How Fasting Can Make Your Hifz Memory Better

Fasting has many benefits. You would have heard that fasting improves your learning or memory ability. How? And is this really the case? Let’s explore some of the data on fasting and if it can be beneficial for you.

What studies suggest about fasting improving memory

The majority of studies on fasting have followed a specific type of fasting and tested a hypothesis on animals. There are few studies done on human beings. For instance, a study on mice found that intermittent fasting (fasting every other day) improves long-term memory consolidation.

In one small study, volunteers aged 35–75 followed either intermittent fasting or a standard calorie-restricted diet for 4 weeks. The results showed improvements in both groups for a process called pattern separation, which helps your brain to distinguish between similar memories. However, when it came to recognition memory, people in the intermittent fasting group actually showed worse ability afterward.

It’s unclear whether or not the memory effect observed in mice holds true in humans. Studies that have looked at the potential cognitive effects of intermittent fasting on human cognition are few and small. Studies on ketogenic diets, which are in some ways similar to fasting, have found limited success.

The experiences of many people say otherwise. Intermittent fasting itself could also be used as the cognitive enhancer many (many) already believe it to be.

Evidence that visual learning and working memory can improve from fasting

In a study done in 2011 to profile the effect of fasting during Ramadān on cognitive function in a group of healthy Muslim athletes.

This involved 18 male athletes. Pencak silat martial artists, between 17 and 29 years of age. They underwent computerised neuropsychological testing during (fasting) and after (non-fasting) Ramadān. They were given standard meals, more or less the same training regime they had before Ramadān. The duration of sleep during Ramadān was significantly shorter. The duration of daytime naps though was increased.

What were the results?

  1. There was a fasting effect on visual learning and working memory. Although not significant.
  2. Performance was better in the morning and declined in the late afternoon.

There are other studies that have been performed during the month of Ramadān that show no significant changes. These do not prove that fasting has no effect. Each study has different methods producing different results. Rather it demonstrates that fasting the right way with a good diet and sleep, you can see improvement.

In a research paper, on whether fasting can affect cognitive functions in young people, we can see that “Islamic fasting” may affect cognitive activities such as spatial memory, visual memory, and attention which play an important role in an effective education.

What about fasting outside of Ramadān?

Fasting the Sunnah way (fasting twice a week or fasting the white days) brings about many benefits.

Research done in “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease” (PDF) found that intermittent fasting provides numerous benefits for many health conditions and shows a positive correlation between a calorie-restricted diet and verbal memory, improved global cognition, and executive function.

Other studies have shown improvement in memory through the reduction of food. For us, fasting has more spiritual benefits than anything else but the key lesson that I want to share is don’t be overeating. Eating right is also important. A recent study suggests that high caloric intake over time may actually raise your odds of developing memory loss.

So can fasting make your Hifdh better?

It depends.

There are various factors involved here. Your health, your food and water intake, your activity, your age group, your sleep, and your specific needs, etc. Studies, in the same way, show conflicting results.

Fasting has been mentioned in narrations attributed to Sahābah and the pious, as one of the things that aid memory. One of the reasons for this is that it increases elements of taqwa when it’s done well. There’s a greater spirit. Fasting enables piety and increases our reception to knowledge. Another is that the ego is weakened and you’re not feeding it by filling your belly. Not everyone can fast, but everyone can reduce food intake to a certain level. See what it does.

We can see from many studies that during fasting there is a change in our recall. Especially in the early hours of the day (9am+). If anyone has a routine of keeping fasts outside Ramadān and you feel an impact from fasting, let me know.

Experience suggests an impact

In my personal experience memorising or reviewing Qur’ān while fasting increased my focus and ability to memorise. What might have taken an hour to do would be complete much faster. I found myself being a lot sharper.

When I asked a group of you in February 2021, some of you said:

Whenever I fast on Mon/Thurs the verses become very easy to memorise and review.

I feel more productive in terms of memorising and reviewing when i faster whether it’s ayyāmul beed or Monday/Thursday.

I find it harder to memorise (review and recite) when fasting. I tend to make more mistakes which makes me frustrate and irritable. It’s a constant cycle.

I choose to recite mostly on an empty or semi-full stomach. The fluidity in recitation is unmatched for me personally I love it.

I also asked my Instagram followers if they’ve seen a direct benefit of fasting on their memorisation. At the time of writing, 40% said they have, 48% said they’re not sure and 12% said they haven’t.

I would love to gather more data on this and if you’re interested, let me know about your own experiences.

May Allāh grant blessing!

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