Magic for Sleep
…and so much more.
When you eat is as important as what you eat.
For years, we’ve all heard: “It’s the food!”
But is it only the food?
Is food the only variable that matters?
It turns out — no. Hardly.
The truth is: When you eat your food matters just as much as the diet. And in many, many cases — meal timing matters even more than diet.
It took me over 9 years of trying diets to realize how important meal timing was to my digestion, sleep, and metabolism.
Don’t take nearly a decade to realize the importance of this message. You could be on your way to major improvement in 90 minutes!
Meal timing affects your:
As we explore this fascinating topic, we’ll also point out some sub-optimal trends that are attracting large followers, but aren’t based on established, proven science — or observational success. Per usual, popular health trends don’t seem to be helping people as much as they claim.
There’s a better, more optimal way than focusing only on the diet, or even trendy fasting fads.
Let’s explore what you need to know about meal timing.
The science on meal timing is absolutely in its infancy.
Because of this, we’re seeing many recommendations that may not be helpful for most people — especially those with chronic thyroid, gut, or sleep troubles.
The research does not recommend that all people should intermittent fast!
The circadian rhythm became a very popular topic to study from 2015-2020. Even in all this, actual findings about meal timing are only a small percentage.
Therefore, I encourage you — implore you, even — to maintain skepticism when you hear recommendations from leading online gurus (and even some PhDs) that give strong advice about how to eat for optimal health.
Consider, too, that what works for temporary weight loss — in an otherwise normal person — is rarely what’s good for sustainable weight less, much less in someone trying to recover their health.
So what does the science actually say?
It’s less ‘you are what you eat’, and more ‘you are when you eat.’https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/when-you-eat-is-more-important-than-what-you-eat-study-says-a7094986.html
We know — for sure — that meal timing matters for our health.
Meal Timing Supports:
A Robust Circadian Clock
“Defined eating patterns… may prevent disease.”
“Optimizing the timing of external cues with defined eating patterns can sustain a robust circadian clock, which may prevent disease and improve prognosis”.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163716303014
We know that meal timing affects blood sugar stability.
Meal Timing Supports:
More Stable Blood Sugar
“Notable changes occur” with proper meal timing.
“This report demonstrates that meal timing exerts a variable influence over human physiological rhythms, with notable changes occurring in aspects of glucose homeostasis.”
We know that meal timing affects your circadian rhythm.
Meal Timing Supports:
An Improved Circadian Rhythm
Of “particular relevance for patients with circadian rhythm disorders.”
“Timed meals therefore play a role in synchronizing peripheral circadian rhythms in humans and may have particular relevance for patients with circadian rhythm disorders, shift workers, and transmeridian travelers.”
We know that more substantial breakfasts support cardiovascular health, blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and blood sugar stability.
A ‘Not-Small’ Breakfast
…means a healthier heart, better blood sugar, higher insulin sensitivity, and less diabetes.
Note: A big breakfast simply means “not small” here.
“The “big” breakfast group experienced a 33% drop in triglyceride levels — a marker associated with heart disease risk — while the group that ate the higher-calorie dinner experienced a 14.6% increase. The bigger breakfast group also experienced greater reductions in fasting glucose, insulin and insulin resistance scores, all of which indicate decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, according to the study’s authors.”
A more substantial breakfast generally supports weight loss.
A ‘Big’ Breakfast
…means weight loss
Note: A big breakfast simply means “not small” here.
“After 12 weeks, the big breakfast group lost about 2½ times more weight than big dinner group (8.7 pounds for big breakfast group vs. 3.6 pounds for big dinner group) and lost over 4 more inches around their waist.”
Skipping breakfast is associated with gaining weight.
Skipping Breakfast = Weight Gain
(Even With Identical Daily Calories)
“The link between breakfast skipping and obesity had once been thought to be due to overcompensation of calories at subsequent meals” but it turns out that “something else about skipping breakfast — aside from potentially eating more calories later in the day — must explain the greater risk of weight gain among breakfast skippers.”Dr. Tamara Duker Freuman
We know that better meal timing synchronizes the body so effectively that researchers have invoked the word “magic” to describe the effects.
Is “Metabolic Magic”
“It wasn’t just that people were less hungry and eating less at night, but it pointed to the fact that there might be some sort of underlying metabolic magic going on, where the timing of calories and carbs mattered more than the total amount of calories and carbs eaten in a day. It helped me understand what I was intuitively seeing in my patients.”Dr. Tamara Duker Freuman
We know that “shift work” — working late — disrupts meal timing. This causes enormous problems (gut & digestive), even when daily caloric intake is constant.
