As Ramadan approaches, Muslims around the world are preparing for a month of worship and reflection. The season is a time of blessings and togetherness, yet late-night prayers and predawn meals can cause upheaval in an observer’s sleeping habits.
Studies have shown that people who are fasting sleep for about 90 minutes less than usual, with the quality of slumber also taking a hit.
So how can worshippers manage disrupted rest during Ramadan?
According to Dr Farzad Ghaedi, a GP at Medcare, overindulgence at iftar should be avoided at all costs.
“Eating fatty, heavy, sugary foods and drinking carbonated drinks at iftar will mean the body has to work overtime to digest the meal,” he explains. “Extremely spicy foods and caffeine can also be bad news for a restful sleep as they may cause gas and heartburn.”
For Dominik Zunkovic, a sleep expert and founder of the Whisper brand of mattresses, a low-sugar diet is essential when it comes to a good night’s shut-eye.
“The jolt of energy you feel after eating too much sugar quickly crashes, and these energy surges and dips can push you to turn to unhealthy habits – think poorly timed naps and extra cups of caffeine – all of which can affect your chances of catching quality sleep at night.”
Tahira Mehmood, a social media manager who is a practising Muslim, has learnt from experience to balance her sugar levels and be mindful of her diet. “Eating dates at suhoor is good for regulating sugar levels and helps me feel fine throughout the day,” she says.
“What really helps me is having small meals at suhoor and iftar, so that there is no lethargic feeling to deal with.”
The timing of meals is also significant during Ramadan, says Julie Mallon, a sleep consultant and founder of Nurture 2 Sleep. “Eating close to bedtime means the body is busy digesting food when it should be resting and repairing, and this can result in disturbed sleep.
“The process of digesting food also increases our body temperature; however, in order to sleep, our body temperature needs to drop slightly, so eating just before bed can be a recipe for poor sleep.”
Take a nap
Ghaedi says nothing compares to quality consolidated sleep, although naps are often a necessity during Ramadan.
“The benefits of longer blocks of sleep are more evident than short naps at intervals to get sufficient rest,” he explains. “I’d recommend sleeping for at least four hours after iftar before waking for suhoor and a quick nap for two hours before getting ready for the day ahead.
“In addition, you can benefit from grabbing a 20-minute power nap at noon to resuscitate flagging energy.”
For content producer and digital editor Sheikh Saleh, also a practising Muslim, napping is a lifeline during Ramadan. “Sleep can act as a little hack when you feel dehydrated or hungry,” he says.
Fellow observer, designer Mahir Jeseem, says the UAE’s reduced working hours relieve some of the tiredness. “In a country like the UAE, where you have shorter working hours during Ramadan, it’s easy to use the extra time after work to make up for lost sleep,” he says. “At times, I’ll be tired and sleepy, but mostly I’ll be fine if I nap.”
Mallon also advises taking naps to attempt to reach a total of seven to eight hours of sleep, but again says that timing is key.
“Midday naps can lessen the effect of lost sleep during Ramadan,” she says. “However, naps taken until late in the afternoon can disrupt sleep further.
“Sleep is very individual. A sleep plan that works, where you feel rested and not exhausted, is the best approach during this time. Listen to your mind and body.”
Create a peaceful environment
Experts place huge significance on the dangers of light exposure in disturbing slumber.
“Creating an ideal space, precisely a dark and quiet environment, is imperative to stay asleep,” says Ghaedi. “Decreased exposure to blue light or artificial light close to bedtime will maintain the body's normal circadian rhythm.”
For Zunkovic, simply switching off devices isn’t enough. “Take that [screen] out of your bedroom and let your brain signals put you to sleep at peace without any interference,” he says.
“A high-quality mattress and pillows are also crucial to ensure quality sleep.” These includes everything from fabric quality to high-end foam.
Settle into it
Mehmood, Saleh and Jeseem all assure first-time fasters that the month gets easier as it goes on.
“It can get challenging in the first week, as it takes a while to get your body adjusted to this new routine,” says Saleh. “Eventually you get used to it and it feels normal.”
Mehmood also finds that initial challenges ease after the first few days, but encourages worshippers to persevere. “That’s what the spirit of Ramadan is all about,” she says. “To endure with patience, to reflect, have empathy and to do it to the best of our ability.”