The shorter days of winter can cause dramatic changes to your regular rhythms. These rhythms, called circadian rhythms, are the 24-hour biological cycles that regulate how your system deals with environmental schedules.  It is common knowledge that disruption to these cycles can lead to insomnia and mood issues.  Recent research is now pointing to imbalanced circadian rhythms as a sneaky cause of obesity as well. 

Artificial light exposure, meal timing, and the time of day that you exercise are big factors that influence the natural rhythms of your body. Some interesting trends are surfacing showing that there is an optimal time to eat, sleep, and exercise for your metabolism to function its best. It is all about timing to your metabolism.
If your goal is to lose weight and improve your metabolism, balancing your circadian rhythms is essential. Follow these lifestyle tips to plan your day and get your weight loss goals back on track this season!

Limit Artificial Light Exposure
Natural and artificial light exposure is the biggest influencers of your biological clock. Our energy levels (metabolism) are wired to correspond with the rising and setting of the sun. Artificial light has impacted this metabolic process by shifting our clocks out of synch with the sun.  A recently published study on artificial light at night is grabbing attention. In this study, scientists found that people who were exposed even to a small amount of light in the late evening and during the night had a higher likelihood of weight gain, especially around the waist. They concluded that increased nighttime light exposure was corresponded to a 10.2 percent weight gain and a 10 percent increase in BMI (body mass index) over 10 years. Those who consistently had bright light exposure early in the morning had the best results with healthier BMI’s. This was regardless of calorie intake, physical activity and sleep-wake parameters. 

Eat at the Optimal Times
The natural light-dark cycle is the most potent driving force for the overall circadian rhythm, but our internal, peripheral clocks rely heavily upon food intake cues too. It is becoming undeniable that when you eat is just as important as what you eat. New human studies found that adults with a later bed time consumed more calories during the day, ate the majority of calories later in the day, and consumed higher amounts of fat at night. The “night owls” also had higher BMI’s, resting heart rates, stress hormones, and rates of sleep apnea, plus lower HDL cholesterol levels. These studies suggest that eating later in the day causes disrupted circadian rhythms that eventually affects metabolism.

Following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet is essential to balancing your circadian rhythms. Leptin is the conductor of the 24 hour clock, via hormonal control. The Five Rules also put in place guidelines for when to eat. Of particular importance, is rule #1: Never Eat After Dinner. You should finish eating your dinner at least three hours before bed. The optimal time to consume the majority of your calories is in the morning, with adequate protein and fat. Ideally, dinner would be your lightest meal of the day.

Exercise Early
The time of day that you exercise is also important for balancing the circadian rhythms. In human studies, morning exercisers exhibited the healthiest circadian rhythms compared to night time exercisers. Your metabolism prefers exercise that gets your heart rate up in the morning as opposed to after work. Consider setting the alarm clock earlier for a morning gym appointment.  Even if it is challenging at first, you will find it will get easier over time as your circadian rhythms reset.

Use Nutrition
Certain nutrients also help to restore natural balance to the circadian rhythms, which can be quite helpful during the winter months, especially when there are shorter days and longer to-do lists. Melatonin, phosphatidylserine and L-theanine can be used at night to help “night owls” get to bed earlier. A coenzyme B complex containing methylated folate, B6 and B12 should be taken in the morning to help get your metabolism going. To get adequate protein at breakfast, consider adding whey protein to a smoothie with adequate fat to increase your metabolism for up to 12 hours after breakfast. 

If you have noticed that no matter what you eat, you just can’t seem to lose weight, then your body clock might be off. By incorporating certain nutrients and these lifestyle changes into your routine, you can balance circadian rhythms and get back on track. Don’t make these metabolism mistakes, night owls!