Shift Work Can Wreck Health
Night Shifts destroy Meal timing, The Circadian Rhythm & Gut Health
“Meal times are important synchronizers of the human life, having both physiological and social aspects. Although shift workers do not significantly modify their total energy intake, they change the timing and frequency of eating and, sometimes, the content of meals (more fats and carbohydrates in many cases), often being taken cold and during short breaks (snacking).”
“After sleeping, digestive troubles are most frequently complained about by shift workers (20-75% vs. 10-25% of day workers), due to the troubles being connected with phase displacements between mealtimes and normal circadian phases of gastrointestinal functions (e.g. gastric, bile and pancreatic secretions, enzyme activity, intestinal motility, rate of absorption of nutrients, and hunger and satiety hormones) and to changes in food quality and composition.”
We know — beyond a shadow of a doubt — that meal timing wields the power of “metabolic magic.”
We know it affects our entire body:
- the circadian rhythm
- blood sugar stability
- weight gain & loss
We know this and have established: When we eat matters as much as what we eat.
How many meals should we eat per day?
The number of your daily meals matters!
- Should you eat 6 small meals each day?
- Is it okay to graze and snack?
Let’s look at the science on number of meals.
Research is now frowning on “numerous, small meals” — because it negatively impacts the microbiome, circadian response, cardiovascular health, and immunity (among others).
Recent prospective research has demonstrated a significant increase in disease risk with a high meal frequency (≥6 meals/day) as compared to a low meal frequency (1–2 meals/day).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6520689/
Instead, it’s better to eat 2-3 meals per day.
A regular meal pattern including breakfast consumption, consuming a higher proportion of energy early in the day, reduced meal frequency (i.e., 2–3 meals/day)… may provide physiological benefits such as reduced inflammation, improved circadian rhythmicity, increased autophagy and stress resistance, and modulation of the gut microbiotahttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6520689/
I strongly recommend 3 meals per day for most people and most lifestyles.
It’s okay to lightly snack as needed, in addition to three meals per day.
We’ve established 2-3 per day is superior to numerous small meals — or frequent grazing.
So when should these meals occur?
The first concept we can know for certain:
Biologically speaking, earlier meals are always digested better than late meals — as we’ll demonstrate.
Folks who eat late meals are often struggling with their gut microbiome, potentially linked to circadian rhythm challenges or sick building syndrome.
This means a few things:
- First, don’t skip early meals.
The early meals are critical, as we’ll see.
- Second, don’t skimp on meals — eat legitimate meals.
If we’re going to eat real meals, they must be large enough — and balanced enough — to satisfy us until the next one.
- Third, eat meals on time.
Finally, it’s not enough to eat real meals — they need to be on time to be effective.
So what exactly do:
The body is substantially healthier when we shift calories earlier in the day — rather than later.
Greater intake in the morning (i.e., high energy breakfast) than in the evening has a resetting effect on clock gene oscillations and beneficial effects on weight loss, appetite, and reduction of PPHG, independently of total energy intake.
Breakfast doesn’t need to be huge — it just needs to be substantial, or “not tiny.” To tolerate morning meals better, improve both your circadian rhythm and gut microbiome.
Glucose metabolism is always better in the morning than evening.
When is food best metabolized for energy? Early in the day.
Meal timing schedule not synchronized with the circadian clock (i.e., skipping breakfast) are associated with disrupted clock gene expression and is linked to [hyperglycemia].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34063109/
Both breakfast and dinner — in particular — are optimal when early.
The start of the early eating window was associated with weight loss.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35057430/
For weight loss, not only should we eat a real breakfast, we should eat breakfast early.
But it’s not just breakfast, lunch is healthier when eaten early, too.
“The late lunch eaters had lower insulin sensitivity.”
Early evening meals lead to weight loss, trimmer waists, improved cholesterol, and heightened insulin sensitivity.
The early evening meal group had a greater mean reduction in weight, BMI, waist circumference, total cholesterol, & insulin resistance after 12 weeks.
In conclusion, eating an earlier evening meal resulted in favourable changes in weight loss and plasma cardiometabolic risk markers.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33172509/
Your fat metabolism needs early meals (& early sleep), too.
Death rates in covid-19 patients skyrocket when meals are later in the evening.
