Intermittent fasting diet is making me sleepy but unable to sleep!
April 18, 2017 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I've been doing a 5:2 intermittent fasting diet and mostly it's pretty easy and is having results but on nights where I'm fasting I have a hard time sleeping.

I'm fasting on Mondays and Thursdays ("fasting" in this context means eating 500 calories on those days). So, for example, Sunday night I have dinner, Monday morning I have coffee with a little in it and then lunch is usually a high protein shake <200 calories and then a dinner of around 300 calories, also usually focussed on proteins and vegetables. Then, starting Tuesday morning, I eat normally. However, on those Monday nights, I sleep terribly, waking frequently and tossing a turning all night. I don't feel achingly hungry but can tell that I'm not full. I'm definitely sleepy though and usually even go to bed a little bit early (10:30 instead of 11:00). I'd like to keep up with the diet since I'm losing weight and find it pretty easy to maintain the regimen but I hate the insomnia. Will it get better or are there tips to making it easier to sleep?
posted by otherwordlyglow to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You don't say whether you're female or not, but IF is one of those things that has mostly been studied in male subjects and is maybe terrible for females. So. Keep that in mind.

Wrt your actual question: I once went on a restricted calorie keto diet, and when my body was hungry it did NOT want to sleep. Eventually I was able to sleep, but whether that was just getting used to it or my body acclimating and going into ketosis, I have no idea.
posted by schadenfrau at 9:59 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]

From a data point of one: no. I've been doing this diet for more than two years, and it fucking works. Except that every single fast day I'm miserable, I go to bed staring longingly at the doorknob, ready to eat it. The only thing that helps me sleep is fantasizing about the bland cereal I am so going to love the next morning. I wish it were easier.

Some people have reported increasing the calorie count to 600 or even 700 with no problems, and having that extra snack after dinner may help.
posted by Melismata at 10:00 AM on April 18

Anecdotal, and I haven't done 5:2 specifically, but when I've done fast days in the past as part of calorie-cutting/weight-loss I would always wake up the next 'day' after 4-5 hours sleep and be absolutely unable to fall back asleep, due to hunger. I'd get up, eat breakfast, and then just stay up and work or read. The insomnia part of fasting never 'got better' for me.
posted by smokysunday at 10:13 AM on April 18

When I've read up on the 5:2 people have usually talked about sleep issues being a problem for them and suggested something low cal but maybe with a bit of sugar (carrots, apples, cucumbers) as a right-before-dinner thing to quiet the stomach.
posted by jessamyn at 10:21 AM on April 18

Alton Brown swears by a small amount of cottage cheese (I can't find the reference for it, but I know its there) for before bed food. Anecdotally, when I am a little hungry before bed, cottage or string cheese almost always satisfies that, and I think actually helps me sleep.
posted by ApathyGirl at 10:40 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

You might also try switching to high-fiber green smoothies, or at least adding more fiber to your protein shake. The fiber will really help keep you feeling full.

I've been doing the same diet and on my fast days I just make 500 calories worth of blended up spinach/kale, unpeeled apple, grapefruit, and ginger -- which is about 2 full blender jugs, so much that sometimes I don't finish it all. I actually might try adding some whey protein to it just to see how that feels, though :)
posted by ananci at 11:45 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]

I don't have experience with fasting, but if I am having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep and realise that I might be hungry, I have a small glass of full cream milk. Milk ticks a lot of boxes for things that the human body loves (fats, sugars, protein) but seems to be simple enough that I don't then get kept awake by my body digesting food.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:27 PM on April 18

How is your B vitamin intake on this diet? I found that when I moved from more regular meat consumption to little to no meat consumption, my sleep went to crap because I wasn't supplementing B12. Once I got that supplement in, my sleep is much better.
posted by jillithd at 12:51 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

When I was doing the keto diet and experimenting with IF, if I was in ketosis (and if you're fasting all day you almost certainly are), then I just *needed less sleep*, full stop. It wasn't that it was hard to sleep, it was that I just didn't need it. I could go to bed an hour or two later, get up at my usual time, and feel just as rested as any other day. Eventually I started rolling with it and intentionally adopting a later bedtime.
posted by markslack at 1:18 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

Try eating more of your calories immediately before bed. That's the only thing that worked for me on a very low-calorie diet where I was doing this every day. I'd have the bulk of my food at 9:30-10pm and would make sure there was a substantial portion of fat involved. The downside is that it wrecked my concentration on those days, of course.

I think you can probably go above 500-700 effectively & still do this diet, so consider that as well.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 4:10 PM on April 18

In terms of "terrible for women", what I've read is that women get a lot hangrier at the 14-hour point than men do, and therefore it can be tougher to stick to. Not that it's actually worse dietarily.
posted by Autumnheart at 4:36 PM on April 18

My understanding is that low blood sugar can cause an increase in cortisol (which can make it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep). So nthing to try getting more calories before bed to help you get through the night.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 5:56 PM on April 18

I've never done the fasting thing, but half a slice of cheese (about 40 cal) helps me sleep when I'm hungry.
posted by kjs4 at 6:29 PM on April 18

Guided meditations help me get to sleep!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 11:46 PM on April 18

Two ideas:

First, have you tried eating some carbs at the end of your fast days? Someone on another forum (for IF) recommended getting carbs before sleep, while staying within your calorie goals, to prevent being kept awake by hunger. This is anecdata, but I ate low carb one day recently and had trouble sleeping until I ate some crackers.

Second, have you tried other intermittent fasting schedules? I follow 16:8 (only eating between 12pm-8pm) and have lost weight successfully. I don't count calories, just restrict food to this time period and thus eat less of it. I do drink coffee or tea in the mornings. So far, I have not felt excessively hungry. It might be worth a try! Some people do 18:6 or 14:10 instead.
posted by cp311 at 8:40 AM on April 19

Update: I've done two more fast days since posting and saved some calories for a little bit of plain yogurt with a teaspoon of honey right before bed and that has definitely improved things. It's still not ideal for sleeping but since I'm getting results on the scale, I'm willing to keep going. Thanks for the suggestions.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 10:56 AM on April 25 [1 favorite]

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