Intermittent fasting, the discipline of restricting dietary intake of calories to 0 for allotted time periods, has gained popularity in the West due to the fascinating research that has explored its many potent health benefits.

Essentially, intermittent fasting means alternating between a “fasted” state (no caloric intake) and a “fed” state according to a fixed schedule.

Much of the current research into intermittent fasting focuses on Muslims during Ramadan when eating is restricted to before dawn and after sunset. However, because of its rising profile in the West, more and more research is being done on the general population.

There are several varieties of intermittent fasting. The most common is the 16:8 method that prescribes abstaining form food each day for 16 hours and then eating freely for 8. Many people enjoy this model of intermittent fasting because it is straightforward and easy to follow. The 16:8 model can be adapted to allow for longer fasting windows. For example, the so-called “Warrior Diet” employs a 19:5 model where practitioners must fast for 19 hours each day and can eat for 5.

In this article, we will focus on promising scientific research that has examined intermittent fasting’s role in sleep. Most Americans do not get enough sleep. Between 7-9 hours of sleep is required for people to function best. Unfortunately, tight schedules and hectic commitments mean that many people sacrifice sleep time and, even worse, do not get the high quality of sleep they need.

Intermittent fasting, as the evidence shows, can significantly improve sleep quality. Here is how.

How Intermittent Fasting Benefits Sleep

One study of subjects who had practiced intermittent fasting for a week, the researchers noted an improvement in the quality of sleep among participants. Other studies have found that intermittent fasting prevents nighttime waking and lessens the amount of leg movement that can disrupt sleep.

The primary way that intermittent fasting helps people sleep better is through its activity on the circadian rhythm, the mind’s natural “clock” that regulates sleepiness and wakefulness. Better functioning circadian clocks mean that the intermittent fasting practitioner can fall asleep faster, sleep deeper, and stay asleep longer than without the intermittent fasting protocol.

Also, when a person eats prior to sleep (within three hours of going to bed), the body must focus on digesting food rather than the critical “repair work” of autophagy. Moving the eating window to end at least three hours before falling asleep helps maximize the benefits of intermittent fasting.

Medical researchers have developed a keen interest in the process of autophagy, a term which literally means “self-eating” in references to the body’s activity of burning old or damaged cells for fuel when no calories are available for energy.

To achieve maximum autophagy, a person must remain in a fasted state for a specified length of time. The exact amount of time for autophagy to kick in varies from person to person, but most experts agree that at least 48 hours of fasting are required before the most substantial benefits of autophagy can be achieved.

The Bottom Line on Sleep and Fasting

If you are one of the millions of Americans who struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep, the dietary/lifestyle practice of intermittent fasting could be just what you need. Intermittent fasting is proven to help optimize sleep through better regulation of the circadian rhythm and by reducing the number of times you wake during the night.

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