This strong linear positive correlation indicates that the later the clock time of the dinner meal, the higher is the death rate (and vice versa).https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32516020/
This study puts it even more bluntly: “…the closer the time of the largest meal of the day to bedtime, the greater is the death rate (and vice versa).”
Your blood sugar can stabilize dramatically, simply by eating earlier in the day.
Results: Significant differences were observed in mean 24-h blood glucose levels on day 2 between the two groups.
There was a significant decrease in the postprandial (after meal) respiratory quotient 30 min and 60 min after breakfast on day 3 in the early dinner group compared with the late dinner group.
Conclusion: Despite a difference of only 3 h, eating dinner early (at 18:00) has a positive effect on blood glucose level fluctuation and substrate oxidation compared with eating dinner late (at 21:00).
Calories eaten early in the day are metabolized better and more efficiently. Early calories are, therefore, more nourishing, more filling, and safer.
So what times should we eat?
TIP: Try to eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up.
TIP: After spending some time with grandparents, I began beginning lunch when they did, at 11:15 am. It was incredible.
TIP: Nudge dinner a little earlier to 6 pm or 5:30 pm.
- A solid circadian rhythm and stabilizing blood sugar make earlier dinner times more and more possible.
Why Are These Times Optimal?
Breakfast: Should Be Eaten Early
GENERAL GUIDELINE: WAKE UP EARLY, AND Try To Eat Breakfast Within 30-45 Minutes Of Waking Up.
Lunch: Should Be Eaten Early
An early lunch does two things:
- Allows for an early dinner. Late lunches mean dinner gets pushed back.
- Fits perfectly with an earlier breakfast.
Dinner: Should Be Eaten Early
An early supper:
Grazing is not a healthy way to eat. Here’s why:
If you’re tempted to graze, there’s an underlying reason why!
Most likely, you’re dealing with two possibilities: Habitual undereating, and/or gut microbiome troubles.
In these two cases, one big meal either 1) isn’t enough to correct long-term caloric deficiency or 2) it isn’t tolerable due to poor gut health.
The answer: improve your gut health so you can eat real meals, earlier.
An Optimal Day
Here’s how excellent meal timing looks.
We have shown that higher energy intake consumed at night (i.e., during the two hours before bedtime) increases five times the probability of being obese.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6893547/
Eating our meals early is directly linked to better digestion, better hormonal balance, better metabolism, better sleep, and better immunity — all things that matter for weight control.
What’s happening behind the scenes as we move through our day?
By Mid-Morning — 9:30am
By Late Morning — 10:45
Life happens. We’re going to get off schedule.
Therefore, have a great backup plan.
It’s simple! Eat your next meal as close to the correct time as possible.
In other words, don’t push back your next meal because you were late to your most recent one.
No matter how late you’ve eaten recent meals, you can always get on track with the next meal.
Each next meal is a chance to eat at the right time — or, at least, closer to the right time.
This is true for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No matter how late you are for any given meal, eat that next meal at the proper time and get back on schedule.
What About a Late Breakfast?
Let’s say you ate breakfast late — perhaps, at 9:30 AM.
Should we push back lunch, too? Certainly, you won’t be hungry for lunch at noon.
No! Get back on schedule as quickly as possible. Eat lunch at the proper time, as best as you can — even if it’s only a couple hours after breakfast.
Even if that next meal is smaller than normal — eat that meal on time.
Analogy: It’s Like a Late Night
Let’s say you have a late night and sleep in the following morning. Would you, then, decide to sleep in every morning — forever — after that?
You might want to, sure! But, that wouldn’t be a great decision for your health. In fact, you’ll really need an early night (tonight) and an early morning (tomorrow) to get back on track — even if it means you don’t quite feel great tomorrow as your body re-syncs itself.
This is the only way to get your circadian rhythm back on track — to bite the bullet and wake up early. We wouldn’t let one late night ruin our sleep cycle for the rest of the week or year — and yet, that’s exactly what would happen if we don’t take uncomfortable near-term steps to correct it.
The same is true of our meal timing. We’ve got to eat early — to get our meal timing back on track.
Always Make the Next Meal on Time
A late breakfast does not make a late lunch wise.
Of course, a late lunch can easily lead to a late dinner — and if we’re trying to maximize sleep and optimize health, it’s not a good place to be, eating late at night.
