Intermittent fasting has many different definitions. It’s not about what foods you eat, 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.
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 of strategically abstaining from food for a certain period of time. 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 as a way 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 by eating 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 that fasting might improve 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 fasting 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 for the purpose of better health, speak with your doctor about it first.
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 you go to bed 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.
TBH, 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 picks 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!
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 the leave you restless during the night as a few too many glasses of red wine can block REM sleep.
Fasting maintains its benefits when you are conscious of the nutrients you put into your body. 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 will help you sleep well at night rather than a dehydrated one, which will lead to restless sleep and sometimes even 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.