How Intermittent Fasting Could Help You Build a Stronger Circadian Rhythm

Much has been said about intermittent fasting and weight loss, but did you know that time-restricted eating could also help you sleep better at night? If this is just what you needed to hear to decide to try intermittent fasting, remember to talk to your doctor before making any extreme adjustments to your eating habits to ensure time-restricted fasting is safe for you, and keep reading to find out more about the benefits and what exactly it is. As in, does it need to be any more complicated than having a late breakfast or an early dinner?

Let's dig in...

What is time-restricted eating?

Put simply, time-restricted eating (TRE) is a type of intermittent fasting that limits your food intake to certain windows of time each day. The most common approach is the 16:8 method which means you eat in an eight-hour window while fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day, but 5:2 is also a popular approach which means on five days you can eat whatever you like, and on the other two days you restrict your calorie intake significantly.

Clearly, 5:2 takes more commitment in terms of counting calories while the 16:8 approach offers more flexibility. The beauty of TRE, however, is that you can do it by achieving any reduction in your eating window. Your version of TRE could just be pushing out breakfast from 7 am till 9 am or making sure you have dinner by 6 pm—and that's totally ok.

How does time-restricted eating work?

There's a growing body of research supporting the health benefits of TRE—including for weight loss, blood pressure and heart health. The latest science is telling us that putting the body from a fed state into a fasting state effectively "flips the switch" for a whole lot of cellular functions and hormones, with the results including improved metabolism, better blood sugar control and reduced inflammation.

Can time-restricted eating improve sleep?

One key benefit of TRE is that it can help recalibrate your circadian rhythm, aka your body clock. While most of us instinctively know that it's not a great idea to have a huge meal before bed, it can be difficult to avoid with our busy lives. Setting boundaries around when you eat, especially for your evening meal, can improve your sleep quality and reset your body clock, allowing sleep to be properly restorative as your body can focus on rest and repair as opposed to digestion.

Time-restricted eating doesn't need to be complicated

While diets like the 5:2 diet include meticulous calorie counting on your two restriction days, reaping the benefits of time-restricted eating doesn't need to be as complicated as that—here are a few steps you can take one by one to move towards this style of eating. The great news is that you don't need to restrict what you eat, just when you eat.

  1. To start to see the benefits, you might try eating your breakfast a bit later in the day, say at 9 am at the office rather than your usual 7 am.
  2. This might progress to skipping it altogether or blending lunch and breakfast together as a mid-morning meal.
  3. The next stage might involve bringing dinner forward to no later than 7 pm.

With these incremental changes, you've effectively reduced your eating window to 11 am – 7 pm, an 8-hour period.

What to keep in mind

  • Talk to your doctor before trying TRE—it's not recommended for pregnant women or diabetics.
  • If you feel weak or sluggish, don't deprive yourself of food or nutrients. At best, you'll end up hangry and binging on poor food choices later in the day, and at worst you could end up deficient in the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.
  • Fluids are your friend—water, tea and coffee (without milk) can all be enjoyed during your fasting periods. You can jazz up your water with lemon and mint or enjoy some fancy herbal teas to keep things interesting.
  • Go easy on yourself. TRE is a flexible approach and is meant to fit your lifestyle, not the other way around.

Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

Enjoyed this? Find out whether becoming a flexitarian is right for you.

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