Ramadan is an exceptional month where every high-performing Muslim wants to be at their best: spiritually, physically, and socially. However, it can also be a very challenging month with lack of sleep, lack of focus, and lack of energy.
Since the start of Ramadan 1443H, I have partnered with Mohammed Faris, founder of The Productive Muslim Company, to test out a few biohacks and measure their impact on our levels of energy, focus, and overall wellbeing.
We experimented using different combinations of what I’ll share below and used the Whoop 4.0 fitness tracker (affiliate link) to measure how each experiment impacted our sleep, strain, and recovery and recorded voice notes on how we felt throughout the day.
Before I share our top recommended biohacks for Ramadan, a quick introduction to biohacking and what it means for Ramadan.
What does biohacking mean?
When you think of a biohack, you probably think of a pill you take that’s supposed to alter your biology. However, biohacking covers a spectrum, from aligning ourselves with nature to technology and supplements.
The best approach to biohacking is to start with self-awareness and mindfulness about your energy/focus levels and what works and doesn’t work for you—followed by tapping into nature and life rhythms to make the most of how your body interacts with nature. Finally, using supplements and technology to help you ‘mimic’ our ancestors’ fitra (natural disposition) lifestyle before modern electricity, internet, work schedules, etc.
A few points related to biohacking for Ramadan:
- The purpose of this article is not to ‘cheat’ fasting or make fasting Ramadan ‘easy’. Instead, it is to help high-performing Muslims manage their energy and focus throughout the fasting month, especially those in critical roles like doctors and pilots.
- Before trying any of the hacks below – especially those that use supplements – we highly recommend that you speak to your doctor to confirm that it is safe to adopt them. Myself and The Productive Muslim company will not be held responsible for any harm caused by following these hacks without prior consultation with a medical doctor.
- Even with these hacks – you’ll still feel the difficulty of Ramadan. So following these hacks will not turn you into a super being. However, they can make your Ramadan much more high-performing than usual.
Alright, bismillah, here are the top 10 biohacks I recommend for Ramadan.
1. Wear blue light blocking glasses at night
وَجَعَلْنَا نَوْمَكُمْ سُبَاتًۭا
And made your sleep [a means for] rest
Blue light blocking glasses help mitigate the damage that post-Maghrib light exposure causes. This is a critical circadian rhythm hack.
Screen lights and most overhead lighting in the evening hours are proven to disrupt our natural sleep cycles. Evidence shows that our natural sleep hormones are suppressed, and our natural daytime stress hormones get boosted every time we expose ourselves to screen light or overhead lighting at night. This leads to poor quality sleep for almost everyone on the planet, 365 days a year! As a result, we are not getting the restorative sleep essential for good health.
During Ramadan, we will sleep less given the late iftars/Taraweeh prayers and waking up early for suhoor. So we need to optimize our sleep cycles to get better quality sleep while getting less quantity of sleep.
Blue-light blocking glasses can block up to 99% of the harmful blue light in the evening and ‘hack’ your sleep cycle to experience greater levels of deep sleep and REM.
Practical Tip: I know this might sound weird, but wear blue light blockers in the last hour before your designated sleep time (yes, including at the masjid at Isha/Taraweeh), and notice the greater energy and mental performance you have the next day during fasting hours.
2. Expose yourself to sunlight early in the morning
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍۢ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ
Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding –
This is another essential circadian rhythm hack. Getting outside and witnessing morning sunlight (as close to post-fajr (dawn) as possible) causes us to make more of our sleep hormone (melatonin) at night. This practice resets our hormonal rhythms every day.
Furthermore, the full spectrum of light that the sun provides has also shown positive results in impacting the damage and strain that artificial light causes during the rest of our day.
Lastly, more interesting evidence is becoming available regarding the mental, emotional, and physical benefits of seeing the sunrise and sunset. Positive human genetic switches get activated when we witness the alternation of night and day, which Allah has mentioned in the Qur’an as a sign.
Practical Tip: Get out for 10 minutes in the morning as soon as possible and let the natural light of the morning enter your eyes. You will further improve your sleep quality, and you can experience greater biological system functioning. This doesn’t require looking at the sun. The sun’s light is powerful enough to register in our eyes without directly gazing at it.
