Sleeping to limit calorie intake has become a trend amongst the ‘pro-anorexia’ community
WARNING: This article contains discussion of eating disorders and caution is recommended
Experts are warning about the dangerous consequences of a weight loss method known as the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ diet.
The basic premise behind the fad, which has been embraced by some ‘pro-anorexia’ blogs, is that if you are sleeping more, you will not be awake to eat. It’s a worrying idea and according to a recent report by Broadly, some women have been taking this diet to the extreme by taking sedatives to sleep for abnormally long periods of time – in some cases up to 20 hours per day.
One simple and relatively moderate version of the diet was populated by sleep expert Dr Michael Breus in his 2012 book ‘The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep’. In the book, 7-9 hours of sleep are encouraged and followers of the diet should not drink caffeine or alcohol near bedtime or exercise within four hours of sleeping.
Since then, some ‘pro-ana’ websites, where some sufferers consult and encourage each other on their eating disorders, have been discussing why they sleep to avoid eating. Some have talked of taking strong pain killers to “dope themselves out” and curb hunger while others explained the ‘Sleeping Beauty diet’ is where you take sedatives so you sleep for days and don’t eat.
Users on the forums have spoken about trying to sleep all weekend in order to avoid eating or being monitored by their families. Others have discussed taking sleeping pills so that they would not binge or purge – which are signs of binge eating disorder and bulimia.
“Anyone worried about themselves or someone they know should seek advice.”
Linia Patel, a dietician and spokesperson for the British Dietician Association, has warned that following the diet to this extreme is dangerous and could even result in death.
“The sad reality is that sleeping for several days straight won’t make thinner,” she told Cosmopolitan. “If you do manage to wake up two pounds lighter you will wake up being potentially addicted to sedative pills which is not good news. Being addicted to sedative pills means one day you might not wake up at all. This diet has not been proven to be a safe and effective way to help weight loss by any means. If abused it would lead to death.”
But it might not cause weight loss
Patel also said that the premise behind the diet may not even contribute to weight loss at all. While it is true that there have been previous studies linking sleep deprivation to obesity, there have been others suggesting oversleeping can do the same.
“One study showed that people who slept for 9 – 10 hours a night were 21% more likely to become obese,” she explained. “Oversleeping has been linked to a number of medical problems such as heart disease and diabetes as well as an increased risk of death.”
Although Dr Breus made a link between sleep and dieting in his 2012 book, he said his idea has now been taken to the “extreme”.
“Research shows that when the body is sleep deprived the hormonal imbalance produced between leptin and ghrelin can cause weight gain,” he explained to Cosmopolitan. “So one idea was that if you have insomnia, and use a pill to help with sleep, it should keep your metabolism moving.”
Dr Breus continued: “In the Broadly article, the idea has been taken to the extreme, where an individual will sleep longer than needed to avoid food, or to continue to fast. The idea that people are being prescribed sleep aids to be used to sleep longer to avoid food, is clearly an abuse of the prescription. Physicians with patients who have these types of food issues need to be clear with their patients about this form of prescription abuse.”
“Sleep is important to manage stress and obesity, but too much sleep can also be harmful.”
While lots of people experiment with all kinds of diets for weight loss, there have been a number of seemingly extreme diets emerge from the industry which can be dangerous. Just last week, Australian media were reporting on a new craze which involved people injecting themselves with pregnancy hormones.
Everything in moderation is key (even sleep)
If somebody is vulnerable to an eating disorder then the constant bombardment and advertisements of diet plans and products can make the likelihood of the disorder developing increase. A spokesperson for the eating disorder charity B-eat told Cosmopolitan that while the diet industry is unlikely to be the sole reason of the development of an eating disorder, they may “exacerbate the problem or be a contributing factor” for somebody already at risk.
“If someone has become obsessive about what they’re eating or appears to be going to extremes in order to lose weight, it could be a sign that they are developing or have developed an eating disorder,” the representative said. “It’s important in that case that they seek treatment as soon as possible, as this will give them the best chance of recovery. Anyone worried about themselves or someone they know should seek advice from a doctor at the earliest opportunity.”
Essentially, when it comes to being healthy, the same rule of everything in moderation still applies, even with sleep.
“Getting enough sleep is important to manage stress and obesity, but too much sleep can also be harmful, ” Patel says. “If you want to lose weight then please find and see a registered Dietitian or Nutritionist. They will be able to advise you on how to lose weight in a safe and effective way and how to keep it off.”