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It’s My First Ramadan Taking ADHD Medication — Here’s How I’m Approaching It

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

Every year, many Muslims around the world spend the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar) fasting and engaging in other religious activities. Every day for a month, people will abstain from food or drink (water, too) from sunrise to sunset. Where I’m located in Canada, that would mean about 14 hours of fasting per day this year. 

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I didn’t fast for most of my life, but I started to a couple of years ago. For health reasons, I’ve always done a modified fast, aiming for 10-12 hours instead of the full time. This year presented a new challenge for me because it’s my first year taking ADHD medication, and the impact it has on me is often influenced by whether I’ve had enough to eat or drink. I decided that I would do a modified fast again this year, adjusting each day to try to make it more manageable, and giving myself the freedom to break my fast or stop fasting if it becomes too difficult. 

Day 1: 11-Hour Fast

I had set an alarm to wake up and eat before fasting, but of course, I forgot that it was Ramadan (classic ADHD) and turned off my alarm. Because I slept in, I didn’t eat or drink anything until the evening… which also meant that I didn’t take my medication. Not a smart move. I definitely didn’t want to do that again because I was unfocused and unproductive the whole day without my medication.

Day 2: 10-Hour Fast

This time, I made sure I woke up and ate a good breakfast before taking my medication and beginning to fast. The first half of the day was easy, but after about four hours, I really started to notice how dry my mouth was. Not having any water is extremely difficult with ADHD medication because it can make you thirsty and cause “dry mouth.” The biggest thing I noticed was that the comedown from my medication was much harder than usual. I typically don’t experience much of a comedown (which is characterized as sadness or fatigue when the medication wears off) so it’s always been easy to manage when I’m not fasting. Mentally, Ramadan is already feeling harder this year than in other years.

Day 3: 9-Hour Fast

Because the comedown was so hard yesterday, I opted for a more protein-heavy meal this morning and made myself drink a lot more water. It was my first day working during Ramadan and while the morning was OK, my motivation dwindled fast and I struggled to stay motivated. ADHD makes motivation a limited and rare resource for me, so it was disappointing that I had virtually none while fasting. I’m not sure if it’s because a lack of food and water makes my medication less effective, or I was just tired and hungry. The comedown was challenging again, and I noticed I was feeling extra annoyed and irritable.

Day 4: 9.5-Hour Fast

Today was physically easier from a hunger and thirst POV; I think my body is starting to adjust! I woke up exhausted and didn’t want to fast at all, but it got a bit easier as the day went on. The biggest challenge remains the emotional aspect; I was more upset than the other days, and the comedown was just as hard, if not harder than the previous days. I’m beginning to wonder how sustainable it will be for my mental health to try and fast every day. ADHD was at an all-time high, and I kept losing my train of thought throughout the day.

Day 5: 8-Hour Fast

I had to break my fast earlier than I would have liked today. I felt extremely anxious throughout the day. I suspect it’s from my ADHD medication making me feel like I have caffeine jitters. On top of that, the large meals combined with long periods of not eating are causing my IBS to flare up. My willpower is draining, and I’m not experiencing the usual benefits and positive feelings I get from fasting.

Day 6: 6-Hour Fast, Small Snack, 6-Hour Fast

I had a flight to catch today, and knew I needed to keep my ADHD at bay to ensure I didn’t forget anything and made my flight on time. To manage this, I did more of a restriction than a long fast and found it helped a little bit. I was more irritable and impatient with travel delays, so it was one of the more challenging travel experiences I’ve had.

Day 7: 8.5-Hour Fast

Today was a bit easier, but I still didn’t fast for a super long time. I needed to break my fast early, and after how difficult this week has been with trying to manage my ADHD, I couldn’t do it any longer. 

This experience thus far has really made me understand how much consistent food and water impact managing my ADHD, and how the effectiveness of my medication is driven by factors like eating enough or drinking enough water. This is by far the most challenging Ramadan, and I’m more emotional and exhausted than in other years. I’ve decided that I won’t fast every day, and that’s OK.

Ramadan hasn’t been all bad so far either — I’m more reflective and I like to think I’m more conscious of how I’m acting and thinking. It’s also made me more aware of my body and mind, and I think that’s always a good thing. But I also think it’s important to talk about the challenges that come with this time of year, and how it is more difficult for some than for others, but that doesn’t make you a bad person if you struggle.

I know that my faith and belief system aren’t tied to exactly how many hours I fast for, but are rather tied to my efforts and intention to try my best. And sometimes, I won’t feel like trying my best, but that’s OK, too. Resting, listening to my body, doing what’s best for my mind — these are all the “right” things to do, even if it doesn’t seem that way on paper. And while I struggle a lot with feeling like I’m weak or not trying hard enough or failing at fasting so why bother trying, I know I’m not the only one.

So if you’re in the same boat as me and need to hear this: it’s OK to prioritize your health. Your condition does not make you weaker or less than anyone else. Your challenges and struggles are valid, and you deserve the modifications you need. Your worth and value are not tied to your ability to participate in certain activities. It’s OK to do what you need to do.

For more on how Ramadan affects those living with a health condition, you can read Mighty contributor Sharifah Alia’s story on why the end of Ramadan is hard for her as a person with bulimia nervosa.

Getty Images photo via Sarath Maroli

Originally published: April 11, 2022
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