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Social Jet Lag and Nighttime Fasting: Surprising Sleep Research [And awkward dancing]

Posted May 21 2012 12:11am


If stick figures had hair, this would so be me. And yes, there is video of my awkward dancing but thankfully it has not seen the light of Facebook. Yet. 

My neck hurts so bad I can’t even touch my chin to my chest. No I don’t have meningitis. I have something worse, something that I haven’t had since college: I have hair-flipping DOMS . This weekend my gorgeous friend (and Turbokick buddy) Lindsey got married and I danced so much at her reception that I pitted out my dress that was not only two layers of skin-tight satin but also covered in gold lace. Hot + hawt = hot mess. And me being my awkward un-sexy self, apparently I figured the best way to “dance” was to flip my hair around like I was at a Queensryche concert. No worries though: unlike my high school self, I did it ironically so I was totes cool.

After all the singing/crying/cake eating/laughing/dancing/throwing pieces of the table centerpieces at people (don’t ask)/wedded-blissedness was over, I finally collapsed in bed about 3:30 a.m. Back in the day (get off my lawn!) that used to be de rigueur but I haven’t stayed up that late without a tiny person instigating it in forever. It threw me off. And not just my neck. All day I’ve felt tired, cranky, spacey and extra hungry. And being LDS, I did all that awful dancing stone-cold sober so I can’t even blame a hangover. According to new research , what I really have is a sleep-over. And not the fun kind where you fork people’s lawns and saran-wrap their car doors shut (just me?).

German researchers discovered that people who have the biggest gap between their weekday and weekend bedtimes suffer from “ social jet lag ” — described by lead researcher Till Roenneberg, Ph.D., as “the discrepancy between what our body clock wants us to do and what our social clock wants us to do.” And not only does it make you feel crappy the next day, but it can harm your health.

“In a new study published today in the journal Current Biology, Roenneberg and his colleagues surveyed the sleep habits of more than 65,000 adults and found that people with different weekday and weekend sleep schedules had triple the odds of being overweight.

What’s more, the body mass index (BMI) of overweight people tended to rise as the gap between their weekday and weekend “time zones” widened.

The findings echo previous research linking higher BMI to sleep deprivation and irregular sleep schedules. In particular, numerous studies have found an increased risk of obesity — as well as chronic diseases such as diabetes — among shift workers.”

This isn’t the only interesting sleep research to come out this weekend. A new California study published in the journal Cell Metabolism (scintillating!) reports that mice – like people! except…not! — “Even though they ate a high-fat diet, the mice who wrapped up their eating day early and were forced to fast for 16 hours [over night] were lean — almost as lean as mice in a control group who ate regular chow. But the mice who noshed on high-fat chow around the clock became obese, even though they consumed the same amount of fat and calories as their counterparts on the time-restricted diet.”

But wait, it gets weirder! “The obese mice developed high cholesterol, high blood sugar, fatty liver disease and metabolic problems. The mice who ate fatty food but were forced to fast showed hardly any signs of inflammation or liver disease, and their cholesterol and blood sugar levels were virtually indistinguishable from those of mice who ate regular chow. When put on an exercise wheel, they showed the most endurance and the best motor control of all the animals in the study.” [emphasis mine] What the what?!

Right now I’m seriously regretting that wedding cake and popcorn at 11 p.m. last night.  (But seriously how delish is wedding cake and popcorn together?)

Researchers explain that “the brain and the body’s digestive machinery need to take a break from managing incoming fuel; otherwise, we may be working ourselves into a state of metabolic exhaustion.” The health gains in the fasting mice echo all the great research that’s been coming out lately about intermittent fasting (a practice I love).

Caveat alert! Before you get all excited and limit yourself to an 8-hour food window thereby making yourself “that guy” at all future evening social functions, the researchers point out that mice are, well, mice. And not only that but mice are naturally nocturnal. Says one particularly abject obesity researcher, “I hope it’s true, but I doubt it.” Referring to the mini-meals for a better metabolism concept, another adds that “This one study cannot tell us that this science is wrong.”

Yet it might make sense for humans too. For most of our history people generally ate only in the daytime. With little or no light after sunset party-poopers, er, people just went to bed. Lead researcher Satchidananda Panda point out that today ”our social life starts at sunset. Family time starts at the evening. So essentially, we have increased our eating time in the last 40 to 50 years.” It makes logical sense, no? Plus, as Panda points out, it’s way easier than counting calories and nighttime snacks generally aren’t salmon and spinach anyhow so it can’t hurt to give it a go.

All of this made me remember my interview with Lifetime Fitness ‘ weight loss specialist, Darryl Bushard, a few weeks ago. “Sleep is the #1 defense we have against stress.” He encouraged me to be in bed no later than 10 p.m. — “every hour of sleep before midnight is twice as restorative” — including a 1-hour technology detox before hitting the sack. (Double fail – it’s 11 p.m. right now and I still have one more article to write tonight.) My trainer Steve Toms agrees, noting that since implementing Bushard’s suggestions he’s slept better and woke up more refreshed than he has in years.

The verdict seems pretty clear: getting enough sleep at the right time and in the right way is one of the most important things we can do for our mental and physical health. Plus, it’s also one of the factors most under our control. So why is it so hard to just do it?

Any of you mastered the art of going to bed on time? Were you as surprised as I was by the overnight-fasting mice study? Anyone else dance by randomly flailing and flipping their hair?

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