Current dietary trends show that humans consume up to 40% of their energy intake during the night. Those who habitually eat during the night are observed to have an increased risk of metabolic conditions such as type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Increasing evidence suggest that a biological consequence of eating during the night is a larger postprandial glucose response, compared to meals eaten earlier in the day. However, findings from individual acute postprandial studies have been inconsistent, due to variations in protocols. Therefore, this review aimed to systematically summarize findings from acute postprandial studies and investigate whether postprandial glucose and insulin response at night differs to during the day in healthy adults. This would indicate a possible physiological mechanism linking habitual nighttime eating and increased risk of metabolic conditions. Seven electronic databases were searched in February 2018. Included studies met the following criteria: had a day-time test between 0700 - 1600h, a nighttime test between 2000 and 0400h, the test meals were identical and consumed by the same participant at both day and night time points, preceded by a 3-h fast (minimum). Primary outcome measures were postprandial glucose and insulin incremental area under the curve (iAUC) or area under the curve (AUC). Studies that reported numerical data were included in the meta-analyses, conducted using Stata statistical software (version 13.0, StataCorp, College Station, TX, USA). For eligible studies that did not report numerical data, their authors' conclusions on the effect of time of day on the primary outcome measures were summarized qualitatively. Full text of 172 articles were assessed for eligibility. Fifteen studies met the eligibility criteria, ten of which were included in the meta-analyses. Meta-analysis for glucose showed a lower postprandial glucose response in the day compared to during the night, after an identical meal (SMD = -1.66; 95% CI, -1.97 to -1.36; p < .001). This was supported by the findings from included studies ineligible for meta-analysis. Meta-analysis also showed a lower postprandial insulin response in the day compared to during the night (SMD = -0.35; 95% CI, -0.63 to -0.06; p = .016). However, findings from included studies ineligible for meta-analysis were inconsistent. Our results suggest poor glucose tolerance at night compared to the day. This may be a contributing factor to the increased risk of metabolic diseases observed in those who habitually eat during the night, such as shift workers.
Keywords: Circadian rhythm; chrononutrition; diurnal; diurnal rhythm; meal time; night; shift work; time of day.