You may want to think twice before helping yourself to a regular midnight snack. Eating late at night could take a toll on our brain, according to early research out of UCLA. Science has to take the fun out of everything, huh?
It all comes down to our circadian rhythm. The rhythm, a kind of biological clock, operates on a roughly 24-hour cycle and controls bodily functions such as the release of hormones, body temperature, and of course, our sleep-wake cycle. Disrupting the circadian rhythm can negatively impact our health in a host of ways, from weakening our immune system to triggering type 2 diabetes.
“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,” lead researcher and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UCLA Christopher Colwell explained to TODAY / NBC News. “But our biological systems — that’s not the way they work. They work based on having a daily rhythm.”
While the occasional disruption is no big deal, regularly eating when our body thinks we should be sleeping could warp our circadian rhythm and affect our ability to learn, Colwell said.
In the experiment, researchers observed how eating and sleeping patterns affected learning in mice. One group of mice ate and slept as usual, while the other group was only allowed to eat during their regular sleep time. (Both groups ultimately slept for the same number of hours every night.) After a few weeks, the researchers gave the mice learning tests—and the mice that ate when they usually slept had intense difficulty remembering what they had learned and identifying new objects. Kind of scary.
Cowell told TODAY he believes the general principle also applies to humans. I mean, sure, the research is pretty serious and all, but losing my ability to retain information is absolutely worth that midnight LBT. I mean, BLT.