Intermittent Fasting and Sleep
Intermittent Fasting (IF) is a popular dieting method. After polling our Instagram follower’s nutrition questions, 70% of them were IF related. Coincidentally, I have been an accidental intermittent faster for one year. It happened because I was focusing on sleep. Intermittent Fasting and Sleep have the power to transform your mind and health. Here’s how I feel after one year of IF and quality sleep.
ryan’s intermittent fasting and sleep story
Before I Focused on Sleep.
For many years, I slept only 6-hours a night. If I woke up at 5 AM, I would work out and eat breakfast by 6 AM. I always had three big meals and two snacks. I went to bed at 11 PM, which meant I had been awake and regularly eating for 18-hours. On weekends or while traveling, if one of the meals in that 18-hour eating window was interrupted, let’s say I was not a happy camper…
In retrospect, during this time, I lacked self-control over my diet and hunger. Although I was eating well, when I became hungry, it was like a switch flipped, and I would get hangry and lost control. I felt like I needed to eat immediately and would grab the fastest thing — which usually wasn’t the healthiest. Sound familiar?
After I Focused on Sleep.
One year ago, in March 2018, I quit my day job and committed to prioritizing sleep. That sleep deprivation caught up to me, and experiencing burnout and low testosterone in my 20s was eye-opening to say the least. For a full year, I have slept 9-10 hours per night. When I wake up at 8 AM, I work out and eat breakfast at 10 AM. I consistently eat 3-4 large meals a day, with dinner being at least 3-hours before bedtime. Therefore, I have dinner at 6 PM, finishing my 8-hour eating window. My goal to get more sleep drives my routine and my routine has (almost accidentally) aligned me with a 16:8 (16-hours of fasting with 8-hours of eating) intermittent fasting plan for the last year. Ironically, this 16:8 window was the exact opposite of what it was the year prior!
In retrospect, my health and well-being improved three fold. It’s hard to say if that’s due to overcoming sleep deprivation or due to intermittent fasting, but the two are closely related. Both have a similar cleaning effect on our brains. When you don’t intermittent fast, processing what you’re ingesting all day consumes your brain. It does this rather than focusing on how to optimize your health with those nutrients. Similarly, when you don’t sleep enough, your brain is consumed with processing the stress of the day. It does this rather than aiding your mind and body in recovering and resetting.
More conclusively, by focusing on intermittent fasting and sleep at the same time, the diet has seamlessly worked itself into my lifestyle. The most noticeable result of IF is that I don’t have hanger anymore. I have full control over my hunger. Unconsciously opening the fridge before bedtime is no longer a regular occurrence. Also, intermittent fasting makes me feel highly focused throughout the day, and my energy levels are more balanced. Since, I avoid the cycle of feeling starved, over eating and then crashing.
What Was Easy?
Many aspects of the IF diet were easy and natural. The longer sleep window made a shorter eating window more natural. The transition was also easy since I was already eating what I should be eating and drinking enough water. Eating the same amount of calories (2,600 for me) in an 8-hour window instead of an 18-hour window took some adjusting. At first, I had to schedule my meals because I wouldn’t be hungry yet.
What Was Hard?
The hardest part for me was the morning hunger. During the first two months of IF, I woke up feeling starved. Water helped, but it wasn’t enough. I fought through by focusing on the positive side of my hunger — reminding myself that instead of processing food in, my body was processing toxins out. Even more helpful, I added our digestive drink to my morning, which helped me ease out of my fast.
Is IF Beneficial?
Intermittent fasting is beneficial. Not to mention, it can be an enjoyable process when you combine intermittent fasting and sleep. It feels good to have control over food, rather than food having control over me. A lot of experts on the relatively new topic say that a 14-hour fast (10-hour eating window) is the minimum for IF to work. In my opinion, anything beyond an 18-hour fast (6-hour eating window) is too extreme and too hard to sustain.
Is Intermittent Fasting or Sleep More Important?
Hands down, sleep. Sleep is critical for every function of our mind and body. If you haven’t the book Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker, you should. It will change your mindset from “I’ll sleep when I am dead,” to “I’ll sleep 8-hours every night, so I don’t die unfulfilled and young.” It’s true, I used to feel guilty about sleeping since it took time away from my to-do list. Now I cherish it and know that prioritizing it is the smartest use of my time.
Although I still recommend intermittent fasting, prioritize sleep first. If you prioritize sleep, intermittent fasting will come easy to you. If you prioritize intermittent fasting and not sleep, adhering to your window, avoiding cheat foods, limiting alcohol, and having the energy to celebrate progress will become difficult.
Read more: The Importance Of Sleeping Well
Can I Lose Weight or Gain Muscle with IF?
Yes, with intermittent fasting, your body and brain have more time to use the nutrients you ingest to optimize your health. If you are eating the right nutrients while intermittent fasting, you should see weight loss. But, if you are not eating healthy foods consistently or drinking too much alcohol, don’t expect weight loss to happen solely because you adjusted your eating window.
My goal with intermittent fasting was to gain muscle mass. I needed to eat a lot of calories in a short time to achieve this goal. I have not gained significant muscle mass, but I have maintained muscle mass by doing significantly less work. Before I would weight lift 5-6 days per week for 45-minutes a day. Now I lift only 3-times per week (only with resistance bands) for 30-minutes and fill in the rest of the days with yoga.
Read more: How to Manage Diets as a Couple
Other questions about my experience with IF? Do you have an IF experience that can help us? Post in the comments below.