While we're all aware of our sleep-wake cycle, sleep is only part of the equation when it comes to the body clock. Food plays a significant role as well.
Essentially, there are two types of processes that need to occur in a cell -
1. nutrient uptake/absorption
2. growth and repair
Eating sends a cue to your cells that it's daytime, which is when we uptake/absorb nutrients.
If you eat late at night, the clock in your cells may get confused and miss out on the night-time process of growth and repair.
If your body misses out on an adequate growth and repair cycle, this results in the cell damage. The accumulation of these damaged cells expose you to abnormalities and disease processes.
As your master clock is controlled by sunlight, additional health problems can occur if your body's cells get out of sync with your brains master clock. This mismatch between the master clock and peripheral cells increases your risk of metabolic disease.
For this reason, shift workers are at a higher risk of cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We used to assume that shift workers would simply adapt to a different timing exposure, however, we now know this is not the case. A mismatch between your master clock and peripheral cell clocks results in circadian and metabolic dysfunction, part of which is driven by the timing of meals.
Your body clock also plays an important role in the functioning of your health and blood pressure.
So if you're a shift worker, or new parent and you're unable to reduce your exposure to this circadian disruption, what are some of the things you can do to minimise your risk?
1. Get into a routine with your meals, eating at approximately the same time each day. Try not to eat for 3-4 hours before bedtime and reduce 'snacking' between meals.
2. Reduce your exposure to artificial light for a few hours before bed where possible.
3. Avoid sugar and processed foods and excessive consumption of caffeine. Stick with healthy choices and plenty of fibrous, fresh plant foods.
4. Exercise regularly. This also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which is responsible for many common health issues and visceral fat gain.
5. Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol interferes significantly with sleep, further interrupting your circadian processes.