Body Clocks and Hunger: Timely Advice

Do we time our eating schedule by daylight? Does our body clock rely on sunlight as its cue for mealtime? A friend’s northern travels threw off his eating schedule, so I turned to an expert to find out more: Shelby F. Harris, PsyD, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program, Sleep-Wake Disorders Center, at Montefiore Medical Center, and Assistant Professor in Neurology and Psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. A friend was recently visiting Ireland and it was light until 11 p.m. He often missed his regular time for dinner, because it was still light. To what extent does daylight affect our body clock for eating? It is possible that his body clock (e.g., circadian clock) — especially at the beginning of the trip — was still set to the initial home time zone.The combination of light outside (especially late at night) late at night, plus his body still thinking that it was on a more west time zone eating schedule, may have been the culprit. We already know well that there are circadian “clocks” in our brain, heart, and other tissues that keep a daily cycle/rhythm of bodily functions sunch as blood pressure, hormonal regulation, hunger, sleep/wake scheduling, and body temperature. Governed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the circadian clock is manipulated by light and dark. Quickly crossing several time zones throws the body’s clocks out of whack and leads to the symptoms of jet lag. Plus, he was in beautiful Ireland, and may have been so distracted he didn’t think about eating! Do lighter evenings affect our appetite, too? Light exposure influences our overall sleep-wake patterns, which would then change our timing of hunger cues that the brain would send to our body. Does daylight affect our eating habits more than temperature does? (I’m thinking that people often report not feeling as hungry in the summer.) There’s really nothing that I’ve seen that compares these two areas when it comes to hunger. I suspect that feeling less hungry in the summer may be more due to the fact that we eat more for energy in the winter and also don’t want to cook as much in the summer because of the heat. Light is extremely powerful, though, in setting our circadian rhythms, and getting light in the morning and making sure to try and dim the lights (and not be around electronics an hour before bed) can help to keep our hunger signals on a good rhythm. That being said, temperature is really important at night for a good night’s sleep. Keeping your room cool and dark will help with getting a good night’s sleep, thereby helping to keep a regular sleep-wake schedule and keep your eating routine on schedule. Are there tricks to “fool” our bodies into staying in routine when we travel to places where it stays light later or gets dark earlier? The standard recommendation is to set your clock to the new time zone immediately when you get on the…

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