3. Move More
The Prophet (ﷺ) used to go to the Quba’ mosque, sometimes walking, sometimes riding [Sahih Bukhari]
Note: The distance from the Prophet’s mosque to Quba’ mosque is roughly 7 km.
Movement is essential for a human being’s physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual health. We all generally know that exercise is essential for good cardiovascular and metabolic health. We now know that it is a much bigger story than that. Not only is it essential for hormonal health and balance (and hormones drive almost every process in our bodies), but it also directly impacts our nervous system, cognitive functioning, and emotional state.
Sedentary living is one of the greatest contributing factors to nearly all chronic illnesses and even some degenerative mental diseases. Furthermore, deep down in the nervous system, a body that doesn’t move is perceived by itself as sick, weak, potentially incapable, and therefore in danger. What does our body do in response? It provides us with an abundance of stress chemicals to get us up and back in action! This daily dose of stress chemicals leads to a chronic inflammatory state that impairs our biological systems, leading to poor metabolic health, digestive issues, cardiovascular and cardiorespiratory health problems, endocrine system imbalance, depression/anxiety, etc. Can we truly show up as our best selves with high spiritual focus and performance levels under these conditions?
Ramadan is not a time to stop moving or continue our sedentary lifestyle. I’m sure we all can imagine how our righteous predecessors didn’t have the luxury of sitting all day, driving between locations, and ordering anything they needed at the touch of a button. The way for us to holistically improve our health during Ramadan and beyond is to mimic the way of our predecessors. And there is great news! It all can be done at home, and it takes a lot less time than we might think it will.
Practical Tip: Here are three main movement lifestyle hacks to implement this Ramadan:
- Walking. Walking is free medicine, period. A day without walking is not a typical human day at all. Walking activates our largest muscles. This, in turn, benefits our blood glucose levels, bone density, metabolism, serotonin/melatonin production, sleep quality, and more. Twenty minutes a day should be the minimum. Any walking you can do directly after your iftar/suhoor is even better.
- Sit / Stand. Standing more often while working will activate the largest muscles in your body and save you from back/neck pain, unwanted fat storage, and stress chemical release. Try to stand for at least 10 minutes after every 30 minutes of sitting. Use an alarm to remind you.
- Move heavy objects. Like all of our human predecessors, we are designed to pull water out of wells, carry various objects, lift and stack, pick up animals, squat for multiple purposes, etc. Find a way to grab a safe but heavy object (it can be weights of course) and prioritize time daily to mimic the old ways! For extra help on this, look up farmer carries and functional movement patterns. That should get you started, and all you need is a few minutes per day! This practice helps to increase our glucose sensitivity, which many of us will want during Ramadan.
4. Eat Real Food
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ كُلُوا۟ مِمَّا فِى ٱلْأَرْضِ حَلَـٰلًۭا طَيِّبًۭا وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَٰتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنِ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّۭ مُّبِينٌ
O mankind, eat what is good and lawful from the earth, and do not follow Satan’s footsteps, for he is your sworn enemy.
We might get tomatoes thrown at us here! Nutrition can be a sensitive subject. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, as we all have different genetics, ages, goals, etc. The real food approach is the best starting point to create a new relationship with food. It goes a little something like this:
- the more ingredients it has, the less real it is
- If it comes in a box, package, or wrapper and has words you can’t pronounce, steer clear!
- The closer it looks to its original source, the better (from the animal, tree, ground etc.)
- More refined = Less real
- The longer it is designed to last on a shelf, the worse it is for us.
- Lastly, implement the 80/20. Try to live like this 80% of the time and forget about the rest if you want to.
At the end of our fast, we are open to receiving. The cells in our bodies will take in what we choose to consume, especially at iftar time. What we eat becomes our physical tissues and hormones, and enzymes that drive our systems. In many ways, we are what we eat! Fasting is perfect for us, but not accompanied by an inflammatory diet and lifestyle.
During Ramadan (and the rest of the year), our food choices will determine much about our daily health and well-being. Digestive issues (bloating, gas, cramping, heartburn, constipation, etc) are signs that what we are eating is likely not suitable for us as an individual. Furthermore, our gut health dictates our mood and sleep quality, which I’m sure we all want to improve.
