While we typically wouldn’t give a second thought to that midnight snack, a shortened sleep cycle and the resulting extended eating duration can contribute to higher cardiovascular risk. 

Prachi Singh, PhD, of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, has been awarded a $3.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute to look into this further to pursue the benefits of time-restricted eating for short sleepers.

The grant will be administered over five years, and Singh plans to use a portion of the funds to add additional staff to her lab. She will ultimately conduct a study to see if changes like intermittent fasting can curb the negative effects of a misaligned circadian rhythm and short sleep duration.

“Shortened sleep duration can result in a wide array of health problems. And with nearly 33% of all adults getting less than the recommended amount of sleep, the need to identify and address the roots of these problems is becoming more and more urgent,” says Singh, who serves as the director for Pennington Biomedical’s Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health Lab, in a release. “This is especially important as, even when we are aware of the negative health consequences of short sleep duration, we find it difficult to develop a routine that consistently includes time for adequate sleep duration.”

Currently, one out of every three adults in the US reports sleeping six hours or less most nights of the week, a habit that can contribute to high cardiovascular risk and disease. Additionally, habitual short sleepers are more likely to eat at irregular intervals, usually consuming more than daily recommendations—a behavior that further contributes to heightened cardiovascular and metabolic risk.

The circadian system in humans is key to maintaining a balance or homeostasis in the body, but a misalignment of the circadian rhythm, such as a shortened sleep duration, coupled with extended snacking times and duration, can lead to high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

To identify ways to curb the frequency and intensity of some issues, or to potentially reverse them entirely, Singh will develop a study of participants who are confirmed habitual short sleepers and randomly assign them to habitual eating duration groups of more than 14 hours per day, and those in a time-restricted eating group, with only eight hours of eating per day. To ensure participation, the research team will continuously monitor glucose, sleep duration, physical activity, and light exposure.

Singh adds in the release, “It is an honor to receive this grant from the NIH to study this phenomenon and pursue approaches to curb the negative health effects of limited sleep and extended calorie intake.”

As the director of the Sleep and Cardiometabolic Health Lab at Pennington Biomedical, Singh primarily focuses on the interactions among sleep, nutrition, and obesity-related cardiometabolic disorders.

“Dr Singh is representative of the talented, dedicated researchers here at Pennington Biomedical, and her receipt of the NIH grant is a testament to her research ability and skill,” says John Kirwan, MSc, PhD, FACSM, executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in a release. “Our mission to discover the triggers of chronic disease touches on all potential avenues, and Dr Singh’s lab is taking an innovative approach to studying sleep, nutrition, and cardiovascular health.”

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