When You Eat Can Affect Weight and Diabetes

Eating later in the day has long been associated with weight gain. Obesity is a major health issue in the United States, which can increase a person's risk of developing health complications, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Learn why nighttime eating and midnight snacking can pack on the pounds.

Does the Time of Day Affect Metabolism?

In a recent study, scientists discovered why late-night eating could lead to weight gain and diabetes. To understand the connection between eating time, sleep and obesity, you must first learn how the body's circadian clock works.

The circadian clock has an internally driven rhythm, a natural cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes that respond primarily to the sun's light and dark cycle in a 24-hour day. Circadian rhythms influence essential day-to-day bodily functions, such as sleep, body temperature, hormones, eating habits and digestion.

Disruptions to your circadian rhythm can make you susceptible to these long-term health conditions:
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Sleep disorders, such as insomnia
Factors that can disrupt or throw off your circadian rhythm include mutations or changes in certain genes, jet lag and shift work that go against the natural light and dark times of the day and prolonged exposure to artificial light from electronic devices at night.

How Does Circadian Rhythm Affect Metabolic Health?

Disruption to your circadian rhythms often involves sleep deprivation. Lack of quality sleep can put you at a higher risk for several health problems, such as diabetes and weight gain.

Sleep affects the levels of leptin and ghrelin in the body. These two hormones control feelings of hunger and fullness. Inadequate sleep reduces leptin, a hormone that tells your brain that you've had enough to eat and raises ghrelin, an appetite stimulant. The imbalanced levels of these two hormones leads to nighttime snacking or overeating.

Lack of sleep also lowers your body's tolerance for glucose associated with insulin resistance. Insulin helps reduce your blood sugar level after eating. These disruptions can lead to diabetes mellitus and obesity.

What Is the Healthiest Circadian Rhythm?

The body's internal clock is sensitive to the time people eat. According to the research, the ideal time to eat is during the daytime when it's most optimal to dissipate energy as heat. Getting adequate sleep and living a healthy lifestyle can help keep your body clock on a healthy sleep-wake schedule.

Try to keep a routine every day and spend time outdoors in the daytime to boost your wakefulness, especially if you have an erratic work schedule. If you experience prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, have trouble waking up or feel extremely tired during waking hours, seek medical help to understand your condition. Please don't delay care.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Cancer Institute
National Institute of General Medical Sciences

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