The well-known “happiness” hormone/neurotransmitter serotonin is mostly produced in our gut. An inflamed compromised gut directly impacts our mood, but since serotonin is a precursor to melatonin (our sleep hormone), it also affects our sleep!
This Ramadan (and beyond), let’s commit to achieving better moods, focus, sleep, and energy through food.
Practical Tip: Ask yourself a couple of questions before you decide what to eat for iftar/suhoor:
- Is this food “real”?
- And is this food from the tayyib category that Allah mentions in the Qur’an?
5. Nature mimicking nutrients/supplements – Vitamin D, Celtic Sea Salt
Human beings need vitamin D. Vitamin D is not a vitamin; it is a hormone. It is a master hormone in many ways, and all of our other hormones don’t function well without it. Insufficient vitamin D levels compromise us both physically and mentally. The best way to get it is sun exposure, but that isn’t always easy for everyone. Getting sufficient levels from our diet is very difficult. Test yourself rather than guessing, and make sure you supplement if needed.
We are likely spending too much time indoors during Ramadan (and all year long). That is why mimicking nature through vitamin D supplementation can be extremely important.
Another mimic that can be essential for many of us is related to minerals. Much of the water we are drinking is depleted of minerals. For that reason, prioritizing good quality water and adding a pinch of Celtic Sea Salt can be very beneficial. There are other mineral supplements, of course, but sea salt is an easy go-to, and it has over 70 essential minerals in it!
This can be very important during Ramadan as we tend to be minerally depleted at the end of a fast. Making sure that we restore minerals will help us ensure better biological functioning during this month.
Practical Tip: If you have time, go get tested for vitamin D levels in your body and other minerals. Otherwise, get a vitamin D supplement and throw some Celtic sea salt in your water to tap into this biohack.
6. Temperature Hacks – Cold and hot
As uncomfortable as this truth might sound, human beings are not meant to be comfortable all of the time. We harm ourselves by not getting enough beneficial stress. Our entire being is designed to grow stronger and become more resilient through small doses of various stressors. This is known as hormesis.
There are many types of hormetic stressors. Exercise and fasting are among the more familiar. One that doesn’t get enough attention however is temperature. Human beings were not created to sit in perfectly temperature-controlled rooms. When we never get hot or cold, we lose resilience in our health. This is why saunas and cold plunges are the craze. For now, we’ll keep it simple by just laying out some of the benefits.
- Heat exposure benefits immune function, reduces inflammation, improves brain function (through BDNF), detoxes the body, etc.
- Cold exposure lowers body fat, improves blood sugar, boosts immune function, leads to better sleep quality, reduces inflammation, etc.
A little of either can go a long way!
During Ramadan, and depending on where one lives, it might be challenging to get extreme temperature exposure. We don’t recommend sauna use during Ramadan, but if you are in a hot city, you might want to spend 10 to 20 minutes outside during the day. It can be in the shade if the air temperature is hot enough.
Cold is often easier to come by. There are ice vests, ice pits, cryotherapy, and just regular outdoor cold air and water for some of us. One way to get started is to do a couple of minutes in the shower of 10 seconds of warm water, followed by 20 seconds of max cold. This isn’t optimal as we will have the potential of wasting water, so as soon as you get used to it, try to shower only in cold water a few times per week! Focus on your breath and control your gasp response. This is an excellent Ramadan hack, as we can boost many of the benefits of fasting through this protocol.
7. Grounding – Touch Nature
A man from the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) traveled to Fadaalah ibn Ubayd (may Allah be pleased with him) when he was in Egypt. After a brief conversation he asked him: “Why do I not see any shoes on you?” Fadaalah replied: “The Prophet (ﷺ) used to command us to go barefoot sometimes”.
When was the last time you touched a tree or stone? When did you last have your bare feet on natural earth? When we ask these questions, people often are shocked when they realize it has been ages!
By now, you may have heard of grounding or earthing. It is the practice of connecting with the natural earth and the earth’s natural magnetic frequencies. This leads to an ion exchange that has many benefits, such as reducing inflammation, realigning our circadian rhythms (improving sleep quality), lowering stress chemicals, and more.
This is such an easy hack, and definitely, we can get 10 to 20 minutes here and there throughout the week during Ramadan. Once again, some of the benefits are similar to the benefits of fasting. Therefore this hack is an excellent way to get a boost.
