“I don’t sleep until sehri because I am either praying or working — and by the time I manage to fall asleep, it is time to wake up,” says 25-year-old corporate beginner Aneela. Many of us face similar situations during Ramadan as heat and hunger sap us of our energy, and make us lose precious work time during the day. As we scramble to complete unfinished work at night, we deprive ourselves of rest. Where Ramadan is a time to get closer to our religion through abstinence and discipline, more often than not, sleep and routine disruptions cause crankiness and low productivity levels during fasting.
Sleep is an important restorative period of rest and healing for the body, and a time where the brain rejuvenates itself, replenishes its energy store and releases beneficial proteins and hormones like melatonin. It has numerous other benefits like forming short- and long-term memories, strengthening immunity, preventing heart and other non-communicable diseases like diabetes and cancer, and excess weight gain.
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Nayma Hasan, a lifestyle coach from Nayma Hasan Health and Lifestyle Coaching understands that the body loses steam faster during Ramadan. “In a span of one day, our daily routine goes through a major change. The first few days of Ramadan are harder than later ones due to the body trying to deal with all of these deviations.” However, the young coach does not believe in a blanket routine during Ramadan. She feels that everybody is different and some people are better at holding on to their energy levels than others. “It is important to know what is the natural state for one’s body. If someone’s lifestyle allows them to work deep into the night and claim the right amount of sleep during the day comfortably, then great. However, there must be consistency in the routine they follow.”
Nayma affirms that contrary to popular belief, it is not just a change in the routine that causes sleep disruptions during this month. Many habits that are associated with Ramadan, like overeating and not hydrating enough, can also lead to insomnia by throwing off a body’s circadian rhythm, and making it harder to stay asleep through the night. “The body syncs with light and dark — it is programmed to work when it is light outside and to rest when it turns dark. Disbalance of this rhythm may lead to cognitive and behavioural problems like diminished focus, attention, and motor skills and memory issues.” Not drinking enough fluids (Dehydration) can also cause painful leg cramps which can wake you up in the night. Similarly, as fasting does not allow drinking water through the day, people often compensate for it in the later part of the day. This can lead to frequent trips to the loo, disrupting sleep. “A balance needs to be created — controlling our portions of fried foods and including whole food instead of processed foods in our iftar, as well as spacing out fluid intake can go a long way to help regulate sleep.”
There are certain rituals people follow to help them fall asleep faster and make their sleep more restful. Breathing exercises or physical activity before sleeping can help regulate the heart, and hot or cold showers as well as some teas, such as chamomile, can help relax the body. Sleep experts say that avoiding the blue light of the phone an hour before sleeping can help keep the mind from overstimulating. Essential oils like lavender can calm some people, as can soft music or ayats of Surahs. Journaling or making to-do lists for the following day can help declutter the mind and even listening to affirmations can lead to more energising sleep and induce healthier and more refreshing sleep habits.
We understand — managing a full work and family life while fighting off hunger pangs and thirst can be extremely difficult. If curling up and taking a power nap sometimes seems like the best thing to do, it’s okay to listen to your body. However, it gets easier — every habit takes about 66 days to develop and Ramadan gives us almost half that time in which to introduce a healthy lifestyle to our bodies where it is possible to keep up energy and productivity levels even during the harshest of fasts.