If you find yourself raiding the fridge in the middle of the night, you may want to rethink your eating habits — and not just because of your waistline. A new study has shown that eating late at night could be bad for your brain.
According to Today, experts studying the body’s internal clock have discovered that eating late at night, especially during the hours when our bodies think they should be sleeping, could disrupt learning and memory.
The study results could pose a possible health concern, not only for nighttime noshers, but for the millions of American’s who do shift work and are forced to eat “lunch” in the middle of the night.
Although the new research was done on mice, Christopher Colwell, one of the researchers, says that the general principles also apply to humans.
The study shows that the modern practice of working long hours and odd work schedules goes against the body’s need to stick with a specific schedule to remain healthy.
The circadian rhythm follows a 24-hour cycle and regulates almost everything in our body, including hormones and behavior. Disrupting that cycle is bad for our health, and frequent late night eating is one way that we disrupt our sleep-wake cycle.
“We have this illusion that with the flip of a switch, we can work at any time and part of that is eating at any time,” Colwell said. “But our biological systems – that’s not the way they work. They work based on having a daily rhythm.”
Colwell notes that immune system issues and type 2 diabetes are two of the problems you could face by disrupting your body’s sleep-wake cycle. It can also affect brain function, and he gives the example of being jet-lagged to demonstrate what the disruption can do to humans.
In the experiment, the researchers allowed one group of mice to eat at normal times, while a second group could only eat during their normal sleep time. All of the mice ate the same amount of food and slept the same amount of hours, they just did it at different times.
The mice were then given learning tests, which showed that the mice eating during their normal sleeping times were “severely compromised” in remembering what they had learned. They also had trouble recognizing new objects and showed changes in the part of the brain that involved learning and memory.
Colwell believes that the results are a reminder that we need to stay on a certain schedule. He pointed out that shift workers who find themselves in situations where their bodies’ clocks are constantly being reset are most at risk – such as those who work alternating shifts or who work nights during the week then go back to a day schedule on weekends.
Late night eating has also been linked to weight gain, but a Fitday report says that is a myth — studies have shown late night eating does not affect weight as long as we stay within our daily calorie needs. The Inquisitr also published a report busting some other weight loss myths recently.
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