Did you know that your normal bedtime and wake time can have a significant effect on your ability to lose fat?
I know. It’s sounds like an impossible link. However, it turns out researchers have actually discovered several ways our circadian rhythms play a key role in the efficiency of our metabolism.
Our circadian rhythms are the cycles of hormones and other compounds that regulate our sleep-wake times. They are highly influenced by the amount of light we receive before bed and in the morning, which is why you’ll also hear recommendations to not watch TV or use a laptop an hour before bed to sleep better – the light can disrupt our rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep.
In addition, when these rhythms are disrupted from too many nights staying up extremely late, waking up at odd hours, or just having an irregular sleep schedule in general, it can throw off various hormones and enzymes that keep our metabolic processes running at optimum.
One of these is an enzyme called Nocturnin, which scientists have discovered helps regulate our fat metabolism alongside our sleep-wake cycles. [*] Nocturnin is kick started in the morning when we wake up, and sets the tone for our energy metabolism throughout the day. Altering this release of Nocturnin, either by increasing it or suppressing it, has been found to affect fat burn and other metabolic processes.
When You Eat Matters
Studies show time and time again that the time of day we eat can either increase fat burn, or slow it down. One of the most common agreements in research is that eating extremely late at night is a recipe for fat gain; or, at the very least, stalling your fat loss. Many will claim this is simply due to the correlation between people who eat late at night and people who eat unhealthy foods (think of your typical late-night eater who orders in pizza or junk food). However, while this is true to an extent, evidence also exists that late night eating can alter your circadian rhythms, which then go on to alter various hormones responsible for fat loss or gain.
Many studies have illustrated this through the link between late-night shift workers (who would typically eat their meals in the middle of the night) and obesity, finding that the longer a person works irregular shifts at ngiht, the greater their level of obesity through the years. [*]
So why does this happen? Along with the disruption of Nocturnin and its fat-regulating effects, disrupting your circadian rhythm also messes with another important hormone in the fat loss process: leptin.
Leptin is a hormone made by fat cells that is responsible for appetite control. In essence, it tells your body when to stop eating: that you have been fully nourished and satisfied with a meal.
Researchers have found that disrupting your circadian rhythm can create leptin resistance, a condition where your body stops responding to the signals of leptin telling you that you’re full, so you continue to eat more. As we know, this can lead to consuming an overabundance of calories, which is a recipe for fat gain. [*]
How to Balance Your Circadian Rhythms
There are quite a few simple ways to keep your circadian rhythms in balance, including:
Minimize Light Exposure at Night
The blue light spectrum given off by the screens of electronics can significantly disrupt your circadian rhythms. Avoiding watching TV immediately before bed, and changing your phone settings at night to the warm color spectrum (you’ll find this under Display and Brightness if you have an iPhone) can do a lot to help your body stay in balance.
Sleeping in a completely dark room is also crucial for not disturbing your rhythms, so try to block out light anywhere you can.
Establish a Sleep-Wake Cycle
Going to bed and waking up around the same time everyday also normalizes your circadian rhythms – bonus points if you can rise with the sun.
Eat at Regular Intervals
This can be difficult if you’re traveling or living an extremely busy lifestyle; however, trying your best to eat at set times (and minimizing snacking in between) can seriously benefit your journey toward fat loss. Even if you intermittent fast, having a set time that you eat, say, breakfast at 12, then dinner at 6, can help maintain your body’s cycles.
In addition, also try to put a cap on late-night snacking.
As you can see, our bodies are truly holistic when it comes to optimization. Even things you would assume would have no effect on fat loss, like waking and sleeping at irregular intervals, can cause a disruption for better or for worse. A key takeaway here seems to be that balance is key in everything we do, even the simple things, since it helps to keep our hormones in balance as well (a big bonus for fat burn).