We’ve all experienced those nighttime snack cravings. Perhaps for you it’s a regular habit and every night is a cheese and crackers night with Jimmy Fallon, or maybe it’s a cleverly marketed 30-second cereal commercial that ramps up that late craving, sending you to your kitchen for a bowl of me Lucky Charms. Whether it’s a habit or you’ve just fallen into the trap of commercial imagery, a new study suggests that later eating is not only expanding your waistline.
While many studies have also made the link between late night eating and weight gain, lowered metabolism, and sleep disruption, this one also adds increased insulin, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels, which could lead to a higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, and more.
Engaging in Late Night Eating? New Study Compares Earlier Eating to Delayed Eating
The new study, published in SLEEP: Official Publication of the Sleep Research Society (abstract 0064) and presented at the SLEEP Conference in Boston early this month, looked at eight adults of normal weight. The subjects underwent eight weeks of daytime eating, a two-week break, and then eight weeks of delayed eating. For the purpose of the study, daytime was defined as 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and delayed eating was defined as noon to 11 p.m. For both sessions, eating consisted of three meals and two snacks of equivalent nutrient value, sleep time was the same, and exercise was controlled and consistent. Weight, metabolism, and hormone markers were measured at baseline and following both sessions and the break.
The results of the study showed that delayed eating led to the following:
- Weight gain
- Increased insulin levels and decreased adiponectin, an important protein for metabolizing glucose and lipid (decreased adiponectin is common in obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes)
- Increased triglycerides (potentially raising the risk of heart disease) and cholesterol
- A rise in the respiratory quotient suggesting a decrease in lipid metabolism and increase in carbohydrate metabolism
- Since sleep cycles were controlled and kept consistent between both the daytime and delayed sessions, there was no change in sleep.
Not only did daytime eating not produce these negative metabolic results, it also showed an earlier peak in the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin and a later peak in the satiating hormone leptin. So daytime eating kept the study participants full longer, suggesting that getting all of our eating in during the daytime hours will stimulate the proper hormones to keep us from wanting to indulge in late night eating.
Metabolic Syndrome: An Epidemic in the U.S.
With signs such as obesity, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome needs to be a potential concern if delayed eating or late night eating is part of your daily habit, particularly if you are already overweight or gaining weight.
Despite metabolic syndrome being so prominent in the U.S., we’ve only really started to unveil this diagnosis and all that it entails within the last dozen years or so, and we keep learning more. As Americans’ weight has increased and health has declined due to high-carbohydrate diets (breads, pastas, sweets, etc.) and other poor dietary advice, metabolic syndrome has been brought to the forefront. Add to this a decrease in activity and proper sleep and a variety of other influences (such as the delayed-eating results uncovered in this new study), and metabolic syndrome just keeps getting worse.
Arthritis can occur in people with metabolic syndrome due to cartilage breakdown from toxic chemicals that are produced in the joints. This can be even more prominent when there excessive stress on the joints due to obesity. Metabolic syndrome has also been linked to poorer outcomes with hip and knee replacements, such as an increased risk of infection.
And don’t think fake sweeteners, such as those in diet sodas, are the solution to tackling or preventing metabolic syndrome. These artificial sugars have been shown to turn off your body’s natural signal that tells you you’re full, making you hungrier and more likely to eat more. These fake sugars also cause your body to release insulin just like sugar does. This leads to an excess of insulin production—the main cause of metabolic syndrome! A bad diet causes abnormal gut bacteria that can lead to a leaky gut, which is where bad stuff from inside the intestines can leak through the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream where it circulates through the body and can lead to a whole host of issues—this is also associated with metabolic syndrome.
The upshot? While eliminating that late night eating might not be the only solution to tackling weight gain and metabolic issues—dietary choices certainly need to lead the charge here—it’s a start. Making sure you are eating plenty of good, healthy fats during those daytime hours can help you stay satiated at night and you’ll be less likely to experience late-night cravings or fall under the spell of those clever snack commercials.