The “Sleeping Beauty Diet”, also known as Narcorexia, follows the premise that “if you’re sleeping, then you’re not eating”. This new trend involves sleeping for abnormally long periods of time to avoid eating, since you get hungry when you’re awake. But can you ignore hunger? Anyone who’s gone to bed on an empty stomach knows how difficult it is to sleep when you’re hungry. As a result, some supporters of this diet use sedatives (sleeping pills). This ensures they are able to fall asleep, even if their tummies are grumbling.
The conceptualisation of the diet emerged from Dr. Michael Breus’ book entitled, ‘The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan: Lose Weight Through Better Sleep‘. The doctor did not recommend sleeping for longer than necessary nor the abuse of sleeping pills for avoiding eating food. Dr Breus recommended a healthy and balanced diet, not starvation along with normal sleeping hours. The sleep expert explained how a normal sleep duration was recommended in order to regulate metabolism. He cautioned that sleep deprivation causes an imbalance in hormones like leptin and ghrelin, resulting in weight gain.
Rather than sleep deprivation, some diet enthusiasts are sleeping exceedingly long hours. The adaptation of this diet within pro-anorexia forums adopted a more extreme approach in weight loss. Members of these online communities encourage each other to engage in unhealthy behaviours to reach their body goals. Although it has not been officially classified as any type of disorder, the diet can be considered similar to anorexia. In the same manner that anorexia is more common in young females, so is the popularity of this diet.
The diet requires a 400-500 calorie intake per day (instead of an average of 2,500 for men and 2,000 for women) and a total sleeping duration of more than 10 hours a day (instead of around 7-9 hours). As for exercising, a minimum of a 250 calorie burn (which is at least half of the calorie intake) is advised.
A typical week for someone on this diet would look like this:
Monday: 500 calories
Tuesday: 100 calories
Wednesday 300 calories
Thursday: 0 calories (fasting)
Friday: 300 calories
Saturday: 600 calories
Sunday: 700 calories
For reference, the meal plan for Tuesday (100 calories) would be equivalent to eating either a banana, one baked potato, or 2 chocolate chip cookies. The meal—or snack, rather—would likely leave you starving for the rest of the day. A week’s worth of food on this diet would be the same as the daily intake of one man.
Advocates of the diet recommend a severely restrictive calorie intake and long durations of sleep, up to 20 hours a day in extreme cases. Weight loss programs often propose the adoption of a more balanced diet to become healthier. However, this ‘diet’ doesn’t identify what food you should eat, but prescribes a general lack of eating. The other aspect of Narcorexia is spending most of your day asleep (basically hibernating), which is yet another unhealthy behaviour.
Does sleeping a lot actually help you lose weight? Can sleeping be substituted for eating? Well most research suggests otherwise.
Narcorexia involves excessive calorie restriction and sleeping in addition to sedation; all of which contribute negatively to one’s health. Side effects include malnutrition, dehydration, hallucinations, headaches and mood swings. When you’re starving, so is your brain. Cognitive functions: mental processes (e.g. thinking, attention, memory, etc.) are impaired. Thus, the diet negatively influences decision making regarding healthy food choices.
Instead of waking up with your ‘dream body’, you will be living a nightmare. The diet increases the risk of diabetes by 21% and coronary heart disease by 38%. This is due to sleeping more than 9-10 hours a day on average. Depression is also associated with hypersomnia. Therefore, people may have an increased susceptibility to developing the mental illness. Last but not least, the diet can be fatal. The abuse of sedatives increases the risk of addiction, potentially resulting in an overdose and death.
In fact, the Narcorexia may be counter-intuitive entirely. Although obesity is linked to inadequate sleep, it may also be linked to oversleeping. One study demonstrated that people who slept for 9-10 hours a night were 21% more likely to become obese. Hence, sleeping too much may cause weight gain, rather than weight loss.
In essence, the diet is as fictitious as the fairytale of sleeping beauty. In this version, the beautiful princess never wakes up. She sleeps her life away and starves herself to death. The sleeping beauty diet is just another fad diet with the false promise of quick weight loss through an unhealthy and unbalanced diet. With little science and literature to support claims of an effective weight loss method, Narcorexia (especially the extreme form) raises many concerns among health experts.
Remember, folks: Moderation is key!
By Sophie Byfield