Health & Fitness

Is Intermittent Fasting Linked to Better Sleep?

May 2, 2023   By Jennifer Cook

Intermittent fasting has many different definitions. It’s not about what foods you eat, but rather when you eat. Think of it as an eating pattern in which you cycle between periods of eating and fasting.

Even if you don’t consciously participate in intermittent fasting, you may ~technically~ fast when you sleep as you’re not (usually) consuming food for more than seven hours. A common way to fast is by skipping breakfast and having your first meal of the day at lunch. Another method is to make your last meal at 7 pm.

Like most diets, intermittent fasting isn’t something you can dive into without much research, especially regarding its long and short-term effects on your health. One health expert admits that studies in this field of nutrition and dieting are basically in their infancy, so you need to be extra careful.

That said, it’s not a bad thing to control your body weight through measured and timed caloric intake. Some people don’t respond to exercise as well as others so having an option that relies on particular eating schedules is fantastic.

Don’t get intermittent fasting confused with starving yourself, as it’s a health and fitness trend that helps your body form a daily eating routine. For some people, it may help with weight loss; for others, it’s about getting better sleep. As we love learning about how to get a good night’s sleep, we found out how intermittent fasting helps you catch some Zzz’s.

What Is Fasting?

First of all, let’s define fasting, so we don’t get it confused with starving yourself. Fasting is an ancient practice involving changing eating habits coinciding with dates with religious significance. Before it became a health and wellness trend, it was (and still is) practised by religious groups.

For instance, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk during Ramadan as it’s meant to teach self-control and discipline. Judaism practices traditional fasting during Yom Kippur to reflect and repent for their sins.

In terms of intermittent fasting, it’s traditionally associated with being a weight-loss tactic as it limits your calorie intake during specified hours of the day. When your body goes into starvation mode, it uses stored fat for energy, which also contributes to weight loss. In theory, it’s supposed to help decrease your appetite by slowing down your metabolism. It’s encouraged to drink water or tea during the fasting period.

A common way to intermittent fast is through an eating window usually from noon to 8 pm, then fasting the rest of the night (this is called the 16/8 method). Another way is the 5:2 diet or alternate-day fasting in which one might partake in extreme calorie restriction two to three days a week, and conduct a regular diet the other five days. In general, the approach in which you want to fast is determined by what you personally want to get out of it.

Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

So what do you want to get out of fasting? Other than weight loss, there are other researched benefits to intermittent fasting. For instance, intermittent fasting may strengthen immune function and enhance growth hormone secretion. It may also help fight off certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. 

Al Jazeera reports of positive effects of intermittent fasting on your mental health and well-being. Studies also show that intermittent fasting aids with cellular repair, which is what happens when we sleep. That’s what we’re interested in!

Keep in mind that having fasting days is not for everyone, especially pregnant women, children, or those at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). If intermittent fasting is something you’re interested in, first consult your doctor.

Too Good to be True?

All diet regimens whether a low-carb one or those using supplements have downsides. That’s why a doctor’s appointment to see what works best for you is necessary. This is doubly true for people with glucose and cholesterol-related problems.

For instance, people with diabetes are warned about using fasting schedules when eating as these can lead to hyperglycemia when dieters try to satisfy their cravings after a 12-hour fast. While insulin sensitivity doesn’t prohibit intermittent fasting, it might be better to look elsewhere.

Did you know that intermittent fasting can also be heartbreaking?

Rather, it can be a problem for people with cardiovascular diseases or blood pressure problems that are taking maintenance medications as warned by a Harvard doctor no less. The same goes for those taking carbohydrates-mitigating pills.

The key to an effective diet, including eating only at specific times, is to first learn about the pros and cons. Sure, intermittent fasting might seem like a “fast” (this is our last pun for this article sorry) way to lose weight but it might have effects beyond kilograms and calories.

Intermittent Fasting and Sleep

We already know that eating too close to bedtime might affect your sleep quality. You  ~technically~ should go to bed after three hours of eating a large meal. This is because if sleep within that three-hour window, your body will focus more on active digestion, rather than cellular repair. So if you ate a big bowl of pasta at 7 pm, it’s best to go to bed after 10 pm in order to get a good night’s sleep.

To be honest, we get the bedtime munchies too and if we’re looking in the deep, dark depths of the refrigerator for all the answers at 9 pm, we’ll go for a low-calorie snack that’s easy to digest, such as grapes or low-fat yogurt.

Intermittent fasting can help build a stronger circadian rhythm, which helps you sleep deeper and better. Routine eating patterns during the day will help your body adopt a consistent sleep schedule at night. This study even found that fasting may reduce your nighttime awakenings and decrease leg movements.

Vogue reports that intermittent fasting may help with jet lag as not eating up to 16 hours before you land will help your body clock adjust to a new time zone. The article also says that scientists suspect that our body clocks go on hold when we’re hungry and pick back up when we eat again. So fasting during a flight may help you adjust your eating pattern to the local time and reset your internal body clock.

Of course, there are other ways to cure jet lag and adjust to a sleep routine on holiday. AKA, don’t forget your memory foam pillow on the flight!

Are all those enough to say that intermittent fasting contributes to healthy sleep? Sure but that doesn’t make it entirely harmless.

Some experts believe that eating too close to your bedtime affects not only the digestive system but also your circadian clock. How? Digestion may lead to fluctuation in your body temperature that may cause changes sleep disturbances and may eventually worsen into insomnia. Now that’s hard to stomach.

How to Sleep When Fasting

Each individual responds to fasting differently. Some people simply can’t fall asleep or get restless on an empty stomach. In order to have a good night’s sleep when you’re fasting, be wary of what you eat as your last meal of the day.

That after-dinner coffee may make it harder for you to fall asleep when you want to. And drinking alcohol in excess before bed will, yes make you drowsy, but then leave you restless during the night as a few too many glasses of red wine can block REM sleep.

Focusing on healthy food staples such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, or fish will give you the fuel your body needs to be energized during the day and sleep well at night.

If you’re practising intermittent fasting, stay hydrated during the day. A hydrated body positively affects sleep your sleep, unlike dehydration which can cause snoring. If you need help winding down after a long day, try these yoga moves for better sleep.

You can make sleeping during intermittent fasting more comfortable with a supportive, memory foam mattress. Ecosa’s mattress lets you adjust the firmness to your specific needs. This will help your body relax into a night of restorative sleep.

If you’re curious about intermittent fasting, but don’t know if it’s right for you, speak with your doctor to learn more about it. When you’re ready for a good night’s sleep, we’re here to help.

Up Next

Do Blue Light Glasses Really Work?

February 22, 2023   By Clarisa Mcdonald