The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Can Body Clocks Make You Fat?

Is there such a thing as "social jetlag"?

Body Clock Fat

Times rule life. The information our bodies take in each instruct our body how to regenerate—day and night.

Give the body the right information and it regenerates properly.

These are simple propositions. So how does time of day affect health and regeneration?

A lot.

 

Body Clocks and Weight

It’s been known a long time that body clocks change weight.

Studies done in the U.S. military in the 1970s gave soldiers one meal a day. They received their single meal in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening.

Young soldiers who got their one meal in the morning lost weight. Soldiers who ate at night gained weight. Eating the same 2000 calorie meal at noon did not change weight.

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There’s been over 40 years of further studies. Animals that have their body clocks disrupted get fat—often much fatter. So do shiftworking humans.

There are many reasons why. One—give someone a meal in the late evening or night, and their glucose and lipid levels go up—often far more than if the same meal is given in the morning.

But what happens over the weekend?

The Weekend

Humans did not evolve with the weekend. And your body clocks really have not been built to recognize that Saturday and Sunday are thoroughly different from other days.

So they go about their business like each day is the same.

But socially and economically we don’t live in the ways that drove over evolution. Today, people are often frazzled and sleep deprived through the work/study week. Korean students, for example, may sleep 4-5 hours on weekdays, and 12-13 hours on weekends. Many adults in industrialized countries sleep in over the the weekend.

They’re not doing themselves a favor.

 Blowing Out Your Body Clock

Cardiovascular researchers have been fascinated by body clocks for a long time. Decades ago they found that the peak time of death in the U.S. was Monday morning.

In some studies, heart attacks and sudden death rates went up 5 times.

What had people done to make Monday morning so dangerous? Was it the prospect of going back to work? The stresses and excitements of the new week?

Researchers discovered it was something else—blowing out body clocks. Going to bed late on Friday and Saturday, then getting up late on Saturday and Sunday meant that internal clocks were off by the time Sunday evening came.

And there were still plenty of fun things to do—and watch—on Sunday evening.

So mortality goes up when you mess up body clocks over the weekend.

And so does the fat on your belly.

Social Jetlag

Till Roenneberg is a circadian medicine researcher at Ludwig Maximillian University in Bavaria. He’s been looking at a data set of 65,000 people—their sleep, work, and time habits.

According to his data, for every hour someone “sleeps in” over the weekend, they increase their chance of getting obese by 33%.

In other words, sleeping in helps make you fat.

That does not mean that people are automatically getting less sleep when they sleep in, though quite a few do. It just means that they get bigger.

Blowing out body clocks is not good for your health or your waistline.

The mismatch between socially lived time and body clock time is something Roenneberg calls “social jetlag.” He estimates 2/3 of people in the West have it.

That’s a lot of people.

 What You Can Do

As the Romans said, time does rule life. But you want your conscious life to correspond as well as you can to the life lived by your body.

So internal times change what you do—and what you’re capable of doing. It’s estimated about 98% of your genes follow 24 hour cycles.

Do you really want to to fight your own body?

As humans regenerate to survive and thrive, they always need a precise internal timing mechanism. Through evolution we developed the circadian clock—the 24 hour rhythms that time so much of life. They control many things we never think about—from how well we throw a baseball to how well we metabolize fat.

And whether we get heart attacks, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, or turn obese. They also affect our tendency to abuse the common food-drugs—alcohol and caffeine—as well as tobacco.

So what rules can we follow to regenerate ourselves well?

1. Try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day.

If you want to go out late on a Saturday night, do. But instead of waking up late, set yourself up for a nice nap in the middle of the afternoon. It’s perfectly normal for humans to nap. We did it all the time before electricity changed the world. Naps are a physiologically sensible way to deal with late night pleasures.

2. Try to schedule regular parts of your day—like eating and socializing—at similar times. Give food a regular time, and body clocks respond by getting a bit more precise. This is a fact you can use to combat jet lag (you adopt the eating times of where you’re going as you travel.)

3. Make sure you rest—actively. Physical, mental, social and physical rest are among the joys of life – and can keep you on the planet longer.

4. Try to make your day have a flow like music.  Give it rhythm and pattern.  One pattern that works—physical activity followed by mental activity. Physical activity alerts us—and often we can think more effectively.

5. Another tactic—have Food followed by Activity and then Rest. Going FAR can set a basic, useful rhythm to any day.

Bottom Line:

The tighter your body clocks—the more regular and resilient they become—the better you’ll feel and perform.

You’ll also be fighting off many of the major diseases that can take you away from this life—and look better.

Regeneration is how our bodies work. Time it right and it works better still.

 

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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