Often Overlooked, Sleep Issues Can Complicate Eating Disorders
Eating and sleeping are two of our most basic biological functions. Both play an important role in maintain good health and are essential for our very survival. So perhaps it’s not completely surprising to learn that people who struggle with eating disorders often have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep, too.
In fact, disturbed sleep afflicts a majority of people who suffer from disordered eating behavior, according to Dr. Gregory Jantz, an eating disorder specialist and director of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, WA.
Dr. Jantz says that in 27 years of treating eating disorders at The Center, he and his staff have found that most sufferers of anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating have a sleep disorder as well, most often some form of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea is a condition in which breathing repeatedly ceases during sleep for short periods lasting from seconds to minutes. The cause is usually obstruction of the airway by the soft tissues of the throat, which happens as muscles relax during sleep. Pauses in breathing can happen from a few times to dozens of times an hour.
Apnea (which means literally “not breathing” in Greek) reduces the level of oxygen in the blood and causes sleep to be less restful than it should be. Dr. Jantz explains that sleep apnea sufferers don’t get a sufficient amount of the deep, restful sleep known as rapid eye movement or REM sleep.
Sleep apnea commonly causes daytime fatigue and difficulty thinking and concentrating, but it can have even more serious consequences. Among some eating disorder sufferers, says Dr. Jantz, not being physically rested contributes to ongoing cycles of binge eating and purging. Sleep apnea can also diminish physiological health in a number of critical ways.
“Sleep apnea puts increased stress on the heart,” says Dr. Jantz. Even in otherwise healthy people sleep apnea is also associated with high blood pressure and stroke. These effects are especially dangerous for people with eating disorders, whose cardiovascular systems are usually already weakened by the effects of poor nutrition, purging and excessive exercise.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that sleep apnea puts the eating disorder victim at increased risk for death,” says Dr. Jantz. Eating disorders, especially anorexia, already carry a greater risk of death than any other psychological condition.
Despite the prevalence of sleep difficulties among eating disorder patients, however, diagnosing and treating sleep disorders is not a part of eating disorder treatment at most health care facilities. The sole exception to this is The Center, which Dr. Jantz founded in 1985. Because The Center is a residential facility, its staff is able to conduct a sleep study on all clients admitted for treatment of eating disorders. A sleep study conducted early in a client’s treatment program can determine whether an eating disorder is compounded by a sleep disorder and can help rule out other issues that could be contributing to poor physical and psychological health.
The practice of routinely testing for eating disorders sufferers for possible sleep disorders is an illustration of The Center’s philosophy of “whole-person care.” Dr. Jantz believes that effective treatment for eating disorders and other complex behavioral problem should take into account all medical and biological factors such as nutrition, allergies, substance abuse, exercise and sleep, as well as the psychological, emotional, social and spiritual components of a person’s life.
The Center is a place of hope not only for those with eating disorders but also for people struggling with major life issues such as addiction and substance abuse, family and marital problems, depression, anxiety, trauma and grief. For help getting your life back on track, call The Center today at 1-888-771-5166.