Practical Tips: In your next morning walk (see Hack #2 above), take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot on the grass/sand, and touch a tree with your hand and really connect with the tree as a spiritual being that worships Allah just like you do.
8. Quality Fasting
ۚ وَأَن تَصُومُوا۟ خَيْرٌۭ لَّكُمْ ۖ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ
… But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.
As we already touched on, fasting is a beneficial (hormetic) stressor. All biomarkers improve in a fasted state, such as blood sugar, lipids, blood pressure, etc. Fasting has also been shown to promote detoxification and balance our gut microbiome. How we Muslims do it, dry fasting (i.e. without water), is even more powerful.
Most importantly, fasting sharpens our spiritual faculties. When we hold ourselves back from food, drink, and our natural drives while at the same time guarding ourselves against actions and speech that we have been guided to avoid, our true virtuous nature can rise.
With this opportunity to work on ourselves during Ramadan, we should do our absolute best to get out of our way. How can we do that? By not pairing this time of fasting with lifestyle practices that lead to less than optimal performance, brain fog, digestive stress, and fatigue.
Practical Tip: Take the quality of your fasting and Ramadan to the next level by combining the hacks you’re learning in this article with your fasting for maximal spiritual and physical performance.
وَٱلصُّبْحِ إِذَا تَنَفَّسَ ١٨
by the dawn that softly breathes:
Breathwork is our superpower. We take about 20,000 breaths per day, and each sends a direct message to our nervous system that determines much about our current mental, emotional, and physical state.
It is known that the vast majority of people alive today have an inverted breathing pattern, meaning most of us no longer breathe from the diaphragm, inflating our belly when we inhale and deflating our belly upon the exhale. Most of us do the exact opposite and from the chest rather than the diaphragm (abdomen), which causes the release of stress chemicals as it is a breathing pattern that mimics the fight or flight response. This causes inflammation, impedes digestion, and leads to many other biological system imbalances.
We can reconnect with our diaphragm while taking deep, slow breaths in our tradition. This is done through the slow recitation of the Qur’an. Watch videos of the well-known Qaris as they slowly recite and count how many inhales they take per minute. Interestingly, slowing down our breaths to about four or five breaths per minute has been shown to give us the benefits we need.
Practical Tip: This Ramadan, let’s try to connect with ourselves through proper breathing while reciting Qur’an and even in our dhikr practices. We also recommend using the Breathwrk app for guided practices on breathing.
10. Supplement with Nootropics (safely)
A simple definition of nootropics is natural or synthetic substances that can be taken to improve mental performance in healthy people (Healthline). The most common nootropic is caffeine. Caffeine from high-quality sources and in the right doses can increase energy, boost mood, and have neuroprotective properties.
There are so many other nootropics (some referred to as “smart drugs”) ranging from simple and natural to synthetic and, in some cases, dangerous. We are not promoting the use of any nootropic substance without the consent of a medical professional. Also, some people can tolerate them, while others cannot, which is often the case with caffeine.
For those who are interested in experimenting with the cognitive benefits of nootropics, we have listed a few of the common ones used by the average person to the more avid bio-hacker below:
- High quality Coffee OR Bulletproof Coffee
- Time-release caffeine tablets
- Ginkgo Biloba,
- Yerba Mate,
- Lion’s Mane,
- Modafinil (by prescription)
If taken safely, you may find that supplementing them before starting your fast can help. This approach could be considered by those of us living in areas of the world where the fasting days are long, the work schedules don’t change, and you have high determination to accomplish the performance of ‘ibadah through the night.
These supplements can give you the cognitive functioning and mental focus you might need to seize the early part of your day with higher performance levels.
Practical Tips: We recommend that you don’t experiment with nootropics that you haven’t tried before during Ramadan, especially the synthetic ones. However, after Ramadan, you can experiment with some of the above after researching what works best for you. If you’re keen to experiment with one of the above, we recommend starting with Bulletproof Coffee, but of course in combination with a healthy approach to nutrition.
And that’s all! 10 Biohacks to help you maximize your spiritual, physical, and mental performance during Ramadan.
If you found this useful and want to share your biohacking experiments with fellow Muslims, join our Slack community and check out the #biohack channel.