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Mental Health

Eating during the day instead of at night could boost mental health

The findings of the study could benefit night shift workers and those with jet lag.

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Businesswoman eating noodles at her desk in the office
(ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Eating during the day instead of at night boosts mental health, according to new research from Boston.

A study found symptoms of depression and anxiety rise by 26 and 16 percent respectively after evening meals.

It suggests consuming food before going to bed is bad for the brain.

Shift workers and long-distance travelers are prone to neurological diseases - including dementia. It disrupts the body clock - or 'circadian rhythms.'

Lead author Professor Frank Scheer, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said: "Our findings provide evidence for the timing of food intake as a novel strategy to potentially minimize mood vulnerability in individuals experiencing circadian misalignment.

"They include people engaged in shift work, experiencing jet lag or suffering from circadian rhythm disorders."

One-in-five people work irregular hours owing to the 24/7 society. They are needed in hospitals, factories and other essential jobs - including transport.

It can send grey matter out of kilter with daily behaviors such as sleeping, waking, fasting and eating - increasing the risk of depression and anxiety by up to 40 percent.

Co-lead author Dr. Sarah Chellappa, now at Cologne University, said: "Shift workers - as well as individuals experiencing circadian disruption, including jet lag - may benefit from our meal timing intervention.

"Our findings open the door for a novel sleep/circadian behavioral strategy that might also benefit individuals experiencing mental health disorders.

"Our study adds to a growing body of evidence finding that strategies that optimize sleep and circadian rhythms may help promote mental health."

A businessman asleep in airport lounge.
(Air Images/Shutterstock)

Meal timing affected the moods of 19 participants - 12 men and seven women. During simulated night shifts depression and anxiety rose significantly when they also ate late.

In contrast, there were no changes when meals were taken during the day - even though they were working at night.

Dr. Chellapa said: "Meal timing is emerging as an important aspect of nutrition that may influence physical health.

"But the causal role of the timing of food intake on mental health remains to be tested. Future studies are required to establish if changes in meal timing can help individuals experiencing depressive and anxiety/anxiety-related disorders."

The volunteers underwent a protocol in dim light for four 28-hour 'days' to invert behavioral cycles by 12 hours - causing circadian misalignment.

A Daytime and Nighttime Meal Control Group had meals according to the cycle - resulting in eating both during the night and day which is typical among shift workers,

A Daytime-Only Meal Intervention Group had meals on a 24-hour cycle - eating only during the day. Depression and anxiety levels were measured every hour.

Prof Scheer said: "Future studies in shift workers and clinical populations are required to firmly establish if changes in meal timing can prevent their increased mood vulnerability.

"Until then, our study brings a new ‘player’ to the table - the timing of food intake matters for our mood."

In May scientists at Texas University found eating during the day instead of at nighttime could add years to your life.

Experiments found it increased longevity by a third in mice. It added to evidence having a hearty breakfast or lunch - and skipping an evening meal - is the healthiest for humans.

Recent years have seen the rise of many popular diets that focus on 'intermittent fasting'' - which includes eating only during a period of six to eight hours per day.

The study is in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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