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Could Cutting Out Late-Night Snacking Save Your Memory?

A new study suggests that late-night snacking may have negative effects on your learning abilities.

Image via (cc) Flickr user chispita_666

You may want to reconsider that ice cream sandwich before heading to bed, and not just for the benefit of your figure: A recent UCLA study suggests that late-night snacking may have damaging effects on memory and other cognitive abilities.

“We believe that late-night snacking may affect our learning capabilities by affecting the parts of the brain responsible for learning and memory, specifically, the hippocampus,” Dawn Loh, the main author of the study, told The Huffington Post. “The timing of food consumption is what we believe to be the primary cause of the impaired memory that we describe.”

In the study, which was published on eLife, researchers gave groups of mice different eating schedules—one cohort ate during their most active parts of the day, the other ate before they went to sleep—and then studied the animals’ behavior while they performed various cognitive tasks. The researchers hypothesized that shifting the mice’s feeding schedules, thus altering their internal ‘clock,’ would negatively affect their performance.

“By consuming food at the ‘wrong’ time of day, we induce misalignment between the various clocks in the brain and body,” Loh said. “This is known to affect physiological processes like metabolism. We demonstrate for the first time that this food-induced misalignment leads to profound impairment of hippocampal-dependent memory as well.”

The researchers’ hypothesis was found to be correct. Both groups of mice received the same amount of calories and sleep, yet performed differently on memory-related tasks. In one test, researchers studied whether the mice would remember a specific room that delivered a mild electric shock. The mice that fed during the day froze in fear upon seeing the room, while the mice that fed at night were less likely to recognize it.

Another activity introduced mice to new objects, and the mice that were fed when they should have been sleeping were less likely to recognize the object at a later time.

While the research has yet to be translated to humans, Christopher Colwell, a professor at UCLA and co-author of the study, has already shown that we (and most mammals) operate on a similar internal clock system.

If that isn’t enough reason to avoid irregular eating, remember that it also increases your risk of weight gain and Type 2 diabetes. Even opting for a healthy snack at night is not ideal, so your best bet is to simply have a full dinner or have a glass of water before bed.

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