Do Irregular Sleep and Meal Schedules Cause Weight Gain?
Even if you eat healthy food and exercise regularly, your irregular sleep and meal schedules may be preventing you from losing weight, according to a research paper published in the new issue of the BioEssays journal.
In her paper, Dr. Cathy Wyse of the chronobiology research group at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland shared her theory that the human internal clock—also known as circadian rhythm — has been struggling to stay in tune with our alarm clocks and irregular eating and sleeping habits.
Dr. Wyse believes the prevalent disconnect between our body clocks and the reality of our modern schedules — known as circadian desynchrony — may be contributing to societal health problems such as diabetes, and the global obesity epidemic.
Research on Mice Provides Clues
In her paper, Dr Wyse referenced previous research on mice that showed that the manipulation of light and dark, and thus their body clock, resulted in certain mice gaining weight, even though they did not eat more than the control group mice.
When the normal pattern of dark and light was disrupted, it caused changes to genes in the liver which controls the breakdown of fat and glucose, resulting in the mice gaining weight compared with those in natural conditions.
Wyse feels this was an important finding — that the circadian rhythm is more important than we thought in regulating metabolism, and the increase in global obesity in the developed world may be caused by more than poor diet and lack of physical activity.
Body Clock Origins
The cycle of sleeping, waking, eating and digestion over a 24-hour period activates processes in our cells, triggering the release of hormones which control metabolism and other functions. Light is the primary factor controlling the body clock of plants, animals and humans, synchronizing them with the natural cycle of the sun.
But over the last century, the prevalence of artificial light and long work hours has thrown off our circadian rhythms, causing an override of an ancient synchronization between the human clock and the environment. This condition disrupts the brain’s metabolic functions and increases the likelihood of developing obesity and diabetes.
What You Can Do
While artificial light is a reality of our modern times, Dr. Wyse says there are some common sense things we can do to counter the prevalence of body clock disruption, and help stave off weight gain as a result. She recommends eating at regularly scheduled times, getting plenty of sunlight and exercise, and sleeping in pitch darkness.
Read Dr. Wyse’s paper, “Living Against the Clock; Does Loss of Daily Rhythms Cause Obesity?”
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