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Why Getting Healthy Sleep is Important to Recovering from Eating Disorders

Good sleep is necessary for overall health, and especially when you’re recovering from an eating disorder. When you don’t get enough sleep, everything deteriorates, including your physical and mental health.

Sleep loss takes a toll on all daytime functioning, including a poor mood and decline in cognitive function. People with inadequate sleep even feel pain more acutely and perceive their general health as poorer than well rested people.

Poor sleep is associated with depression and a negative self image. In paediatric research, poor sleepers have been found to be more depressed and have a negative self image. Poor sleepers often have inferior coping behaviours and behavioural problems.

Are You Getting Enough Sleep for Recovery?

Adults and seniors need an average of seven to eight hours of sleep each night, and teenagers need about nine hours of sleep. The actual amount of sleep you need will depend on your age, health, and mental activity, along with other factors.

If you’re drowsy during the day, struggling emotionally and cognitively, and fall asleep almost instantly when you go to bed, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough sleep at night.

Signs of too little sleep include:

  • Night wakings

  • Sleeping past your normal wakeup time

  • Experiencing post-sleep inertia

  • Moodiness and irritability

  • Daytime drowsiness

  • Forgetfulness or poor cognitive function

It’s also possible to sleep too much, which can also negatively affect your physical and mental health. If you’re sleeping too much, you could have signs including:

  • Taking more than an hour to fall asleep

  • Regularly waking before your alarm

  • Low daytime energy

  • Depression

  • Hypersomnia

How You Can Get the Sleep You Need to Support Eating Disorder Recovery

Get a good night’s sleep, and you’ll feel rejuvenated and more ready to face the day. With these tips, you can get the sleep you need to feel better as you work through eating disorder recovery:

  • Create or maintain a consistent sleep schedule. With a regular sleep schedule, you will go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. It’s a good idea to follow this schedule even when you’re on vacation. Be sure to give yourself enough time to get to sleep, rest, and wake up.

  • Align your sleep schedule with sunlight. As much as possible, wake up with natural sunlight. Natural sunlight can regulate your circadian rhythm and help you feel more alert in the daytime. If you can’t get natural sunlight in the morning, try bright bedroom lights instead.

  • Avoid late naps. Although naps can be beneficial if you’re not able to get enough sleep at night, they can be a problem if you’re napping too close to bedtime. Try napping mid-afternoon for 25 minutes or less and avoid napping within three hours of bedtime.

  • Develop a sleep routine. Each night before bed, do the same things, so you can signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. This can be as simple as brushing your teeth and turning out the lights before you crawl into a comfortable bed.

  • Be aware of medication side effects. Some medications can cause insomnia, increased alertness, and/or daytime sleepiness. Understand the side effects of any medication you may be taking, and talk to your doctor if you think they are causing sleep problems.

Eating disorder recovery can be made more difficult with a lack of sleep. But with good sleep habits and adequate sleep at night, you will be better supported in good health and recovery.

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Sara Westgreen is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck.com. She sleeps on a king size bed in Texas, where she defends her territory against cats all night. A mother of three, she enjoys beer, board games, and getting as much sleep as she can get her hands on.

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