How Thanksgiving affects your health

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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.

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Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2016
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Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade 2016
A Charlie Brown giant balloon makes its way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
The Red Ranger balloon flies over Central Park West avenue during the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
People in Customs take part during the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Participants walk along Central Park West at the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A member of the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit patrols before the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A Hello Kitty float makes its way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Participants stand by just before the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A dancer with the Chengdu (China) Panda float is assisted by a fellow dancer before the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
An Angry Bird float makes its way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Ronald MacDonald takes part during the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
Spirit of America Dance Stars make their way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Participants line up on Central Park West before the start of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
A Power Ranger float makes its way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York,U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Sinclair Oil's Dino balloon sits in the inflation area ahead of the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
An Angry Bird float makes its way down 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Scrat from "Ice Age" floats above 6th Avenue during the 90th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S. November 24, 2016. REUTERS/Saul Martinez
Performers take part during the 90th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on November 24, 2016 in New York. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)
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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.

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