Snacking at odd times could affect your memory

Do you remember your parents telling you not to snack on junk food at odd times in the night?

Well, snacking at odd times is not only considered unhealthy but also has a huge impact on metabolic health. A recent study says that it has a negative impact on brain and its activity in learning and memory as well.


Late night snacking affects the hippocampus area of brain where memory and emotional experiences are controlled. Thus brain’s ability to form memories and learn new tasks are affected.

Published online in the journal eLife, researchers from University of California, tested this theory on mice. Mice normally consume most of their food after sunset. Mice that were instead fed during the day performed less well on cognitive tests than other mice who received the same food at night.

The study explained that the misaligned group of mice ate the same amount of food and weighed the same as the mice that ate at normal times and still slept for the same total amount of time. The only difference is this group had “misaligned eating schedule and shifted sleep times” over the other group that followed “normal routine”.

Observations of the study:

  • Significant decline in memory – Altered eating schedule had shifted sleep times and hence were less able to recall familiar objects they had been shown earlier.
  • Forgetting fears – The mice were subjected to an unpleasant situation once and after a while, when they were again put back into the same location, they feared less suggesting that the odd eating and sleeping schedule affected the animal’s memory of scary situations.
  • Reduced CREB – This circadian misalignment causes reduced hippocampal stimulation which in turn reduce the expression of CREB (cAMP response element-binding protein), a protein associated with both learning and memory.

A healthy sleep and wake cycle is very important for health and cognitive function. But many people have various work schedules (esp. night shifts) and eat at the time they are supposed to sleep, thus affecting their circadian rhythm.

Although this research is yet to be done on humans, it is important to understand how the timing of food can have an impact on cognitive functions.

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