The food you eat has important effects on your body, including your cholesterol levels and risk for heart disease. But did you know that the timing of when you eat may also impact your health? A new study on daytime eating suggests that meal times can affect your mental health, including levels of anxiety- and depression-like mood.
Frank A. J. L. Scheer, PhD, a Mass General Brigham researcher, is co-author of the study and director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He discusses the study’s findings with co-author Sarah L. Chellappa, MD, PhD, now a researcher at the University of Cologne.
The 19 participants (7 women and 12 men, between the ages of 18 and 35) underwent a laboratory study in which they were awake at night and slept during the day, as typically experienced by night workers. Researchers randomly assigned participants to one of two meal timing schedules. One group ate only during the daytime hours, while the other group ate during both the day and night. The researchers then assessed each person’s depression- and anxiety-like mood levels every hour. “We used visual mood-related scales, where participants marked on a line showing their momentary ratings. On each end was an opposite emotion, for example happy on one end, and sad on the other,” explains Dr. Scheer.
The study team found that the timing of meals had a large impact on participant’s mood levels. The group that ate during both the day and night had increased depression- and anxiety-like mood levels, while the group that ate only during the daytime had no adverse changes in their mood levels.
The results of the study show that the timing of meals may affect mood levels. For people who work outside of regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daytime hours, such as health care workers or those who work in other industries where night shifts are more common, the timing of meals may be especially important. If you work a night shift, adjusting your mealtimes to take place mostly during the day may help prevent depression- and anxiety-like mood.
More studies need to be done to fully understand the mechanisms underlying the influence of meal timing on mood regulation, but these initial results show that adjusting meal times may be a way to improve your mental health.
“Our results suggest that synchronizing meal timing with our central circadian pacemaker may be of benefit for mood regulation, and thus may be of relevance for such populations,” Dr. Scheer says.