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Meal Timing to Maximize Your Metabolism

Did you know that meal timing can affect metabolism – and sleep? As with many things involving the body, these dynamic processes are all interrelated. Indulging in a big meal at the wrong time can throw off natural metabolic cycles and have you tossing and turning all night.

Once you understand how sleep, metabolism, and meal times can work together naturally, you’ll think twice before late-night feasting and be on the road to fixing yourself a “breakfast of champions” every day!

Modern Life Messes with Natural Cycles

There’s no question that humankind has shifted schedules over the last few centuries. With electricity powering entertainment way past dark and modern life affording many conveniences that keep us active around the clock, the dusk to dawn sleep pattern has essentially been thrown out the window – alongside the body’s harmony with its circadian rhythms.

Those circadian rhythms refer to the body’s natural cycles of biological, hormonal, and behavioral patterns that fall within a 24-hour timeframe. Sleep, hunger, and metabolism are all regulated by these cycles, so going against the grain – perhaps by eating a big meal at midnight or going to bed just before dawn – can really throw a hiccup in the body’s ability to maintain balance, function, and wellbeing.

But we do have the ability to get back in the groove. Restoring natural patterns in line with circadian rhythms can be a big help for the body to pick up proper metabolic functioning.

Melatonin – Not Just for Catching Zzz’s

The body has evolved in a way that darkness triggers sleep. As exposure to light decreases, the production of melatonin picks up, telling the body it’s time to rest. Though melatonin is recognized as a main element of circadian rhythms, there’s a lot more to this hormone than the will to snooze.

Melatonin is also intricately linked to insulin levels. How? Because it’s responsible for spreading the message throughout the body that it’s time for bed, melatonin tells the pancreas to temporarily suppress insulin production. After all, you shouldn’t be eating after sunset while you sleep, right? This is one of the ways the body conserves energy and generates quality rest.

Whether it’s an overnight shift or a late-night feast, eating outside of daylight hours can mean that food is sitting in the system with insufficient insulin. Ultimately, this can translate to higher blood glucose levels, messed up metabolism, poor sleep, and even memory impairment. Bottom line: your body just can’t process carbs as effectively after sunset as it can earlier in the day. This means higher blood sugar levels and more body fat storage- not a desirable combo!

Eat like a King, Lunch like a Prince, and Supper like a Pauper

While it’s unlikely modern humans are going to start hitting the hay at sundown, there is a mealtime pattern you can adopt to help harmonize with circadian rhythms: “Eat like a king. Lunch like a prince. Supper like a pauper.”

In other words, a healthy, hearty breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day, followed by a slightly smaller lunch and a light supper. This meal timing technique increases the chances of digesting most of your food during daylight – or when melatonin levels are lower and insulin levels are higher – allowing more natural digestion.

So, no need to go back to a strict caveman schedule – just time your meals accordingly and avoid eating right before bed. Your body will be grateful!

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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