Medical Moment: Understanding sleep’s role in eating disorders

It seems unthinkable, but doctors are still faced with treating diseases that they have never...
It seems unthinkable, but doctors are still faced with treating diseases that they have never seen before.
Published: Dec. 15, 2021 at 8:41 PM EST
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Food fuels our body and gives us energy. But for thousands of Americans, eating is an unhealthy obsession.

“Binge eating disorder is the most prevalent eating disorder, and unfortunately there’s still very limited options or targeted options,” says Francisco Romo-Nava, psychiatrist at the Lindner Center of Hope at the University of Cincinnati.

Dr. Romo Nava and his colleagues are working to learn how an individual’s body clock plays a part.

“Among the population, it’s estimated that between ten and 15 percent of the population will be morning type, clearly morning types,” Romo-Nava says. “Then, most of the population will be intermediate types between 70, 75 percent. And only about five percent of the population is a true evening type.”

Dr. Romo-Nava says a master circadian clock in the brain feeds information to cells in the body triggering needs and responses, like getting tired and hungry. He says past research suggests “night owls” might be more susceptible to binge eating behavior.

“Binge eating tends to occur in the second part of the day into the evening and night,” Romo-Nava says.

The researchers want to know if re-adjusting the circadian rhythms of people with binge eating disorder could be an effective part of treatment.

The University of Cincinnati researchers are leading a clinical trial of 40 people. They want to see if it plays a role in bingeing behavior, and if treatment options like melatonin or light therapy could help.

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