Intermittent Fasting and Insomnia: What This Diet Trend Does to Your Sleep
Atkins. KETO. South Beach. With so many trendy, fad diets out there it’s hard to keep track. Although the concept of fasting has been around for decades, it’s gaining traction again as an effective way to lose weight and force your body into fat-burning mode.
This newest weight-loss trend is known as intermittent fasting and encompasses several time structures where people fast (go without food) for a specific number of hours before allowing themself to eat certain foods during a much shorter, restricted time period. Some common forms include periodic fasting, alternate-day fasting, and daily time-restricted feeding.
Your waistline isn’t the only thing affected by intermittent fasting. This diet craze can also impact your sleep patterns, which interestingly enough, may also impact your weight loss efforts. Keep reading to learn all there is to know about intermittent fasting, how it impacts sleep patterns, and how to practice insomnia treatment at home.
Intermittent Fasting Explained
Let’s start by discussing exactly what intermittent fasting is and how it works. As it’s used today, intermittent fasting involves restricting your eating to specific times during the day and not eating during any other hours. This breakdown of eating and fasting times can vary greatly, with each person choosing the timeframe that works best for their needs and schedule. Most often people restrict their eating to 8, 10, or 12 hours during the day and then limit food the remainder of the time. One popular example is eating only from noon to 8:00 p.m. and then fasting the other 16 hours.
Some people alter their eating over the course of a week. This involves limiting your caloric intake by 25-30% twice a week and then eating normally the rest of the time. This is known as 5:2 fasting.
While these fasting structures are relatively new, the concept of fasting in general dates back centuries. Most fasting practices are associated with religious beliefs and traditions. For example, Muslims fast from dawn until sunset during Ramadan. During Yom Kippur, those who practice the Jewish religion fast for 25-hours, and Christians fast during Lent. Fasting for health reasons rather than religious reasons was first introduced during the days of Hippocrates, whereas fasting for weight loss became popular starting in 2010 and has only grown since then.
How Intermittent Fasting Works
Intermittent fasting, regardless of the type, is designed to force your body into fasting mode. At this point, stored fat is turned into energy, helping you lose weight. Fasting also reduces the amount of insulin your body produces while increasing your body’s human growth hormone. Science suggests that during the fasting period, your digestive system can rest and your body can focus on other forms of restoration and cell repair.
The key to intermittent fasting is to eat a mix of healthy, well-balanced meals during your 8-hour time period of eating. Eliminate foods high in saturated or trans fats and sugars the same way you would when adopting any healthy diet program.
Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting
Weight loss isn’t the only benefit of intermittent fasting. With 1 out of 4 adults claiming to have tried this diet at least once, there’s a reason it’s so popular. Fasting offers other health benefits including:
- Reduced inflammation
- Strengthened immune system
- Lower cholesterol
- Better metabolic function
- Improved cognitive performance
- Improved overall mood
- Delayed aging
- Improved sleep
- Reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease
- Lower blood sugar levels
As with any diet, intermittent fasting isn’t without risk. This eating schedule isn’t for everyone and certain people experience unpleasant side effects including mood swings, headaches, lethargy, and constipation. In older adults, intermittent fasting can cause extreme, unhealthy weight loss or interact negatively with certain medications. Be sure to discuss this diet plan with your healthcare professional before starting.
How Intermittent Fasting Affects Sleep
There are two schools of thought on intermittent fasting and sleep. While some people report trouble falling and staying asleep (insomnia), others claim to sleep better thanks to increased fasting and food restrictions.
Better Quality Sleep
Let’s start with the positives! Certain studies show that intermittent fasting may improve sleep by balancing your body’s circadian rhythm. This rhythm, also known as your sleep-wake cycle, is responsible for a host of bodily functions including metabolic function, appetite, and sleep. Your circadian rhythm is regulated by the sunrise and sunset.
Food intake also plays an important role in how this system functions. Most people naturally eat three meals a day, around the same time each day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These set meal times work to reinforce your body’s natural rhythms, making it easier to fall asleep “on cue” at night and wake up feeling rested and rejuvenated.
Individuals practicing intermittent fasting also show higher levels of growth hormone which is produced during sleep. This hormone not only burns fat but promotes cellular repair and muscle restoration. When your body heals and repairs itself during sleep, you wake with increased energy and focus. Fasting may also increase your body’s production of orexin-A, a neurotransmitter associated with alertness. Being more alert during the day can also help you feel more tired and ready for sleep at night.
One study showed that increased fasting also reduces how often you wake up during the night and may improve overall sleep quality. Some people report moving less during the night and experiencing more restful sleep. Individuals following a fasting schedule may also spend more time in REM sleep which is the stage responsible for mental and emotional processing.
