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People who regularly keep late hours – for leisure, shift work, or other reasons, such as caring for a newborn – often have misaligned circadian rhythms, placing them at greater risk for depression and anxiety. Research has shown that daytime eating helps realign those rhythms. Findings from a recent study suggest that eating during the day, rather than at night, reduces the risk of depression and anxiety-related disorders.

The investigators subjected 19 healthy adults (average age, 26 years) to a unique protocol that altered the participants' light exposure, desynchronizing their normal circadian rhythms and mimicking the effects of shift work. During the desynchronized period, half of the participants ate their meals in both the daytime and nighttime, while the other half ate all their meals in the daytime. The investigators monitored the participants' food intake, sleep duration, and depression- and anxiety-like mood levels.

They found that among participants who ate during both the day and night, depression-like mood levels increased by 26 percent, and anxiety-like mood levels increased by 16 percent. However, participants who ate all their meals during the day did not experience mood changes. Even though the groups' caloric intake, macronutrient intake, physical activity, sleep duration, and eating window duration (12 hours) were identical, eating during the night worsened their moods. As the participants' eating became more misaligned, their symptoms became more severe.

These findings suggest that restricting mealtimes to daytime hours can offset the mood-altering effects of misaligned circadian rhythms. Learn more about the effects of time-restricted eating on circadian rhythms in this clip featuring Dr. Satchin Panda.

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