When you’re following a certain diet, you usually avoid unhealthy foods full of fat and sugar. According to a study, incorporating your sleep patterns into your diet plans also promotes weight loss.
Dr. Jonathan Johnston, a reader in chronobiology and integrative physiology at the University of Surrey, presented the study findings at a conference on chrono-nutrition, circadian clocks, and mealtimes that was held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London.
Data from the study suggested that the timing of your meals affects your ability to lose weight, which means that integrating sleep rhythm data can help build more effective personalized diet guides.
What you eat and when you eat matters
Chrononutrition, which refers to the practice of matching your food timings to your internal body clock or circadian system, is an emerging and high-profile research area. (Related: More sleep equals fewer calories: Research shows sleeping longer supports a healthier diet.)
Dr. Johnston explained that a person’s response to food depends on what time they eat the food. He added that humans have many circadian clocks within their bodies and that the majority of the organs in the digestive system have their own clock.
When your organs aren’t in sync with your brain, which is your body’s “master clock,” your metabolism is affected.
In a 2017 study led by Andrew McHill called “Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat,” McHill and his fellow researchers found that the timing of food intake relative to melatonin onset was closely tied to the percentage of body fat and body mass index (BMI).
On the other hand, the researchers didn’t find any connections between body fat or BMI and the time of consumption, caloric amount, meal macronutrient composition, physical activity level, or sleep duration.
The results of the 2017 study also suggested that eating food during the circadian evening and/or night – independent of the amount or content of food and the person’s activity level – is crucial to body composition.
Dr. Marta Garaulet, professor of physiology at the University of Murcia inSpain, has analyzed data from the study and conducted her own research into late night eating and its significant effects on weight management.
Garaulet said that the best time to eat your largest meal of the day is eight hours before dim-light melatonin onset. This means that if you start to feel tired at around 9 p.m., you should eat your biggest meal at 1 p.m.
Dr. Suzana Almoosawi, a research fellow at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre, advised that your circadian clock will change as you age. Younger people usually have a later circadian clock while older people have an earlier circadian clock.
For better weight management, your diet plan and meal-timing advice should incorporate your age and lifestyle.
Michelle Gibbs, a dietitian and nutrition research consultant, acknowledged that while it can be hard to pinpoint a person’s dim-light melatonin onset, this data could still be used to develop personalized diet plans.
Gibbs added that diet and nutrition experts can ask individuals what time they start to feel tired, or what time they normally go to bed. Their answers can be used to determine if they are a morning lark, a night owl, or somewhere in between.
How to align your sleeping pattern and diet
Follow the tips below if you want to align your eating and sleeping habits to boost your metabolism and lower your risk of weight gain and obesity-related conditions.
- Eat a healthy breakfast. It’s unhealthy to skip your first meal of the day, and it’s just as bad to eat fast food when you’re in a hurry. Skipping meals will only make you want to eat more later in the day. Data suggest that eating a higher-calorie breakfast and a lower-calorie dinner can promote weight loss and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Consume larger portions of nutrient-rich foods earlier in the day and eat smaller portions at night. Changing your eating habits will help support weight loss and insulin sensitivity.
- Have a regular sleeping schedule. Sleeping in the morning and working late into the night can affect your metabolism and increase your chance of gaining weight. Try to get at least eight hours of sleep every day and go to bed at about the same time every day.
Take note of your sleep patterns, get enough sleep at night, and eat nutritious meals for better weight management.