Are Late-Night Snacks Nibbling Away at Your Memory?

Article by David Crawford | 589 words

Studies about food are no doubt a popular topic. “You are what you eat,” as they say, so you want to make sure you’re eating something good. But there’s more to it than what you eat: in particular, when you eat is significant. Recent studies have examined how eating late could affect your health.

Late night eater

Credit: BCLiving.ca

Sleep, Food and Waistlines

In February of 2006, Science Daily posted a study conducted by the Oregon National Primate Research Center that fought against the myth that, when you eat food later at night, you gain more weight. The study involved sixteen monkeys and, long story short, it was found that the monkeys who ate at night gained no more weight than the monkeys who ate during the day.

In May of 2011, Science Daily posted another study, this time conducted by the Northwestern University, that linked late sleepers with weight gain. They claimed that the twenty-three late-night sleepers involved in the study ate more fast food, ate fewer vegetables and drank more sodas than the twenty-eight regular sleepers. So although late-night eating might not cause weight gain by itself, night owls are more likely to have unhealthy diets.

Of Mice and Memory

However, scientists are now approaching this subject from a different angle. Instead of another study examining weight gain, recent research takes a look at how eating late might be unhealthy for your brain. According to LiveScience.com, a researcher named Christopher Colwell at the University of California conducted a study with mice. Some mice ate during the time when the others were sleeping. As a result, they experienced disruptions in their memories. While the study involved mice, the same could be said for humans because we both have internal clocks, which is a key factor to the study.

In order to make the study more applicable to humans, Colwell forced the mice into normal sleeping schedules similar to our own. The next step, LiveScience explains, was for Colwell to feed one set of mice during the day and one set of mice during the night. Finally, the mice’s memory abilities were tested, and the mice eating during the night experienced a decline in their memory.

Colwell continued with another experiment by taking a look at the mice’s recall. The mice were conditioned to feel fear when placed in a certain location. The mice that ate on a regular schedule froze in fear, just as they were trained to do so, but the mice that ate when the others were sleeping froze less often, struggling to recall the training.

Finally, Colwell conducted one more experiment by measuring the mice’s learning. To no surprise, the mice that ate at the regular times learned much more quickly than the mice that ate at abnormal times.

The Implications for Our Sleeping and Eating Habits

So what’s the point of all this? It suggests that humans are meant to stick to a particular sleep schedule. Deviating from your own sleep schedule occasionally won’t kill you, but it comes with a cost. Even if you can’t sleep with a regular schedule, you may want to avoid late-night eating as much as possible. Although late meals wouldn’t necessarily add to your waistline, they could hurt that brain of yours.

Of course, there’s room for more research, but this is an eye-opening start. Hopefully, there will be similar experiments on humans that examine a number of different circumstances to widen our perspectives on the issue. Until then, try to remember this article the next time you consider having a late-night snack.

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