Insomnia Caused by Intermittent Fasting
On the flipside, intermittent fasting may also impact your sleep in negative ways. This depends on the time of your meals as well as fluctuating hormone levels. Eating at irregular times can disrupt sleep and trigger unwanted changes in body temperature, alertness, and mood. If you eat too close to bedtime, your body temperature can spike, making it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Heavy meals can also cause an upset stomach including acid reflux, nausea, and gas. Unnatural eating schedules can also impact your body’s circadian rhythm, confusing your internal clock, causing you to feel awake at night and drowsy during the day.
Fasting can also cause a dip in the sleep hormone melatonin which plays an important role in your sleep patterns. Limiting your calories may also trigger a spike in cortisol, the hormone associated with stress. Cortisol is also responsible for regulating blood sugar levels, metabolism, and inflammation. Too much can reduce sleep quality and make it difficult to fall asleep. One way to prevent this spike is to eat well-balanced meals during your non-fasting time and be sure to ingest enough calories to keep you energized and mentally sharp.
Preventing Insomnia While Intermittent Fasting
Are you interested in trying intermittent fasting but are also worried about losing sleep? With these tips, you can experience the benefits of intermittent fasting without the unpleasant side effects of poor sleep quality.
Eat the Right Foods at the Right Time
What you eat before bed is as important as when you eat. While you shouldn’t eat too big a meal too close to bedtime, you also don’t want to go to bed hungry. Relaxing your mind and body at night is difficult if your stomach is growling! The hungrier you get, the higher your cortisol levels rise, wreaking havoc on your sleep quality. Try scheduling a meal at least 3 hours before bed to give your body enough time to digest while also warding off unwanted late-night hunger pains.
Despite what some diets say, carbohydrates are one of the best foods to eat while intermittent fasting and before going to bed. That’s because certain dietary carbs increase your body’s serotonin production. This hormone promotes relaxation, regulates your mood, and may help induce sleep. Fruits, vegetables, protein, and foods low in sugar are also good choices and will prevent spikes in blood sugar and energy levels.
What you drink before bed is also important. Dehydration can lower sleep quality and lead to shorter, more restless sleep. Staying hydrated throughout the day, both during your fasting and eating time periods, can also ward off unwanted hunger cravings, making it easier to fall and stay asleep.
Avoid drinking too much water too close to bedtime. The increased need to urinate can cause numerous sleep disruptions. Water is always a good choice for staying hydrated. Herbal tea like chamomile or lavender can help promote sleep and trigger relaxation before bed. Avoid caffeinated beverages like coffee, iced tea, or energy drinks. Alcohol can also disrupt sleep, slow down your metabolism, and cause a nutritional deficiency.
Find a System that Works for You
Choosing the right intermittent fasting schedule looks different for everyone. What works for your friend, coworker, or partner may not work for your unique needs or schedule. Don’t be afraid to adjust your fasting and eating times if your current schedule isn’t working. Do you exercise every morning and find yourself getting lightheaded by 10:00 a.m.? Then you might need to have your first meal at 10:30 a.m. and your last meal at 6:30 p.m. You can also adopt the 5:2 ratio of eating and use your fasting days as rest days from exercise. If your current intermittent fasting schedule is causing insomnia or major sleep disturbances, it may be time to make an adjustment.
Create a Sleep Routine and Environment that Promotes Sleep
In addition to what and when you eat and drink, the behaviors you adopt during the day and at night play an integral role in how well you sleep. When it’s time for your last healthy meal of the day, enjoy it while reading a book, listening to relaxing music, or watching the sunset. A soothing bath, meditating, or writing in a journal are also great ways to unwind and relax before bed. Avoid using screens like your smartphone, laptop, or television. The blue light from these digital devices can prevent your brain from releasing the sleep hormone melatonin.
Your sleep environment is equally as important. Be sure to set your thermostat at a cool, comfortable temperature to prevent a spike in body temperature as previously mentioned. Invest in quality mattresses, sheets, and pillows. Reduce noise disturbances by using a white noise machine or fan. You can also eliminate outside light from getting in by using room darkening shades or an eye mask.
Enjoy the Benefits of Intermittent Fasting without the Negative Side Effects
You no longer have to choose between a beneficial eating schedule and quality sleep. Intermittent fasting offers numerous health benefits including weight loss, reduced blood sugar levels, increased energy, and improved mood. By choosing the right fasting schedule and foods plus adopting healthy sleep habits, you can practice intermittent fasting and also achieve a good night’s sleep.
At Somnus Therapy, we’re dedicated to helping you understand and accept your sleep troubles and adopting an insomnia treatment plan that works best for you. Through a variety of therapy techniques, you can finally achieve the blissful sleep you deserve.