Intermittent fasting is enjoying a moment in the spotlight right now because of how much it can aid weight loss efforts. But helping you shed a few pounds isn’t all this lifestyle choice is good for -- it can also help you get better sleep.
Let’s take a look at intermittent fasting and how it might affect the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
If you’re new to this term, here’s a quick breakdown. It’s an eating pattern in which you move between regular eating and fasting. Since there aren’t as many rules about what you should be eating, it’s easier to follow for many people. You won’t have to count calories, restrict carbs, or avoid all your favorite foods.
Even though it’s not a requirement of intermittent fasting, if you want to unlock your full weight-loss potential and maximize your health, it’s still a good idea to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well as beans, fish, and high-quality protein, like chicken.
There are many different ways to tackle intermittent fasting -- there is no right or wrong way to do it. Some people opt to eat regularly during the week and fast on the weekends. Some people stagger it so they are eating regularly one day and then fasting the next or allowing themselves one small meal to avoid a day with no food at all.
Another popular way to fast is to eat every day, but only for an eight-hour time period. Some people accomplish this by only eating from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m.
Why Intermittent Fasting is So Beneficial
Intermittent fasting appears to cut down on inflammation in the body. Inflammation is believed to be linked to many diseases and medical conditions, so finding ways to cut back on it can be beneficial for our overall health.
Inflammation is suspected to play a role in strokes, asthma, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and even certain cancers. If people can cut back on their levels of inflammation by changing when they eat, intermittent fasting could prove to be a powerful tool for better health.
How Intermittent Fasting Can Help Your Sleep
Intermittent fasting is an effective way to lose weight. If you’re only eating eight hours a day, for instance, when you normally might eat 16 hours a day, you’re likely not to eat nearly as many calories.
Losing weight is good for overweight or obese people who have sleep issues, such as sleep apnea. Dropping some of the excess weight can result in a big improvement in sleep apnea, which allows for fewer awakenings during the night. Waking up fewer times in the night can lead to better quality sleep. That, in turn, can make a person feel better rested the next day.
Feeling better rested can lead to other lifestyle improvements, such as having the energy to exercise more or having the willpower to resist junk food. It’s a snowball effect that can all begin with intermittent fasting.
But, even without the weight loss, there’s evidence that intermittent fasting can better your sleep quality by resetting your circadian rhythm.
What is a Circadian Rhythm and How Does It Factor Into Sleep?
Your circadian rhythm can best be described as your internal clock. Your body’s internal clock follows a 24-hour cycle. During each cycle, you’ll undergo behavioral, mental, and physical changes, depending upon where you are in the cycle.
Here’s how it works: Your brain cells react to whether it’s light or dark outside. That tells them whether they should feel sleepy (when it’s dark) or awake (where there is natural light). The brain cells then send signals to other sections of the brain about the information they’ve gathered. Those sections of the brain send out the alert for other bodily functions to join in on the fun.
Hormones are made and released, including melatonin and cortisol, which make you sleepy or alert. Your body temperature fluctuates, depending upon which time of the day or night it is.
It’s an all-encompassing, amazing system. And intermittent fasting appears to help reset or stabilize our circadian rhythm so that it works as it should.
Plus, there are other ways in which intermittent fasting can help you improve your sleep.
- It can help with acid reflux: If you are doing the eight-hour window of intermittent fasting, then you can set it from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. if you have acid reflux. That means your last snack or meal will be hours before your bedtime, which can help alleviate your reflux symptoms since eating right before bed can aggravate them.
- Feeling overstuffed: Eating a big meal right before bed can make you feel miserable, leading to a poor night of sleep. With intermittent fasting, particularly if you follow the eight-hour rule each day, you can avoid that sensation.
Who Shouldn’t Use Intermittent Fasting?
Although it can be a great tool for better health, intermittent fasting isn’t right for everybody.
You obviously don’t want to restrict the hours you eat or go without meals if you’re pregnant. You need regular snacks and meals when you’re growing a baby.
Intermittent fasting may also not work for diabetics, those with kidney stones, or for women who are breastfeeding. If you have any of these conditions, you should talk with your doctor before you give intermittent fasting a try. They may suggest that it’s not right for you, or tell you to report any negative experiences you have with it so they can further evaluate whether it’s safe for you.
If you begin intermittent fasting, you might notice some side effects, such as headaches, nausea, insomnia, and feeling tired and hungry. The side effects often resolve in a month.
Unlocking the Power of Your Body
While intermittent fasting isn’t a cure-all, it can help you reduce your caloric intake, lose weight, sleep better, and cut down on the inflammation in your body. The health benefits offer a compelling reason why you might want to give it a whirl and see how it works for you.