Late Night Snacking Affects Brain Functioning: How Going to Bed on Time Supports Short and Long-Term Memory

I am always interested in research that gives a fuller understanding to the basic principles of Ayurveda. Recently I read about a study from the University of California that concluded that late-night snacks could negatively impact brain functioning. In the study, mice that were fed during their normal sleeping times experienced a decline in both short-term and long-term memory. The study suggested that digesting food at a time we are supposed to be asleep causes distress in the hippocampus, the area of the brain where memories are formed.


There is already evidence that eating when we normally should be sleeping can cause an increase in blood sugar levels — which can lead to diabetes and heart problems. Now we find that irregular eating habits can impact mental cognition. The University of California study revealed that the mice that were given food when they should have been sleeping had lowered levels of a protein called CREB, which plays an important role in supporting the body’s internal clock and in the brain’s ability to form memories.

“Since many people find themselves working or playing during times when they’d normally be asleep, it is important to know that this could dull some of the functions of the brain,” observed lead researcher Dawn Loh.

This dovetails with an earlier study funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in 2013. The study showed that the space between the brain cells can increase during sleep. This allows the brain to cleanse itself of toxic molecules during sleep. Previous studies have associated the toxic molecules that accumulate in the space between brain cells with numerous neurodegenerative disorders. These toxins diminish during sleep.

The leader of the 2013 study, Milken Nedergaard, M.D., D.M., observed, “Sleep changes the cellular structure of the brain. It (the brain) appears to be in a completely different state.” (There is some indication that Shirodhara, one of the classic treatments used in the Panchakarma or detoxification therapies of Ayurveda, also put the brain into this state of detoxification.)

If we are up and active or eating during our most important sleep hours, the natural cycle of purification and detoxification in the brain can not take place.

According to Ayurveda, the ideal hours of sleep are from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. This is the time when Pitta dosha (the principle of transformation) is supporting the body’s self-repair mechanisms. The strongest Pitta cycle of the day is from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. During this time the Pitta quality of transformation is best directed towards digestion. For this reason, Ayurveda says the biggest meal of the day should be eaten at noon. The transformational qualities of Pitta at night are directed to a more subtle kind of work. This is when the body switches into its powerful healing and self-repair mode.

Last week we talked about how the biological clocks located in our joints (that allow for regeneration of the joints) need a regular routine of eating, exercising and sleep to be most effective. Now we see more evidence that the ideal daily routine upheld by Ayurveda does indeed lead to better health and increased well-being. We are a part of nature and living in tune with the underlying cycles of nature supports our entire mind/body system. As modern science continues to validate the age-old principles of Ayurveda, we can see how this ancient science is as relevant today as it was 4000 years ago.

When we live without regard for the natural cycles of eating, exercising and sleeping, the natural healing modalities that are build into our physiologies can not do their job and impurities can build up in the body. Removing these deep-seated impurities is the speciality of Panchakarma, the traditional purification therapies of Ayurveda.

For more information on Ayurveda and Ayurveda detoxification programs, visit The Raj website: