14 September 2022

Don't eat at night

Workers who refused to eat during the night shift turned out to be more resistant to anxiety and depression

Ekaterina Roshchina, N+1

People who work the night shift may experience fewer conditions similar to anxiety and depression if they limit their meals to daytime hours. The researchers came to these conclusions during a small experiment: only 19 people participated in it, and their emotional states were monitored for four and a half days. The experiment simulated a night shift schedule, but half of the participants continued to eat only during daytime hours, while others ate at night too. The article was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Qian et al., Daytime eating prevents mood vulnerability in night work).

A shift schedule that involves working at night can negatively affect the emotional state of people. The shift of circadian rhythms caused by working the night shift increases the risk of developing depressive and anxiety states. Also, a shift in circadian rhythms is associated with a decrease in glucose tolerance — a condition that precedes diabetes mellitus and which, in turn, is associated with mood impairments. At the same time, at the moment, it is already known that eating only during the daytime, despite untimely sleep, can help to align circadian rhythms disrupted by a shift schedule and increase glucose tolerance. But whether such a meal schedule can also have a positive effect on the emotional state of people who continue to work at night — until recently it was unclear.

Frank Scheer from Harvard Medical School and his colleagues conducted a two-week laboratory study, during which 19 volunteers gradually switched to night work. Starting from the seventh day of the experiment, participants began to live one day not in 24 hours, but in 28. Thus, for each such 28-hour cycle, the participants' daily routine shifted by four hours, and by the fourth such day it shifted by 12 hours compared to the first day. However, about half of the participants ate both during the day and at night, while the rest ate only during the daytime.

During these four 28-hour days, every hour the participants assessed their emotional state using visual analog scales. Each scale is a horizontal segment, the edges of which are the poles of one state. The participants had to mark a point on the scale, which, according to their feelings, reflects the perception of the current state. To assess states that are similar to depressive experiences, scales with poles were used: sad-happy, hostile-friendly, bored-interested and closed-sociable. Anxious experiences reflected scales with poles: excited-calm, anxious-calm, dissatisfied- satisfied and tense-relaxed.

Participants who ate both day and night experienced more states that resembled depressive and anxious. In these participants, compared with their baseline level, scores on scales that assessed similar depressive experiences shifted in the negative direction by 26.2 percent (p=0.001). According to the scales reflecting such alarming states, the points shifted by 16.1 percent to the negative pole (p=0.005). At the same time, scientists did not find significant shifts on these scales in people who ate only during the daytime.

Thus, perhaps, with the help of diet and diet, it is possible to regulate mood changes associated with working at night. Although the researchers note that their work only found a connection, and for full-fledged conclusions and determining the direction of this connection, larger-scale studies are needed and with the participation of people who suffer from anxiety and depressive disorders.

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