The human body may buffer small differences in meal size and timing during a 24-h wake period provided energy balance is maintained.
Because approximately 20% of the work force in the industrialized world have irregular working hours, it is pertinent to study the consequences of eating at irregular, especially nighttime hours. We studied the postprandial responses during nocturnal fasting vs. eating throughout a 24-h wake period. Seven healthy males were studied twice in a crossover design. After a 6-d diet adjustment period [high fat diet, 45 energy percent (en%) fat, 40 en% carbohydrates)] with sleep from 2300 to 0700 h, the men were kept awake for 24 h at the metabolic ward and given either 6 isoenergetic meals, i.e., every 4 h (N-eat) or 4 isoenergetic meals from 0800 to 2000 h followed by a nocturnal fast (N-fast), with the same 24-h energy intake. Energy expenditure, substrate utilization, activity, heat release, body temperature and blood variables were measured over 24 h. Energy expenditure and blood glucose, triacylglycerol, insulin and glucagon concentrations were lower and nonesterified fatty acids concentrations were higher during the nocturnal fast than during nocturnal eating (P < 0.05); however, no 24-h differences between the protocols were apparent. Nocturnal fasting slightly altered the secretory patterns of the thyroid hormones and cortisol (P < 0.05). We found no clear indication that it would be more favorable to ingest few larger daytime meals than smaller meals throughout the 24-h period. The body seems to be able to buffer small differences in meal size and timing provided energy balance is maintained.