In fact, this is exactly how bad circadian habits snowball and how so many can’t break the cycle of late eating — even as it sabotages digestion, energy levels, brain function, weight loss, gut health, and sleep.
As the day drags on, the body continually burns calories.
If we hit certain times of day without eating enough, the body goes deeper into energetic debt — and will resort to stress hormones to supply fuel to cells.
Of course, those stress hormones deplete the body when overused, making us weaker, deficient of nutrients, disrupting our weight, and interfering with sleep.
When meals are too late, the body misses out on two things.
- The brain gets the wrong circadian signal about time of day.
- The metabolism suffers due to less efficiency.
Getting behind on calories means the metabolism slows, and the sleep cycle is pushed back later into the night — and later into the morning.
A late sleep cycle is linked to all diseases.
You’re going to get off schedule. Everyone does.
Health is not about perfection — it’s not required to be healthy. In fact, the pursuit of perfection has a tendency to harm health.
Trying to be perfect can make us prone to illness-causing stress and unwise mistakes. Because our understanding of health is, at best, fairly limited — we can’t even know what a truly perfect health regimen is for each individual person.
Therefore, just do the best you can in each situation. Getting “off” schedule is not worth any added stress. When you get off, just smile and get back on track tomorrow — that next meal.
Being able to adapt is a major component of health and recovery! Take it all in stride.
Remember, at the end of the day, by eating your meals at the right time, you are:
It’s always best to view each step we take — for our health — as an opportunity to improve and upgrade, rather than a perfect ideal (to fall short of).
Snacking, generally, has a negative connotation with health.
But general advice isn’t always helpful: Snacking is usually bad in the context of normal, unhealthy meal timing.
But what if meal timing is otherwise excellent? A snack can be needed — and beneficial.
When, exactly, might snacking be helpful?
Poor Gut Health
In poor gut health, folks may struggle to consume sufficient calories in only three meals.
Their digestive systems are overtaxed trying to process three larger-sized meals per day.
Instead, they’ll need smaller meals, with a snack before bed (typically), and possibly between meals, too.
These folks, with gut dysbiosis, will need to snack between meals until their gut health improves and larger meals are tolerable.
As gut health improves, snacking becomes less and less necessary. An improving digestive system naturally tolerates larger meals over time.
Develop and maintain a robust gut health regimen to improve gut health; your tolerance of larger, more diverse and substantive meals will improve over time.
Hypoglycemia is often correlated with subpar gut health. A snack before bed, and sometimes between meals, can help keep symptoms of low blood sugar stable.
During periods of exercise, the body burns calories at an elevated rate.
Therefore, a snack before bed — or before/after a workout — is not only a good idea, but necessary to meet caloric intake requirements.
In both cases, snacking is beneficial and necessary. Snacks make sense only in light of proper meal timing: when 90+% of calories are eaten at the right times, snacks — even occurring outside “proper” windows — help us meet our needs without a detrimental effect.
Meal timing — of all the methods I’ve tried — is among the best.
See clearly that food should be eaten early, and in real meals, opened doors in my life.
I saw better sleep and better blood sugar stability (I didn’t need to snack all the time). I saw less bloating and better cognition. My inflammation went down.
It’s also been amazing for my day. I know what to do each day. 7am? Eat breakfast. 5:15? Eat dinner.
Oh, it’s 11:15 — lunchtime.
I’m never very far from my next meal, it seems.
Within a few months of eating this way, I noticed just how good it feels to:
- not be behind on calories at bedtime
- not be full of food at bedtime
Melatonin is quite incompatible with digesting food. It blunts insulin activity — intentionally — to help keep blood sugar stable (and not low) all night. (This is because falling blood sugar causes stress hormones to rise, and we cannot sleep with rising stress hormones). Melatonin staves off the stress response, keeps blood sugar up through the night, and allows for deep, restorative rest.
What amazes me is how many folks I see achieve a small miracle when they eat this way: They used to have to snack all evening and even in the night to sleep. Suddenly, they eat early meals, and melatonin guides them through the night — no need for evening food.
It took me several months to fully adapt to eating earlier. Years later, I still see and feel the benefits when I focus on this.
Of course, we have to support this change with good circadian hygiene: sunlight & dim evenings.
It makes no sense to eat early meals, then try to have a late bedtime or morning.
But if you see how these pieces fit together to create one, incredible whole, watch out for a new way to live your days, and the rest of your life.
This approach can be a true foundation — for every health goal you have — and beyond.
This completes MEAL TIMING
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