Science and Tech


Your Body Isn't Built For Thanksgiving

Our bodies operate best when they stick to the circadian rhythms of sunrise and sunset. Huge meals and weird sleep hours throw off that pattern.
Posted at 11:37 AM, Nov 20, 2017

Thanksgiving traditions are great, but let's not pretend they're totally healthy. Even aside from the overeating, Thanksgiving can wreak havoc on our bodies' internal clocks, and that's a bigger deal than you might think.

Humans, like most living things, are wired to run on a routine that follows the rising and setting of the sun. Research shows these circadian rhythms go all the way down to our genes. And they regulate almost everything: Most of the cells in our bodies keep track of the light-dark cycle somehow.

Everything works better when we stay on schedule. Our immune systems are most efficient when following these patterns. Our meal schedules determine how well our metabolisms work. And regular sleep helps our brains stay healthy — it cleans out proteins that can cause disease.

SEE MORE: A Scientific Strategy For Surviving Thanksgiving Politics

But if you eat a whole lot of food all at once and sleep weird hours — like, say, on Thanksgiving — it starts to mess this up.

Consuming three times your daily calories in one meal makes it hard for your body to process the energy. Napping after all that food — plus maybe to get up early for Black Friday shopping — disrupts the natural sleep cycle.

Luckily, a day or two of this won't do long-term damage, but if you make a habit of throwing your body's rhythms out of balance, it can contribute to obesity and blood sugar problems, a weaker immune system and even neurological diseases like Alzheimer's.

So maybe be thankful Thanksgiving only comes around once a year. Your body probably is.