Intermittent Fasting – How it Affects Sleep

Intermittent Fasting – How it Affects Sleep

July 26, 2019 100 By William Morgan


It’s not uncommon for someone to try intermittent
fasting, and find that they not only have
to deal with hunger, but trouble sleeping
as well.
I hear about this every now and then and have
experienced it for myself.
This especially seems to be the case if your
new eating window is quite different from
your previous habits.
Actually, it makes sense that fasting initially
disturbs sleep, and I’ll explain why, but
interestingly, after a couple of days, intermittent
fasting should have you getting better sleep
First, there are a couple reasons why fasting
initially makes it harder to sleep and one
could be that when your body is deriving more
energy from fat metabolism, something that
happens during Intermittent fasting, there’s
increased orexin – a neuropeptide that stimulates
wakefulness.
But, what’s probably more of a factor is
how intermittent fasting affects your circadian
rhythm – your biological clock.
We’re all aware that flying across time
zones leaves us feeling pretty crappy for
a few days because your body’s internal
clock is for example expecting it to be morning
but after you get off the plane, the sun is
already going down.
Once your circadian rhythm adapts to the new
time zone by being exposed to light and dark
at the proper times, you feel better, but
then you have to deal with jet lag all over
again on the return flight.
Dr. Charles F. Ehret, a senior scientist at
the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois,
has developed a diet designed to greatly diminish
the disruptive symptoms of jet lag.
The diet is a four day process involving light
fasting.
The first day – you get to eat, the next day
you do a fast or eat very lightly of things
like light soup or salad, then on the third
day you can eat again, and on the fourth day,
your day of departure – you do another light
fast.
Then, you continue the fasting and don’t
have a proper meal until breakfast time at
your destination.
I’ve tried something similar to this a couple
times when traveling from Tokyo to America,
I don’t start four days in advance- I just
eat nothing the day of my flight, nothing
on the airplane and have my first bite of
food at lunch time after I’ve arrived in
America- This has worked surprisingly well,
making it easy to fall asleep at a proper
time the day I arrive and have almost no jet
lag.
This works because of how food affects the
circadian rhythm.
The body doesn’t have just one, but several
different biological clocks influencing the
circadian rhythm.
There’s a sort of masterclock running in
the brain and this is called the suprachiasmatic
nucleus and it is very sensitive to blue light.
This is why it’s important not to look at
screens too much before bed or at least use
blue light blocking glasses or a blue light
filtering app.
Other than the one in the brain, there are
other clocks in the body found in organs like
the liver, kidneys, pancreas and heart – these
are called peripheral oscillators.
Whereas light most affects the clock in your
brain, your food and when you eat it, is the
primary controller of these peripheral clocks.
So, in the way the sun coming up in the morning
and the darkness at night helps your brain
keep track of the time and keep a good circadian
rhythm, your first bite of food and your last
bite of food tell your peripheral clocks how
to set the circadian rhythm.
Considering the main premise of intermittent
fasting is modifying the time frame you eat
in, it’s understandable that it could mess
with your circadian rhythm and your sleep.
But, Intermittent Fasting’s influence on
the circadian rhythm should actually have
you sleeping better once you adapt to it.
Here’s a study done by Dr. Satchin Panda
and Shubhroz Gill at the Salk Institute for
Biological studies.
They made an easy to use smartphone app that
had people log their eating habits.
What they wanted to track was in how big of
a time frame were people consuming anything
other than water.
They found that while most people estimated
that their eating window was less than 12
hours, in reality it was about 3 hours longer
than that.
So the time from that first sip of coffee
in the morning to the last bite of dessert
or sip of wine at night was about 15 hours.
Then, they took the people who were eating
in a time frame that was longer than 14 hours
and asked them to reduce their eating window
to 11 hours.
Again, they didn’t have to change what they
ate, they only changed when they ate.
The results were that they lost weight, felt
more energetic and slept much better.
As the data here show, they were far more
energetic in the morning, they were more energetic
overall, they were less hungry at bedtime
and were far more satisfied with their sleep.
One reason for this may be that restricting
your eating window improves the strength of
circadian oscillations.
Another study co-published by Dr. Satchin
Panda says that “feeding/fasting rhythms enhance
the robustness or amplitude of the oscillation
of circadian activator and repressor components.”
Essentially, you get a more pronounced circadian
rhythm in parts of the body when your food
intake is restricted to a certain time frame,
like in intermittent fasting.
Here in figure 3, we see that the circadian
oscillation is much more pronounced in rodents
whose food intake was time restricted.
I’m not sure if it’s safe to say that
this directly leads to a more pronounced sleep/wake
cycle as well, but part of the reason intermittent
fasting improves sleep is related to the fact
that your body prefers to metabolize food
at certain times.
If you think about how we used to eat way
back before the advent of artificial light,
most of our eating would get done during the
day, considering we are not nocturnal creatures.
So it would make sense for hormones related
to food metabolism to work against hormones
that promote sleep.
And, this happens to be the case.
This paper from 2013 explains that “an increase
in melatonin levels leads to a down-regulation
of insulin secretion and vice versa.”
So, the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin,
can do its job easier if you have low insulin.
Luckily, low insulin is one of the effects
of intermittent fasting.
Going back to the paper by Dr. Satchin Panda,
We see that the length of fasting paralleled
the length of sleep.
A longer fasting period would lead to lower
insulin levels, leading to a better secretion
of melatonin and better sleep.
So, Intermittent Fasting may disturb your
sleep at first, but in just a couple days,
it should have you feeling sleepier at night,
getting better quality sleep and waking up
more refreshed in the morning.