Everybody has trouble occasionally going to sleep or staying asleep. During pregnancy, when the body is undergoing so many changes, it can seem almost impossible to find a position comfy enough to allow a good night’s sleep. The interesting findings of a recent study suggest that everyone - pregnant or not - may enjoy better quality sleep if we pay close attention to counting calories rather than counting sheep.

A team of researchers from the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine), found a connection between a high-fat diet and regularity of one’s circadian rhythm, or natural body clock. Circadian rhythm is a term introduced in the 1950s to describe the body’s natural tendency to operate on a 24-hour cycle of sleep and wakefulness. The term comes from the Latin terms for “around” (circa) and “day” (dies). About 15 percent of the human genome is involved with regulation of circadian rhythms.

Exposure to sunlight and nighttime darkness help regulate circadian cycles but, even in an experimental environment lasting for days with no exposure whatsoever to natural light, the human body still maintains a regular rhythm of sleeping and waking that lasts about 24 hours. All animals experience circadian rhythm.

The UC Irvine research team, led by Paolo Sassone-Corsi, found that a high-fat diet, too typical of today’s average American diet, interferes with two molecular processes that control the way the liver functions on a circadian basis. Sassone-Corsi is a professor of biological chemistry at UC Irvine and is considered one of the leading researchers in the world working on genetic aspects of circadian rhythms.


  • One process blocks certain genes responsible for the liver’s clock when a high-fat diet is consumed.
  • The other process activates an oscillation process in genes that are not normally intended to oscillate.

Interference with one’s sleep/wake cycle can contribute to a person’s environmental or genetic tendencies toward chronic disorders including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. The gene factor associated with oscillation in liver tissue has been linked to chronic inflammatory conditions when the process goes awry.

Sassone-Corsi describes it as noteworthy that the circadian cycles of the liver are affected by a diet high in fat calories and that obesity has no bearing on the study’s findings. These sleep interruptions caused by interference with liver function are caused by caloric consumption alone, not by how much a person weighs.

Fortunately, circadian rhythm return to a healthy cycle when a high-fat diet is replaced by a low-fat balanced diet.

Source: “Nutrition Influences Metabolism Through Circadian Rhythms, Study Finds.” Science Daily. Science Daily, LLC. Dec. 19, 2013. Web. Dec 22, 2013.