It seems that every week they’re some new, fad diet making the rounds. Some are great, some are good but, frankly, many are just plain bad. They’re not healthy and can even be harmful to your health if you’re not careful.
Most people go on diets for obvious reasons. They want to lose weight, look better, feel better, or improve their overall health. Many are directed by their doctors to diet because they’re in bad shape, physically and mentally. One thing people don’t usually diet for, however, is sleep.
Intermittent fasting, though, is a fantastic way to diet and, even better, it’s been shown to improve your sleep significantly. In today’s article, we’ll take a look at how fasting works, what it does, and why it can help you sleep better, sounder, and longer. So if catching some Z’s isn’t as easy as you’d like it to be, read on! We’re going to tell you how Intermittent Fasting Can Improve Your Sleep!
What, Exactly, Is Intermittent Fasting?
Fasting has been around for thousands of years and has been used by people worldwide in cultural, spiritual, and religious practices. Over the last decade or so, fasting has regained popularity in a big way. That’s because it’s been proven to be excellent as a weight-loss method while also improving longevity, slowing down the aging process, and being remarkable for your physical and mental health.
Typically, fasting is when you don’t eat anything for a specific amount of time, usually 24 hours or longer. (Some people fast for several days at a time, drinking only water during their fast.) Intermittent fasting is when you fast at specific times of the day and eat at particular times.
The truth is, all of us follow eating patterns during the course of our daily lives. We eat in the morning when we get up, at “lunchtime,” and towards the end of the day when we eat dinner. Intermittent fasting is similar, except that the time between eating is much longer. For example, when you intermittent fast, you can eat for 8, 10, or 12 hours in a day and, during the remaining 16, 14 or 12 hours, eat nothing.
Most people coordinate their intermittent fasting with sleeping. For example, they wake up in the morning and eat nothing until mid-afternoon. They eat from then until early evening and stop again before going to bed. The next day, they do the same, fasting intermittently as the week goes by.
Overeating Is Extremely Bad For Your Health
Thousands and, frankly, even hundreds of years ago, the relationship humans had with food was very different than the relationship we have with it today. Back then, before the “modern world,” food was a very scarce and valuable resource. There were no grocery stores, no refrigeration, and, in many places, very little fresh food.
Yes, today there are still plenty of people who go to bed hungry. But there are billions of people who have more than enough to eat every day. In fact, millions of people over-consume food, eating too much and too frequently. The effect on humanity’s health has been devastating. Rampant obesity, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and chronic illnesses are higher than they’ve ever been in human history.
Eating Too Much, Or Too Frequently, Can Ruin Your Sleep
Today, a growing amount of research shows that eating heavily, especially before bedtime, can significantly decrease the amount of sleep you get and your sleep quality. It can make your sleep much less refreshing and also make you restless at night.
Eating a meal at the wrong time can also negatively affect your circadian clock and circadian rhythm. When these are interrupted, it’s tough to sleep well, get REM sleep, and wake up refreshed in the morning.
Intermittent Fasting Has Amazing Sleep (and Other) Benefits
There are many ways that intermittent fasting can help you both physically and mentally. For example:
- Fasting strengthens your immune function.
- It improves your body’s ability to repair your cells and DNA.
- It increases the production of human growth hormone.
- It promotes fat burning and lean muscle growth.
- Intermittent fasting can help increase cellular repair.
- It’s been shown to slow down the aging process.
- It reduces inflammation throughout your body and protects it against oxidative stress.
Sleep Is A Type of Fasting
When you sleep, your body goes into “repair mode.” Your digestive system is also slowed to a crawl, mostly because you’re not eating anything. This is, in a way, a natural type of fasting. It helps your body stay fit, increases your cognitive level, and enables you to get ready to face the next day refreshed. In short, sleep and fasting go together like apple pie and ice cream.
One way intermittent fasting helps your body prepare for sleep is to reduce the amount of energy it uses to digest food. Scientific studies have shown that when you eat a lot of food before sleeping, your body goes into high-gear to digest it, negatively affecting your ability to sleep.
How Can Intermittent Fasting Help You Sleep Better?
One recent study showed that if you restrict your eating to an eight or 12-hour window during the day, your body will maintain a healthy weight. It will also help you avoid high blood sugar levels, which can cause insulin resistance and diabetes. Interestingly, the nutrients found in the food you eat during those windows of time seem to have very little or no effect on your overall health.
We talked earlier about your circadian clock, and when you intermittently fast, you can strengthen yours so that it influences your sleep more strongly. This will help you fall asleep more easily, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling much more refreshed and regenerated.
In fact, it’s this consistency of sleep that’s best, a routine that you always follow that can help you to feel your best and function at a high-level every day. Sleeping helps protect your health in the long term as you get older and allows your body to heal and regenerate during the night. Several studies have been done that show the positive effects of intermittent fasting on sleep, including:
- It reduced awakenings significantly during the night.
- It helps drastically reduce “restless leg syndrome,” which can have a highly disruptive effect on your sleep.
- It decreases REM sleep.
Intermittent Fasting is Better Than Prolonged Fasting for Sleep
If you ask someone to fast for 24 or 48 hours, they will likely experience massive hunger cravings at some point during the day. They can be so strong that they can keep them from sleeping at all, let alone getting a few hours of sleep.
On the other hand, when a person first intermittently fasts, those disruptive and harmful urges are much less severe. The cravings are less, and extreme hunger is much less.
The Best Ways To Sleep When Intermittent Fasting
As with anything new, it’s always best to try something a little bit at a time and go slowly until you know what type of results the change will bring. The same goes for intermittent fasting. Every individual will respond differently to it, and you’ll need to experiment a bit to find a happy medium.
For example, if you try a long-ish fast of 16 to 24 hours, you may find that you’re very agitated when it comes time to go to bed. On the other hand, if you intermittently fast 16 hours on and eight hours off, you may find that you start sleeping much more soundly with fewer interruptions.
Your Response To Restricted Eating (i.e. Fasting) May Vary
Going to bed and waking up at a particular time is the best way to get a good night’s rest for many people. Any later (or earlier) and their sleeping pattern may be badly interrupted.
The same thing goes for intermittent fasting. When you first start, you will likely need to fine-tune your eating patterns to get the most, and best, sleep. You’ll also have to work around any physical, emotional, and mental reactions your body might have. (Many of us are overly attached to our food.) The best thing you can do is accept your reactions first, work with them, and fine-tune your intermittent fasting and sleeping routines.
Drink Plenty of Water When Fasting
One of the biggest mistakes people make when they’re fasting is that they forget to drink water. The truth is, fasting rules say nothing about not drinking water, just not eating food. Also, your body needs water, even more, when you’re fasting. Drinking enough will reduce your hunger cravings substantially, keep your energy high, allow you to stay mentally focused, and keep your mood stable and level.
Even better, when you stay sufficiently hydrated, you’ll more than likely sleep better because dehydration is one of the leading causes of restless sleep. (It also increases your snoring, which isn’t so great for your spouse or partner.)
Although to many it might sound horrible to not be able to eat for specific times and certain hours of the day, the facts and science show that intermittent fasting is extremely beneficial to your overall health and well-being. If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting, we’ve posted several other blog articles with lots of info and advice.