Eating at night can worsen shift workers’ mental health

  • People who eat both night and day may experience increased symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • A new study looked at shift workers to see if when they ate was linked to mental health effects.
  • Previous studies have shown that night workers have a higher risk of poor mental health, including greater symptoms of depression and anxiety.

People undergoing sham shift work who ate both during the day and at night saw an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a new study.

However, those who only ate during the day were apparently protected from worsening mood symptoms.

This suggests a possible way to improve the mental health of the millions of Americans who work night shifts, shifts, or on call, though more research is needed outside of the sleep lab.

Night work causes a mismatch between the body’s circadian rhythm — or internal 24-hour “clock” — and a person’s sleep/wake cycle. It may increase the risk obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Studies also show that night workers have a higher risk of poor mental health, including greater symptoms of depression and anxiety.

“Our results provide evidence for the timing of food intake as a novel strategy to potentially minimize mood vulnerability in people with circadian misalignment, such as shift workers, jet lag, or people with circadian rhythm disorders,” said study author Frank AJL. Scheer, PhD, director of the medical chronobiology program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said in a press release.

The study was published on September 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study included 19 participants – 12 men and seven women – who underwent simulated night-time working conditions in a lab.

This caused a circadian misalignment – ​​a mismatch between their internal “clock” and behavioral/environmental cycles such as when they slept and the light and dark pattern.

People in the study were randomly assigned to one of two meal timing groups. One group ate during the day and night, which is common for night workers. The other group only ate during the day.

The researchers assessed the participants’ depressed and anxious mood levels every hour during their waking hours. These correspond to a group of mood states that commonly occur in people with depressive disorder or anxiety-related disorder.

During the simulated night shift, people who ate both day and night saw a 26% increase in depressed mood levels and a 16% increase in anxious mood levels, both compared to their levels departure.

The effect on mood was greater for people with a higher degree of circadian misalignment.

In contrast, people who only ate meals during the day saw no significant change in their depressed or anxious mood levels.

Mood differences between the two groups are unlikely to be due to other factors, the researchers write in the paper, because the study conditions were the same for both groups, “except meal times”.

These identical conditions included calorie and macronutrient intake, physical activity, posture, sleep duration and lighting conditions.

“Shift workers — as well as people with circadian disturbances, including jet lag — can benefit from our mealtime intervention,” said corresponding co-author Dr. Sarah L. Chellappa, now at the University of Cologne in Cologne, Germany. Release.

However, “the causal role of timing of food intake on mental health remains to be tested,” she added. “Future studies are needed to establish whether changes in mealtimes can help people with depressive and anxiety/anxiety-related disorders.”

Dr Christopher Palmer, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, who was not part of the new research, said it was a “fascinating” study that matches what is already known on the health risks of night work.

“We have long known that shift workers have higher rates of mental disorders – in particular, depression and anxiety disorders – as well as metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” he said. -he declares.

Although he said more research was needed, based on this study and similar research, “I think shift workers are advised to at least try to eat their meals during the day for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for them, in terms of mood and anxiety symptoms.

This study is most relevant for shift workers and others with disrupted sleep schedules. But some research shows that eating late at night can also impact the health of people who don’t work night shifts.

Studies have found a link between eating late at night and a higher risk of coronary disease, difficulty losing weightand eat too much.

Additionally, people who get up frequently in the middle of the night to snack — known as night eating syndrome — may be at higher risk for the Depression and psychological distress.

Palmer, author of the forthcoming book, “Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health—and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More,” said this type of research is complex because many factors are involved – changes in sleep, circadian rhythms, eating behaviors, stress reactions and mood symptoms.

“Teasing them apart was tough,” he said. So “[the new] The study is an important contribution to the field, as it isolates one variable in all of this – when to eat.

Another potential downside to late-night snacking is that people may tend to seek out junk foods high in calories, added sugars, and sodium over healthier options.

“If people notice this pattern on their own, they might want to try going to bed earlier,” Palmer said. “Many Americans don’t get enough sleep anyway, so prioritizing sleep can help break that cycle.”

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