Meal Timing Can Affect Brain Health; Don’t Skip Breakfast, Studies Indicate
It’s a well-known fact that what you eat can affect brain health: healthy food = healthy brain, after all. What’s less known is that when you eat also may play a role in brain health, research suggests.
Spreading one’s caloric intake evenly between three daily meals — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — may be the best way to support cognitive health as we age, a new published study indicates .
The study examined 3,342 middle-aged and older adults in China to understand how eating patterns affected brain function. Using public health and nutrition surveys from 1997 to 2006, researchers identified participants based on how they took their meals: (1) evenly distributed, (2) breakfast-dominant, (3) lunch-dominant, (4) dinner-dominant, (5) snack-rich, and (6) breakfast-skipping.
Researchers then gave participants a series of cognitive tests, including word recalls, backward counting, and serial-7 subtractions.
Participants in the evenly distributed eating pattern scored the highest on the tests, while those who skipped breakfast scored the lowest. The study concluded that maintaining balanced energy intake across three major meals was associated with significantly better cognitive function than the other five unevenly distributed patterns.
Caution With Late-night Eating
Eating too much late at night rises other brain health issues, especially for people who don’t get enough sleep. A 2015 study suggested that night eating is associated with slower reaction times and more attention lapses in subjects who are sleep deprived.
Researchers examined 44 subjects, ages 21 to 50, who were given unlimited access to food and drink during the day, followed by only four hours of sleep each night for three nights. On the fourth night, 20 participants received continued access to food and drinks, while 24 others could consume only water from 10 p.m. until they went to sleep at 4 a.m.
At 2 a.m. each night, all subjects completed a variety of tests to measure such things as working memory, cognitive skills, sleepiness, and mood.
Subjects who fasted on the fourth night performed better on reaction time and attention lapse measures than subjects who had eaten during late-night hours, according to the study.
Such findings are pertinent given that millions of U.S. adults get less than adequate sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , roughly 35 percent of adults are sleep deprived, a figure that has held steady since 2013.
Consequences of sleep deprivation on brain performance have been demonstrated in many studies . There is broad consensus that insufficient sleep leads to a general slowing of response speed and increased variability in performance, particularly for simple measures of alertness, attention and vigilance. Emerging evidence also suggests that some aspects of higher-level cognitive capacities remain degraded by sleep deprivation despite restoration of alertness and vigilance with stimulant countermeasures.
Many factors affect our eating and sleeping patterns, and, how those in turn, affect our brain health. As researchers unravel such mysteries, pharmacists can offer clients tried-and-true advice on the value of eating healthy foods, eating regularly, and ensuring they get enough sleep.