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The Time You Eat Can Have An Impact On Your Mental Health

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

With working hours becoming more unorthodox over the past few years, our sleeping and eating patterns have gone out of whack. Aside from a perpetual scramble to maintain some semblance of social life, this has caused a slew of physical and mental health problems.

Studies have proven that even after years of spending hours being awake late at night, your body won’t adapt to the altered schedule. In fact, these negative effects would only worsen the longer your internal clock is thwarted.

While researchers have been studying melatonin and light therapies to offset the negative effects of staying awake for long hours during nighttime for night shift workers, like hospital staff and security guards, new research is suggesting another solution for the mental well-being of night shift workers, namely altered meal timings.

A typical human body’s hormonal balance fluctuates throughout the day based on its circadian clock. Evidence has suggested that eating at night can throw off this important balance.

These findings led researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston to look into whether avoiding meals at nighttime could improve the well-being of night shift workers. Surprisingly, their study discovered that confining meals to daytime could improve mental health issues normally reported by nighttime workers.

For the study, the researchers subjected 19 participants to simulated night work in a randomised control trial. Over the course of two weeks, meals among one half of the group were eaten during both daytime and nighttime hours, while the other group only ate during the day.

Variables like calories consumed, duration of sleep, and physical activities, were kept the same for all participants. The study discovered that when the nighttime simulated group was served meals during the day and night, there was a 26 percent increase in depression-like mood levels and a 16 percent increase in anxiety-like mood levels. The group that only ate during the daytime reported no such mood changes.

“We found evidence that meal timing had moderate to large effects on depression-like and anxiety-like mood levels during simulated night work, and that such effects were associated with the degree of internal circadian misalignment,” says the study, “These findings offer a proof-of-concept demonstration of an evidence-based meal timing intervention that may prevent mood vulnerability in shift work settings.”

Further research is being conducted into figuring out whether this could be a sustainable solution to the problem or not.