Photo (cc) by Aaron Geller
A chronically irregular schedule could be to blame for weight gain and metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, according to circadian science.
While scientists have long since established that a “master clock” in our brain regulates our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, NPR reports they have more recently discovered that all vital organs have their own clock.
Researchers are working on a way to reset our clocks with medication, as PsychCentral recently reported. Until then, however, it’s up to us to keep our clocks in sync or suffer the consequences.
Occasional disturbances to our sleep-wake side, such as pulling an all-nighter or flying to a different time zone, can temporarily throw off our hunger pangs and blood sugar levels, or leave us feeling jet-lagged, for example. Over time, though, an irregular schedule can led to chronic health issues.
“What happens is that you get a total de-synchronization of the clocks within us, which may be underlying the chronic diseases we face in our society today,” Northwestern University circadian scientist Fred Turek tells NPR.
Even eating in the middle of the night can throw our clocks out of sync, Turek says, because our master clock is set by the light-dark cycle and therefore tells the other clocks inside us when it’s night.
“The clock in the brain is sending signals saying: Do not eat, do not eat!” Turek says.
If we override the master clock, the clocks in the vital organs that help digest food will become out of sync because the meal in the middle of the night forced them to work when the master clock was telling them to rest.
This phenomenon also helps explains the results of a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2013. It concluded that people who ate later in the day lost weight more slowly.