 
  • Quality sleep maintains a flourishing microbiome within the gut, a key ingredient for nutritional health. 
  • Sleep is tied to healthy blood pressure and cardiovascular health. 

Not getting enough sleep, or poor quality sleep creates havoc on our bodies which is why sleep in eating disorder recovery is so crucial. 

  • Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours a night devastates your immune system. 
  • Inadequate sleep disrupts blood sugar levels and contributes to diabetes. 
  • Inadequate sleep disrupts hormones responsible for hunger and fullness cues.
  • Sleep disruption contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. 

Sleep and Eating Disorder Recovery

For people with eating disorders, sleep deprivation and insomnia tend to be common issues. The anxiety experienced by those with anorexia can keep them up all night causing a quick spiral due to the physical and mental stress caused by lack of sleep. Lack of sleep for those with bulimia and/or a disorder involving binging can result in a reduction in the ability to control eating impulses even further. The focus is on food rather than sleep. 

Lack of sleep can be detrimental to recovery as poor sleep can affect your mood and increase your vulnerability to practice poor habits. The less sleep you have, the more likely you are to engage in eating disorder behaviors. 

Improving Sleep Quality

  • Have a sleep schedule. Do the best you can to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. 
  • Avoid caffeine. If you do drink it, don’t do so after lunch. 
  • Don’t nap after 3 p.m.
  • Relax before bed. Leave time for your brain to unwind from the day. 
  • Take a hot bath before bed. It will help you relax, and your body temperature will drop when you get out, preparing you for sleep. 
  • Quit using screens an hour before bed. The blue light suppresses your body’s natural release of melatonin, which helps you feel tired. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, tidy, and cool. 

Establishing a good eating and sleep pattern generates more energy which aids recovery. By getting a good night’s sleep, your brain will be happy. You will have the power to focus more clearly on those positive thoughts and actions you need to take for your journey to recovery.