Late Night Snacking Hinders Ability to Learn, Retain Memory; Study Says

Jan 14, 2016 01:11 AM EST | By Florence May P. Jose

Need another reason to stop snacking before going to bed? A new study found out that eating during the late evening or during the wee hours of the morning can actually impair your memory.

Even before, different experiments have proven the link of late night snacking to weight gain, to more extreme cases like additional risk for Type 2 Diabetes. Now, another chronic disease has been connected to our favorite bad habit-memory loss.

Researchers from the University of California suggest that eating snacks long after dinner time can affect our brain's ability to learn new things and store memories.

"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," Dr. Dawn Loh, a project scientist at the university and lead 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."

Published last month in the journal eLife, the study's experimentation was performed on mice who were put in strict eating schedule. The researchers analyzed the behavior, as well as the cognitive abilities of the test subjects over two weeks. The mice were "either allowed to eat during the time of day when they tend to be the most active, or only during the time of day when they tend to sleep", New Scientist reported.

Their cognitive capabilities were measured through tests. In one in particular challenge, the scientists have put the mice on a room chamber, associated with an 'unpleasant-yet-mild electric shock. The following day, the researchers noticed that the group of mice who ate during the time they should be sleeping did not remember the terror the room brought them, unlike the other group which have "frozen in fear" upon seeing the room. This results suggest that the mice who ate during their sleeping hours failed to remember the association.

The study shows results that proves molecules involved in memory formation were altered. As the conclusion, the researchers said that the timing of consuming meals can disrupt the brains ability to learn. Long term memory formation is governed by the hippocampus region of the brain.

"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."

Though the effects on humans based on the study's findings is yet to be confirmed, Dr. Chris Colwell, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the university and a co-author of the study, told HuffPost, "For instance, humans' ability to perform on tasks goes down when they're working shifts," he said. "So, there is good reason to shift your core caloric intake into earlier in your daily cycle and to avoid the late-night snacking, especially carbohydrates, which takes away my pre-sleep bowl of ice cream."

The expert suggested that late night snackers and those who work on night schedules grab a healthy granola bar "rather than ice scream".

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