Fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan can be good for your health, if done correctly. However, there are some common difficulties that can make fasting very hard to manage. With meals being limited to the morning and evening, it is only natural for the body’s metabolism to slow, causing headaches, caffeine withdrawals, sleep deprivation, and even anxiety.
Dr. Taoufik Alsaadi, MD, FAAN – Consultant and Chairman of the Neurology Department, Chief Medical Officer at the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology. at ACPN explores these four common difficulties and provides tips for observing a healthy and safe fast during the holy month.
1- The Common Headache
Many people who fast over Ramadan suffer mild or moderate headaches. This common problem has many causes. Headaches during a fast can be due to dehydration or hunger, lack of sleep, hypoglycemia or the absence of addictive substances, such as caffeine or nicotine.
A moderate and balanced diet is recommended for all who experience headaches while fasting. Avoid skipping the pre-dawn meal and drink as much fluid as possible. Remember, water is very important, and should ideally be the main fluid you use to replenish your thirst during Ramadan and, if necessary, take certain painkillers, as recommended by your doctor, during Suhoor, to help prevent or reduce the risk of getting a headache.
Headaches can also be prevented by not exposing yourself to direct sunlight, or by wearing a hat when out. If headaches persist after Ramadan or are severe in nature, it is recommended that you seek help from a medical professional.
2- Caffeine Withdrawals
The reduction in caffeine consumption during the month of Ramadan can lead to caffeine withdrawal.
A progressive reduction of caffeine consumption in the weeks preceding the month of Ramadan, and a cup of strong coffee, just before the start of the fast, may prevent the occurrence of caffeine withdrawals that can lead to headaches. Coffee lovers should try and get their dose of caffeine intake during Suhoor.
3- Sleep Deprivation
Sleep deprivation is likely to happen in the month of Ramadan, and can result in lack of focus, increased temper, attention difficulties, and poor concentration. Understanding that this can happen and working out a daily routine will help to maintain health, avoid weight gain, and perform daily tasks while fasting.
Eating a healthier Iftar and Suhoor will give you the energy to remain active during the day and allow natural tiredness to kick in at Fajr for a more restful sleep.
4- Increased levels of anxiety
The changes in daily routine and the shorter periods of sleep can lead to increased stress and even anxiety.
It is important to deal with any potential sources of stress to stop any harmful effects. This can be helped by not taking on more than you can handle, including avoiding physical activity. When fasting our bodies naturally become less active because of the reduced energy that we are getting from food. Therefore, it is advisable to reduce any high level physical activity including sports and exercise during this period.
About the author
Dr. Taoufik Alsaadi is the Chief Medical Officer and the Chairman of the Neurology Department at the American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology (ACPN). He had his training in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he also held a position of a research fellow in epilepsy. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN), the American Board of Clinical Neurophysiology and the American Board of neurology in Clinical Epilepsy.
Former head of the Neurology Department at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) for 11 years. He was also an Associate Professor of Neurology and the Director of the Adult Epilepsy Program and the Clinical Research Program at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Alsaadi’s research focuses on clinical trials of new antiepileptic agents for patients with epilepsy, quality of life in patients with epileptic and non-epileptic disorders, as well as other neurological disorders, neuroimaging and electroencephalographic predictors of outcome from epilepsy surgery.