There are a number of workers who have shift duties. When they have night duties or the graveyard shift as it is called, they eat food at night. A new study has shown that eating meals at night is not healthy for the mind and body. It increases the chances of anxiety and depression. These affect the body as well. Hence, timing of the meals are vital for proper health. And night food eating is bad for mental health.
Graveyard shifts and night food eating
A review in 2020 in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports showed that about 25% of the workforce do shift duties. They have rotation duties and also have to do shifts at night. The night shifts deprives them of sleep at night. And they have their meals at odd times. Most of the people who do graveyard shifts are doctors, nurses, security guards, cashiers, waitstaff and others who work in establishments that are open for 24 hours of the day.
The sundown to sunrise duties are hard on the body and mind. The circadian rhythm gets disrupted and it goes against the natural instinct of the body to rest and sleep at time when there is no sun in the sky. Most of the time, night shifts are also lonely shifts especially for people like security guards. Such duties cause physical, mental. emotional, and behavioral changes in the individuals. Night shift workers have 25 to 40% higher chances of anxiety and depression.
The new study
There was a small new study that got published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently. It tried to study the impact on the mental health of eating foods at the time when the body feels that it should be sleeping and digesting the food.
The research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston recruited 19 healthy adult participants for this study. Two weeks prior to the study, the recruits had normal sleep and meal patterns. They slept at night and ate during the day time. In the daytime, they had three major meals and a snack.
After this, they were pushed into a forced desynchrony for 4 days. They were awake at night and slept at day time. Later, one group had meal times during the day while other group had it at night time. Both groups were asked to rate their emotional status by marking an area over a spectrum that showed sad and excited at one end and happy and calm at the other end. This was the computerized visual analog scale.
The group that ate during the day reported lesser anxiety and depression compared with the group that was having their meals at night time. Sarah Chellappa, a co-author on this study states:
“Meal timing is emerging as an important aspect of nutrition that may influence physical health.”
“However, the causal role of the timing of food intake on mental health in real-life shift workers remains to be tested.”
The reasons for these results could be hyperglycemia that causes depression and altered gut microbiome that affects the emotions too. The study shows that even with shift duties, keeping meals limited to the day can help prevent depression and anxiety.