As any Muslim knows, although fasting during Ramadan is extremely rewarding and spiritually purifying, it can lead to tiredness. This goes double during the first few days, as you readjust to your new routine. And it’s not just a post-sunset Iftar feast on the menu: insomnia is often a Ramadan staple too.
If you feel that you don’t sleep as well during Ramadan, it’s not just your imagination. “Eating close to bedtime can, unfortunately, be disruptive to sleep,” says Monique May, MD, board-certified family physician in Charlotte, N.C., author of Meal Masters: Your Simple Guide to Modern-Day Meal Planning, and medical director at Aeroflow Sleep.
How fasting during Ramadan impacts sleep
Research varies, but Sid Khurana, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of outpatient services at Nevada Mental Health, notes that recent data suggests daytime fasting might increase a wakefulness neuropeptide while leading to less deep sleep at night.
“Diurnal fasting—fasting during the day, as in Ramadan—can impact sleep during night and day,” confirms Khurana.
Several factors are at play, including the fact that the window between post-sunset Iftar and pre-dawn Suhoor is short, many run a sleep deficit during Ramadan, and getting quality sleep on a full stomach can be difficult.
One study in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that people who fasted during Ramadan had later bedtimes and wake times than those not fasting. In another study in the Saudi Medical Journal, participants reported overall diminished sleep quality while fasting during Ramadan.
“Fasting can have both positive and negative impacts on sleep based on research findings,” adds Jonathan Baktari, MD, CEO of e7 Health. “On one hand, fasting can reduce insulin levels and increase melatonin levels which should aid in an easier and better sleep pattern. However, fasting can sometimes elevate cortisol levels which can disrupt sleep patterns.”
How to get enough sleep during Ramadan
Whether fasting for Ramadan or during the rest of the year, here are a few key tips for getting better sleep. You might not feel like a million bucks, but at least the sleep you do get will be of higher quality.
Allow time for digestion
Baktari recommends waiting two hours after eating to go to bed. “This is an overall strategy to improve sleep,” he says.
As Khurana notes, though, there is a delicate balance. “If the meal is consumed too late in the night, and then an attempt is made to stay up for a couple of hours, while this might be better for digestion, there might be less total sleep,” he says. Ideally, give yourself at least a little time to digest before sleeping.
Take a nap
Your sleep window could be extremely short during Ramadan, especially depending on where you live. If you find yourself exhausted every morning when waking for Suhoor and stay awake after Iftar to digest a little, take a power nap in the afternoon if possible.
Amna Husain, MD, board-certified pediatrician, lactation consultant, and founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics, endorses the nap route. “It’s definitely possible to get by on a four-hour chunk with a longer nap during the day while fasting,” Husain says. “I’ve certainly done it as a resident while fasting. It’s not pleasant, but certainly doable!”
Sleep with your head elevated
If you can’t wait two hours after your meal to digest—difficult when you only have a few hours before Suhoor!—try to avoid acid reflux and heartburn through sleep positioning.
“Sleeping on your left side may help with heartburn, but more important is elevating your head above the level of your chest,” May advises. “This helps gravity keep things flowing in a downward direction and not backward, which can cause reflux of stomach contents and acid.”
You’ll be starving after fasting all day, so what’re a few more minutes? “If you know you will be eating a big meal, try eating slowly,” says Rachel Eva Dew, doctor of natural medicine and co-founder and CEO of ModiHealth. “This will help your body’s digestion.”
“Your body spends valuable time working on digesting,” she adds. “This can leave you exhausted the next day.” Eating slowly equals better digestion equals (hopefully!) better sleep.
Skip the huge portions
The biggest offender that could keep you tossing and turning? Huge portions.
“Following a fast, many of us eat as if we’re making up for the meals we missed—but the mistake is consuming portions bigger than we actually needed for one meal,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table.
That large meal is all but guaranteed to disrupt your sleep patterns. “This is especially taxing on your gastrointestinal system and could lead to a sleepless, uncomfortable night ahead,” says Taub-Dix.
As for what to eat after abstaining from food all day? “To improve your sleep during fasting, eat lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs to give you a sustained source of energy and help you feel full longer,” says May. “Avoid sugary snacks and processed foods.”
As you are not drinking throughout the day, it’s important to make sure you’re well-hydrated at night. Lack of proper hydration can lead to disturbed sleep, explains May. “Drinking an 8-ounce glass of water may help, or fasting for only 8-16 hours instead,” she says.
Massage your belly
Dew recommends massaging your stomach clockwise to help your food digest. “Use the palm of your hand to gently massage your entire stomach in a clockwise direction, starting at the centerline of your upper abdomen, and moving the hand in a clockwise circle down, around, past your pubic bone, and ending back at the same place you started,” she says. “Doing this for 2-3 minutes helps with digestion.”
Does Ramadan affect sleep?
Studies show fasting during Ramadan can affect sleep. According to research, those who fast during Ramadan may have later bedtimes and wake times than those not fasting. They may also experience diminished sleep quality.
Can you sleep during the day during Ramadan?
Because your sleep window may be very short during Ramadan, it can be a good idea to take a power nap in the afternoon to help offset some of your lost sleep at night.
Did you know that certain foods can help you catch more Z’s? Read our guide to the best foods for sleep.