At about 01:00 in the wee hours of the morning, eyes open, pupils dilated, eyelids refusing to stay shut, the regret of that double espresso at 18:30 the previous evening sure hit me strong. My habit is to avoid caffeine after noon for a chance at a good night’s sleep. Coffee after 15:00 pretty much assures a disturbance to my sleep pattern. I know better, but I wanted to tell my friend that I’m going back to China in a few weeks. I chanced the evening espresso, and I lost. Oh well, it gave me a chance to think about writing this blog post.
Through my research, I have found that fasters experience fewer sleeping hours quite regularly. In the first few months of intermittent fasting, my wife and I would lie side-by-side pretending to sleep, so as to not wake the other, and then we would share notes the next day as to our inability to get into the desired state of unconsiousness, which only seemed to happen during fasting-day nights. After identifying the commonality of the problem, if one can call it such, I determined to find the reason.
It’s Elementary, My Dear Watson
Knowing that a good portion of our energy evaporates during the digestive process, and that that energy is redirected to cleaning, healing, and detoxifying the body during a fast, I figured sleeplessness resulted more from our physiology and represented less of a problem than most people thought. We are conditioned to believe, to the point of brainwashing, that we need eight hours of sleep. For normal eaters, especially those on the Standard American Diet (SAD), this may be true, but for fasters, who expend far less energy on digestion, I’m not so sure.
Common sense tells us that when full, we want to sleep, and when hungry, we perk up for want of food. Evolutionarily, this makes perfect sense: during times of feast, we need to rest and digest (part of the function of the parasympathetic nervous system), and during famine, we need to be more alert to food possibilities. Our ancestors did not have a convenience store on the corner of every grove. We evolved with feast and famine periods. As a matter of fact, when fasting the brain produces orexin, a hormone that keeps us awake and makes us want food when we are fasting; it is produced during the down regulation (decrease) of insulin. Since the body has no sugar to process (insulin processes sugar) during a fast, there is less insulin and more orexin, and consequently, less sleep.
Also, during a fast, our brain floods our system with adrenaline: “When the brain is threatened with energy starvation it will send a hormonal message to the adrenal glands to pour adrenaline into the system. Adrenaline is a hormone that converts glycogen– strings of glucose molecules stored in the body – back into glucose, so as to feed the brain again. But abnormal adrenaline secretion during the night can also cause insomnia and nightmares.” (from The Biochemistry of Insomnia). Adrenaline gets us all excited and ready to fight or flee. No wonder fasters have trouble getting to sleep.
However, there is good news for my fellow insomniac fasters: whether you fast or not, apparently, being told that you had a good night’s sleep improves your cognitive skills, according to researchers at Colorado College. So if you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, have your partner, or a good friend, tell you that you did, even if it isn’t true, you will have a better day. This is known as “placebo sleep.”
As I see it, due to IF, I need less sleep, so a sleepless night, whether in Seattle, Pristina, or Nanjing, causes me no problem the next day. A cup of coffee and a good attitude and my day goes great. No moping around for me just because I missed a few hours of sleep. See how that placebo sleep works? Also, I look forward to a very peaceful sleep the next night.
We at Fast and Fit do not recommend pharmaceutical sleep aids, and natural sleep aids should be taken as a last, last resort. Perhaps a better idea, just take advantage of the extra time when sleep evades, walk around, catch up on some reading, meditate, stretch, write, do something productive, or just enjoy the rest, and relax. (Or get up and read my blog and make comments. Hehehe.)
So if you need extra hours in your day, insomnia and intermittent fasting can help. Feel free to follow my blog. As I explain the process and the benefits of IF and fitness from an experiential point of view, we will explore this life-enhancing lifestyle together. And tell me what you think in the comments below. Until next time, stay fast and fit.