Does Intermittent Fasting Improve Your Sleep?

Who doesn't love foraging for a late-night snack in the steady glow of the refrigerator light? Something about it feels so good ... standing there, no pants or shoes on, no one awake to bear witness to the rodent-like crunching sounds or the sticky fingers or the too-big bites. Can you picture it? Okay, now we don't mean to be jerks about this, but that late-night snacking might be messing with your sleep.

By now, you've probably heard of intermittent fasting, an eating plan that focuses on when you eat rather than what you eat. People who practice intermittent fasting restrict their eating to a specific time of the day and fast for the rest of it. In doing this, your body has time to go into "fasting mode," which just means that because your body doesn't have to expend all of its energy on digestion, it can focus on restoration (via Sleep Foundation).

A 2019 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that the benefits of fasting can contribute to a leaner body, a more alert mind, and even a longer life. But can it give you a better night's sleep, too?

How can intermittent fasting effect sleep?

Neuroscientist Mark Mattson, who has studied intermittent fasting for 25 years, told Johns Hopkins Medicine that through evolution, our bodies were designed to go many hours or even days without food. Realistically, they didn't have much of a choice, as it took time to hunt food. He points out that it wasn't until recently that daily life facilitated eating junk food while watching TV or playing video games into the early hours of the morning. With these behavioral changes come repercussions like rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and — that's right — sleep disorders! But research suggests that intermittent fasting can help.

According to the Sleep Foundation, sticking to a schedule when it comes to eating improves sleep quality by reinforcing our circadian rhythms, the dictators of biological functions like appetite, metabolism, and sleep-wake cycles. Experts at the foundation note that people who participate in intermittent fasting have higher levels of human growth hormone — a hormone produced during sleep that is responsible for burning fat, restoring muscle, and aiding in cellular repair — which means you'll wake up feeling more rested and refreshed.

How to implement intermittent fasting

A fasting practice isn't one size fits all. Healthline details all the different ways you can fast, including — the most common — time-restricted eating, which typically follows a schedule of 12:12 or 8:16, the former being 12 hours of eating to 12 hours of fasting and the latter being eight hours of eating to 16 hours of fasting. Some people follow a schedule of 5:2, which means 5 days of eating during the week and two full days of fasting. Others follow an alternating fast, which is holding a fast every other day.

During your fasting hours, you can and should drink plenty of water and are allowed to sip on coffee and zero-calorie beverages such as iced teas. But solid foods or drinks with calories should be avoided, per Healthline. When your eating window arrives, you are allowed to eat as you please, but Medical News Today recommends making your calories count with foods high in fiber and protein in order to keep your blood sugar levels even and keep you feeling fuller longer.