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Disrupting your biological clock can make you fat: study

Lia Grainger
Shine On
August 30, 2012

All those late nights you spent passed out on the couch with the lights on may be making you fat, according to a recent research paper published in the journal Bioessays.

The study describes how our bodies are designed to live in a natural circadian rhythm that cycles at almost exactly 24 hours, reports the New York Daily News. This rhythm exists at the molecular level in every cell in our body and keeps us in tune with the daily 24 hour cycle of light and darkness as the earth turns on its axis.

Unfortunately, this great human planet of ours has disrupted those natural cycles of sleep and wakefulness with huge amounts of artificial light. We've also disrupted the body's natural clock by eating, working and sleeping at unnatural and inconsistent times. Study author Cathy Wyse of Aberdeen University in the UK warns that this lack of synchronicity with the world's natural clock may be making us sick — and fat.

"The human clock struggles to remain tuned to our highly irregular lifestyles, and I believe that this causes metabolic and other health problems, and makes us more likely to become obese," said Wyse. She goes on to describe numerous studies on a wide variety of living organisms that consistently demonstrate the importance of this synchronization for survival.

Wyse also describes how changing this cycle can affect the release of hormones that control bodily functions, including metabolism, reports the Daily Mail. Electric light is one of the main culprits that has allowed us to override our natural rhythm with the environment, according to Wyse. "Over the last century, daily rhythms in meal, sleep and working times have gradually disappeared from our lives."

[See also: Foods that help you sleep]

Naturopathic doctor Jean-Jacques Dugoua (Dr. JJ) agrees that when and how we sleep can affect out health. "The circadian rhythm sets the firing and suppression of hormones," explains the Toronto-based doctor. "If you are not in complete darkness, the sleep hormone melatonin is not secreted or is secreted at lower levels."

In fact, recent studies have shown that simply looking at an electronic backlit screen before going to bed can affect production of these hormones, which are an important factor in the maintenance of the circadian rhythm.

Dugoua is skeptical, however, of Wyse's assertion that maintaining a regular sleep cycle could actually lead to weight loss.

"Regular sleep patterns — which are easier to maintain if you sleep in darkness — and a regular schedule for eating will play more of a role in weight maintenance," says Dugoua.

"Weight loss is accomplished via diet changes, exercise and behaviour changes. You could make a strong argument that sleep should also be added to these pillars, but obesity is a multi-factor disease, and therefore a multi-factor solution is ideal."

So while a good night's sleep in the dark may be beneficial to your overall health, shedding those extra pounds may take just a tad more effort.

To find out what not to eat before bedtime, check out the video below.

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