It’s 4:21am. You’ve been literally tossing and turning for five hours. Willing yourself to sleep. Begging your brain to just shut down for the day. Pleading your mind to just let you fall asleep. You’ve tried praying. Counting sheep. Listening to music. Counting backwards. But to no avail.
You have insomnia.
It was the bane of my existence during my anorexia. And it’s a universal monkey on everyone’s back that is dealing with/overcoming ED.
There were so many factors as to why I couldn’t sleep. And for me, it was helpful to figure out what the underlying cause was, so as to help me fix it. And sleep.
First of all: FOOD
How many times, during your disease, (and sometimes during recovery) were you not able to sleep because you were thinking about food? Try, all the time. It was obsessive. I would be thinking about food combinations that sounded delicious. I would be planning out the next week’s-worth of meals and snacks. I would dream about going to different restaurants and what I would order. I’d close my eyes, and there would literally be visions of sugar plums dancing in my head. And this happened sometimes in recovery too!
Here’s the thing. When you’re suffering from anorexia or an eating disorder, your body is in starvation mode. When you’re in starvation mode, you body reverts to its primal roots, and all it can focus on is finding the next meal — finding food to keep itself alive. Therefore, your brain can never truly “shut off” because it’s frantically sending your body “Mayday” messages that it needs to FIND FOOD! SOS!
Further, when you try to sleep and shut down, your nerves are all out of whack. Your body is still going off of adrenaline since it isn’t adequately nourished. So a) the adrenaline prevents you from sleeping, and b) your brain, in an effort to survive, makes you desire and think about food since you’re starving.
OK, but I’m in recovery now. I’m eating. So why the #@!K am I still obsessing over food when I should be sleeping?!?!?
Well, that’s the tricky part. During recovery, your body is literally rebuilding itself. We’re talking organs, muscles, tissues, bones, blood cells, hair, fingernails — your entire body is screaming for nutrients to repair itself from the months or years of surviving in starvation mode. Spoiler alert: that requires an astronomical amount of calories. So even though I was eating my meal plan and restoring my weight, my body was like “OMG fooooood! Give me more so I can heal!” My body was just “eating it up” for lack of a better phrase. But anyway, it was hard to keep up with the demand my body needed to heal. So my brain would make me continue to think about food.
So there’s that.
Another reason I couldn’t sleep was due to the anxiety from the weight restoration. I was so completely terrified of putting on the weight, that I couldn’t sleep. I would go over the day’s caloric intake. I’d imagine my body changing. I’d dream of what it could be — both good and bad. All these things caused tremendous anxiety that kept me from sleeping.
It was when I slowly began to accept my body that those thoughts haunted me less and less.
But the biggest reason I couldn’t sleep, was due to my guilt. My anorexia involved so much deceit and deception: lying to my loved ones about my eating disorder, lying about my intake, lying about being in pain and blaming it on my Ulcerative Colitis. And until I came clean and told them the truth, I couldn’t sleep. I wrote an entire post on coming clean, because it was so instrumental in truly adopting recovery.
But literally, the first full night of sleep that I got, where I slept the entire night through, happened on the day that I called my parents from inpatient and admitted to actually having an eating disorder, and telling the truth about all the lies and deceit. Coincidence? I think not. The lying I was doing was literally eating away at my insides – making my soul decay — and making sleep impossible.
Not being able to sleep is hands down one of the most frustrating things ever.
By understanding the cause of my insomnia, I could work on getting to the root of the issue.
Maybe it’s that I needed to beef up my intake so my body wouldn’t make me think about food all the time. Maybe I needed to work on self-acceptance, and meditate on how Jesus sees me, instead of how my thighs look that day. But the main thing, was that I needed to come clean to my parents and loved ones with the truth. I needed to let someone else in — Open my heart and be vulnerable and share the anxieties and struggles I was having. That’s when the sleep came. That’s when I could finally turn my brain off and be at peace.