Sleep and Binge Eating | Counseling | Therapy

Sleep and Binge Eating

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

Binge Eating Therapy image

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment in Philadelphia, Ocean City, Providence, Mechanicsville, Santa Fe: Sleep and Binge Eating:

In the U.S., the prevalence of obesity across the board—men, women, all age groups, income levels and ethnicities—is quickly increasing. Sixty-five percent of adults are overweight, and 30% are obese.

Not all obese people suffer from binge eating disorder or food addiction, but 25-50% of obese people binge. The prevalence of binge eating disorder (BED) is unknown in the general population. Whether you have or think you have Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (see the criteria for diagnosis below), think you have food addiction, or you simply overeat and/or binge and want to stop, you should speak to a professional. In the meantime and between therapy sessions, you should do all that you can to help yourself. Binge eating is a complicated problem with many causes and relating issues. However, if you can learn what your body needs on a daily basis to function at its best, you can make sure your body is not making things harder for you. The first area of your life to examine is your sleep.

Your body needs sleep for more reasons than to feel energized throughout the day. Getting a good amount of sleep is important for your brain and body to properly function. In addition to getting enough sleep in terms of hours, it is important that when you sleep, you are not interrupted—consciously or otherwise—so you experience all stages of the sleep cycle. If during your sleep you are uninterrupted, and reaching all stages of the sleep cycle, you should wake up feeling rested. The problem is that you may not know if you are truly sleeping well. For example, you may experience breathing problems such as snoring, which could interrupt the sleep cycle without your knowledge. If that is the case, you could sleep all day and your body would not function as it should with proper sleep.

There is a link between people who overeat and people who don’t sleep well. Obstructive sleep apnea syndrome (OSAS) causes arousal from your sleep. Seventy percent of people with OSAS are obese. You may know you don’t sleep well because you wake up during the night or don’t get enough hours of sleep due to your work schedule, for example. If you are sleeping with someone, you may want to ask him or her if you snore, make other noises, toss and turn, or talk in your sleep because those are interruptions in your sleep cycle. In order to be sure you are sleeping properly so that the effects of a lack of sleep are not contributing to your overeating or binging, you should go for a sleep study. Sleep apnea or other disruptive sleep problems could exist without your awareness. A sleep study is a painless experience—you just sleep over in a sleep study facility and are observed. You go home in the morning, and you get the results in a week or two. If you are having unknown problems with your sleep, you are adding to the already difficult task of gaining control of your urges to eat too much.

One possible reason for the link between people who don’t sleep well and obesity is that your body produces two hormones called ghrelin and leptin, which are associated with food regulation. Ghrelin is an appetite stimulating hormone and leptin acts to decrease appetite. It is shown that people who don’t sleep well have an increased level of ghrelin, and decreased level of leptin.

In addition to stimulating our appetites, ghrelin increases our preference for high fat, high sugar foods. High fat, high sugar foods are trigger foods for bingers. High fat, high sugar foods are often considered addictive foods because they raise the dopamine levels in your brain the highest and fastest. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that motivates our behavior and encourages pursuit-and-acquisition behaviors. When we do something such as eat rewarding foods, dopamine releases in our brains, and it is thereafter prominent in our minds because we want that dopamine release again. It is very similar to the effects of drugs and sex. This process in our brains is what makes us crave drugs, sex, and of course, food.

Addictive foods include but are not limited to: sugar and other refined sweeteners; other refined carbohydrates such as flour; fat; salt and caffeine.
It is important to find out how you are sleeping, and continue with therapy in order to stop binge eating. The following tips can help you sleep better:

  • Have a standard bedtime routine and try to keep regular sleep times, even on weekends. A routine that includes hygiene and relaxing activities will help your body learn when it’s time to sleep. Some people find it helpful to read before going to sleep because it relaxes them.
  • Get a sleep study done. This sounds more scary than it is. You go to a place set up for you to spend the night, and you are observed and monitored. It is the only way to be sure you are sleeping properly. Only use the bedroom for SLEEP and SEX. This means you should find another place in your home to do EVERYTHING else: spend time with friends and family, exersize, work, etc.
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable. It’s hard to get a good night’s sleep if you don’t like your bed! You may want to experiment with different amounts of pillows and sleeping in different positions.
  • Exercise regularly but finish at least 3 hours before bedtime
  • Avoid food and drinks that are high in caffeine.

If you take these steps, you will be more likely to get to sleep and stay asleep. Your body needs sleep to function properly, and stay balanced, so it is very important to make good sleeping habits a priority.

Diagnostic criteria listed in the DSM-IV:

  • Recurrent episodes of binge eating, characterized by both of the following:
  • Eating in a discrete period of time, an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat in a similar period of time under similar circumstances.
  • Sense of lack of control over eating during the episode.
  • The binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for 6 months.
  • Binge eating episodes are associated with at least 3 of the following:
  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when not feeling physically hungry
  • Eating alone because of being embarrassed by how much one is eating
  • Feeling disgusted with oneself, depressed, or very guilty after overeating
  • Marked distress regarding binge eating is present

Food Addiction as defined by the Brain Institute at University of Florida (there is no official diagnosis of Food Addiction)
A. Eating to much despite consequences, even dire consequences to health
B. Being preoccupied with food, food preparation and meals
C. Trying and failing to cut back on food intake
D. Feeling guilty about eating and overeating

At TCFG you can schedule directly online with a binge eating therapist. If you prefer talking to a binge eating therapist first, you may call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with our intake department. Lastly, you can call our Director, “Alex” Caroline Robboy, CAS, MSW, LCSW at (267) 324–9564 to discuss your particular situation. For your convenience, we have six physical therapy offices and can also provide counseling and therapy virtually.

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