Women in online communities—particularly pro-anorexia communities—are encouraging each other to take a sedative like Xanax to sleep at least 10 hours a day in order to avoid eating, according to one report from Metro UK. Followers also encourage one another to exercise and “severely restrict” kilojoules during the day.
The verdict: Don’t do it. Seriously.
“Abusing drugs to avoid food is disordered way to look at losing weight,” says registered dietitian Amy Shapiro, founder of Real Nutrition NYC. “Saying that you’re going to sleep so you don’t eat and overexercising when you’re awake is disordered eating,” she says. That’s especially true if you’re doing it to sleep at times you normally want to eat. For example, starting at 3 p.m. in order to miss dinner.
Even less extreme versions of this diet may be problematic: If you find yourself getting up in the middle of the night to snack, or turning to food when you can't sleep, and want to take sleeping pills to get your habits under control, you’re missing the bigger picture. Namely, what are the underlying reasons you’re up and eating? Those are certainly reasons to get treated by a professional—not self-treat with sedatives.
In fact, guidelines released last year from the American College of Physicians suggest that cognitive-behavioural therapy should be the first line treatment for insomnia, not sleeping pills. And when they are prescribed, they are usually only a short-term (think a few days) fix, not a long-term solution. Not to mention, aside from teetering into eating-disorder territory, sleeping pills also come with side effects like drowsiness the next day (including drowsy driving), dizziness, sleepwalking—and, oh yeah, sleep eating.
That being said, sleep (healthy sleep) is vital for helping you maintain or lose weight. “Research shows that when you’re tired during the day because you haven’t gotten enough sleep, your body calls for sugar or caffeine in order to give you the energy that you’re lacking,” says Shapiro. The cravings you have for junk food are real the next day—one 2017 study found people scarf an additional 1610.84 kilojoules after a poor night’s sleep. Adequate Z’s also help your body regulate hunger hormones (which tell your body to grab a snack or to stop eating, you’re full) as well as others like cortisol. Too high levels of the stress hormone prompt your body to pack on kilograms.
The takeaway? Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep per night, the amount you need to function at your best. If you have problems sleeping, see a doctor or possibly a sleep specialist. But skip the Sleeping Beauty Diet, please.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health.