The Window Matters: A Systematic Review of Time Restricted Eating Strategies in Relation to Cortisol and Melatonin Secretion

Nutrients. 2021 Jul 23;13(8):2525. doi: 10.3390/nu13082525.


Time-Restricted Eating is an eating pattern based on the circadian rhythm which limits daily food intake (usually to ≤12 h/day), unique in that no overt restriction is imposed on the quality, nor quantity, of food intake. This paper aimed to examine the effects of two patterns of TRE, traditional TRE, and Ramadan fasting, on two markers of circadian rhythm, cortisol and melatonin. PubMed and Web of Science were searched up to December 2020 for studies examining the effects of time restricted eating on cortisol and melatonin. Fourteen studies met our inclusion criteria. All Ramadan papers found statistically significant decrease in melatonin (p < 0.05) during Ramadan. Two out of the three Ramadan papers noted an abolishing of the circadian rhythm of cortisol (p < 0.05). The non-Ramadan TRE papers did not examine melatonin, and cortisol changes were mixed. In studies comparing TRE to control diets, Stratton et al. found increased cortisol levels in the non-TRE fasting group (p = 0.0018) and McAllister et al. noted no difference. Dinner-skipping resulted in significantly reduced evening cortisol and non-significantly raised morning cortisol. Conversely, breakfast skipping resulted in significantly reduced morning cortisol. This blunting indicates a dysfunctional HPA axis, and may be associated with poor cardio-metabolic outcomes. There is a paucity of research examining the effects of TRE on cortisol and melatonin. The contrasting effect of dinner and breakfast-skipping should be further examined to ascertain whether timing the feeding window indeed has an impact on circadian rhythmicity.

Keywords: Ramadan; chrono-nutrition; circadian rhythm; cortisol; intermittent fasting; melatonin; time restricted eating; time restricted feeding.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breakfast / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Fasting / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Meals / physiology
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Religion
  • Time Factors


  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone