Unlocking the Neurological Benefits of Fasting in Ramadan

Recent scientific studies have explored how fasting during Ramadan affects the brain and nervous system–find out more!

Recent scientific studies have explored how fasting during Ramadan affects the brain and nervous system–find out more!

Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, not only for spiritual reflection but also for potential impact on the neurological. Recent scientific studies have explored how fasting during Ramadan affects the brain and nervous system, improving mood outcomes. In this article, we’ll be exploring some tips and tricks to help you optimize your fasting experience and make the most out of it. 


Surah Al-Baqarah verse 183 states,

O you who have believed, fasting is decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” 

This verse highlights the importance of fasting within the Islamic faith, emphasizing its role in spiritual growth and self-improvement. According to the interpretation of Ibn Kathir, fasting serves a spiritual purpose: purifying the soul and cleansing it from negativity.

Beyond its spiritual significance, recent scientific exploration delves into the potential impact of fasting on the brain. A groundbreaking study by researchers in Amsterdam in 2021 investigated this connection. By examining participants’ brains using Single-photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans after a 24-hour fast, they observed a fascinating phenomenon. Their in-depth analysis revealed a fascinating link: these hormonal adjustments accounted for 44% of the increased serotonin observed. The researchers believe that fewer changes in insulin and free fatty acids could ultimately affect their serotonin levels.

This scientific exploration connects in an intriguing way to the hadith narrated by Ibn `Umar (Sahih al-Bukhari 5394, Book 70, Hadith 22), where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says that a believer eats in one intestine (is satisfied with a bit of food), and a kafir (unbeliever) or a hypocrite eats in seven intestines (overeats). This hadith subtly connects the concept of spiritual purity with moderate eating habits, potentially suggesting a link between inner peace and mindful consumption.

One other neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in the brain is dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter known as the “feel-good” chemical that plays a critical role in motivation, reward, and pleasure. It acts like a symphony conductor in the brain, directing our desires and guiding our actions towards fulfilling them. For example, when you accomplish a challenging task during fasting, it can trigger dopamine release in your brain. This creates a reward and motivates you to keep up your efforts. This positive reinforcement loop can be a potential mechanism by which fasting can contribute to feelings of satisfaction and perseverance. Therefore, maintaining healthy dopamine levels by practicing healthy habits and fasting can help you control your appetite and stick to the fast.

While our discussion has explored the roles of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, another key player in the fasting story deserves attention: cortisol. Often dubbed the “stress hormone,” cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands and plays a crucial role in the body’s stress response. Dr. Ronny Tri Wirasto, a psychiatrist, has shed light on the potential benefits of fasting in relieving stress. Fasting can lead to a more structured eating schedule, which might influence how we think and organize our thoughts. A well-regulated eating pattern could promote more straightforward and focused thinking, potentially reducing feelings of mental strain and disorganization often associated with stress. He also highlights the potential impact of fasting on cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone. He suggests that fasting can help regulate cortisol production by the adrenal glands, leading to a stabilization of cortisol levels and a subsequent reduction in stress.


The act of fasting during Ramadan involves having a pre-dawn meal called Suhoor. This meal is more than just a way to satisfy hunger, as it has been emphasized in the hadith that “Take Suhoor as there is a blessing in it” (Sahih al-Bukhari 1923, Book 30, Hadith 32).

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This suggests that Suhoor is not just a meal before the fast but a practice with potential benefits for those observing the fast. Skipping Suhoor can lead to hypoglycemia, which is a condition characterized by low blood sugar levels. This can cause symptoms such as tiredness, dizziness, and even headaches, including early morning migraines. The importance of Suhoor is highlighted in the Bangladesh Journal of Medical Sciences, which emphasizes the potential risk of hypoglycemia and dehydration during prolonged fasting periods. Consuming a balanced Suhoor that is rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats can provide individuals with sustained energy throughout the day, potentially preventing the onset of early morning migraines often associated with low blood sugar levels. This scientific evidence supports the prophetic saying and offers a possible medical explanation for the “blessing” associated with Suhoor.

Optimizing your Ramadan experience goes beyond simply nourishing your body. Emotional well-being is crucial during Ramadan. Engaging with the Quran can be beneficial for this. A study conducted in 2023 by the Iran University of Medical Sciences (IUMS) suggests that engaging with the Quran through recitation or listening can be an effective non-pharmacological technique for managing stress. In Islamic traditions, Ramadan is a time for spiritual growth and self-reflection, and practicing regular recitation during fasting can provide a sense of calmness and focus. The rhythmic nature of the recitation and the act of engaging with sacred text can offer a form of mindfulness practice, promoting relaxation and reducing anxiety. Even for those unable to recite the Quran, simply listening to recitations can still be beneficial. The melodic sounds and the conveyed meaning evoke peace and tranquility, which may reduce stress and promote emotional well-being.

Maintaining a balance between sleep and wakefulness during Ramadan is also crucial. Sleep deprivation weakens the immune system and increases oxidative stress, leading to neuroinflammation, impaired memory, and cognitive dysfunction. In contrast, excessive sleep can disrupt the production of serotonin, leading to irritability and fatigue.

The Quran and Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) teachings emphasize the importance of sleep as a blessing from Allah SWT.

Verse 23 of Surah Ar-Rum describes sleep as one of the signs of the divine, highlighting its significance for human well-being. Additionally, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) disliked sleeping before the Isha prayer (Sahih al-Bukhari 568, Book 9, Hadith 45) and encouraged waking up for Fajr prayer, promoting a balanced sleep schedule. To balance sleep during Ramadan, it is essential to maintain consistent sleep schedules throughout the month and plan accordingly.

Regular physical activity during Ramadan can improve your cognitive function. This is because exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells and improves blood flow to the brain. As a result, you may experience improved memory, concentration, and focus during your fast. Exercise is also a natural stress reliever, as it triggers the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals.

It is recommended that you engage in low-to-moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, swimming, or yoga. Strenuous activity should be avoided as it can lead to dehydration or fatigue. By incorporating mindful movement into your Ramadan routine, you can maintain physical fitness and also experience a range of neurological benefits, including improved cognitive function, enhanced mood, better sleep, and potentially even protection against cognitive decline.However, before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions, it is always advisable to consult a healthcare professional.

Incorporating the practices and insights shared in this article can help you optimize your fasting experience. This can lead to enhanced cognitive function, improved mood, and a deeper sense of spiritual connection. It’s important to embrace the challenge, prioritize self-care, and allow yourself to reap the multifaceted benefits that Ramadan has to offer.


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