The number of medical practitioners around the world vouching for intermittent fasting have risen, as awareness about the practice’s benefits continue to spread. Defined by the sleepfoundation.org website as “eating [on] specific times of day, and fasting or not eating for the rest of the day,” the best known example of this practice is the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.
The Johns Hopkins Medical School noted a range of health benefits from intermittent fasting, including “a longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind. Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers.”
The school identified two types of intermittent fasting as “16:8 fasting: eating for eight hours and fasting for 16,” it said on its website hopkinsmedicine.org. The medical school also suggested another fasting approach called the 5:2 fast.
5:2 fasting “involves eating regularly five days a week. For the other two days, you limit yourself to one 500-600 calorie meal,” said the school.
Intermittent fasting and sleep
Researchers indicated that the positive effects of intermittent fasting extends to sleep. “Intermittent fasting may improve the quality of your sleep by reinforcing your circadian rhythms…Your circadian rhythm primarily relies on sunlight to regulate these functions, but food is a powerful secondary circadian zeitgeber, or ‘time cue’,” notes Sleep Foundation on its website sleepfoundation.org. “Following set meal times, as one does during fasting, can help reinforce your natural circadian rhythms.”
Sleep Foundation also noted that practitioners of intermittent fasting have higher levels of human growth hormone. “Produced during sleep, [human growth hormone] burns fat, restores muscles, and helps the body restore itself at a cellular level. As a result, people who fast may wake up feeling more refreshed and restored after sleeping.”
While intermittent fasting might help you get quality sleep, the practice is not free of risks or side effects. “When people eat at irregular times, it can disrupt their sleep. This is especially true if they eat late at night, which can raise the body’s temperature…the opposite of what typically occurs during sleep,” noted Sleep Foundation. “Heavy meals too close to bedtime might upset your stomach and make it hard to fall asleep, disrupting your sleep quality and affecting how refreshed you feel upon waking up.”
Healthline reiterated Sleep Foundation. “Sleep disturbances, such as being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep, are among the most common side effects related to intermittent fasting. A 2020 study observed 1,422 people who participated in fasting regimens lasting 4-21 days…15% of participants reported sleep disturbances related to fasting…more frequently than any other side effects.”
Sleeping tips during intermittent fasting
As a practice designed for a healthy life, intermittent fasting is intertwined with the foodstuffs you consume and the amount of quality sleep that you’ll get overnight. Here are a number of tips from Sleep Foundation to make the most of intermittent fasting and quality sleep for you:
Sleep Foundation has found that a rumbling stomach can get in the way of your efforts to settle into quality overnight sleep. “When you’re hungry, your levels of cortisol - a stress hormone - rise, which can diminish your sleep quality,” said the website. “Aim to schedule your last meal at least three hours before bed…[so] your digestion won’t disturb your sleep, but you won’t go to bed starving.”
Sleep Foundation highlighted the need to stay hydrated, after they pointed out that dehydration can lead to shorter, unfulfilling sleep. “Drinking more water during the day may reduce your hunger cravings.” They added that getting hydrated can make it easier to sleep at night.
However, the website warned about the risks of drinking coffee or other caffeine drinks and alcohol. “Caffeine may decrease your appetite, but it disrupts your sleep. Alcohol also disrupts sleep, in addition to negatively impacting your metabolism and causing nutritional deficiency.”
Sleep Foundation has pointed out that you steer clear of unhealthy foods during intermittent fasting. “Try to avoid foods high in sugar and empty calories like junk food. If you stick to healthy, nutrient-rich foods, you’ll find it easier to stick to your intermittent fasting schedule,” they asserted. Sleep Foundation suggested that you “opt for whole foods, fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins and fats…the foods that are good for your [intermittent fasting] diet are good for your sleep, too.”
Intermittent fasting and quality sleep has long been intertwined, as both practices are essential for a healthy life. While balancing intermittent fasting and a good overnight slumber can be difficult due to the possibility of insomnia, the consumption of heavy meals before bedtime or at irregular hours, as well as doing the same with caffeinated drinks, these challenges can be overcome.
These include eating at least three hours before bedtime, staying hydrated, and eating healthy foods that are high in fiber and protein.
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