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The Circadian Prescription

Book Review

Diet plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm—the roughly 24-hour cycle that is a key part of the biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes of living beings. So why is the connection between diet and sleep something we seldom hear about?

Probably the best answer is that most of us take sleep for granted and are accustomed to looking for a quick fix for whatever ails us, including our sleep problems.

It’s easy to take medications or supplements to help us feel better. In fact, these usually help for a short period of time, but often our bodies will become acclimated, so medication becomes less effective. Or, when medication does do the job, we can become dependent on it, because meanwhile the body has stopped doing what it needs to do for us to fall asleep naturally. That leaves most people with either a drug that doesn’t work, or dependency on a drug that does, with side effects.

There’s a natural rhythm to our biological lives that modern life has overrun. And it can be restored. The simple version? Do key things at the same time, every day:

  • Go to bed at the same time.
  • Get up at the same time.
  • Eat at the same times.
  • Exercise at the same time.

This is what works best for your body, which loves rhythm.

The Circadian Prescription was written in 2000 by Sidney Baker, M.D., an expert in the nutritional, environmental and biochemical aspects of chronic health conditions and a Linus Pauling Award winner. Dr. Baker’s tips on restoring health are based on his study of a great deal of evidence-based scientific research. He synthesized these findings into a simple, circadian-based prescription for better health, and the results can be remarkable.

Dr. Baker had treated thousands of patients with all kinds of symptoms—from food allergies to obesity to depression to heart palpitations, and so forth. His patients’ symptoms improved remarkably when they made relatively simple lifestyle changes. Dr. Baker’s interest in the differences between a more natural life rhythm and the revved-up, electrically-lit, 24-hour lifestyles of modern culture ultimately led him to a new way to explain these changes.

The cornerstone of The Circadian Prescription is diet, but the prescription is not about changing what you eat as much as changing when you eat it.

Rule # 1: Eat protein in your morning meal, snacks, and lunch. Emphasize fish, eggs, milk products, nuts, peanuts, soy, poultry, beans and meat.

Rule # 2: Move most of your carbohydrates from breakfast, lunch, and morning snacks to the evening.

I have experimented with several diets—macrobiotic, South Beach, blood type, raw food, Atkins, Ayurvedic, and so forth. But I had never heard of the idea of paying attention to when to eat protein versus carbohydrates. When I told a good friend, he asked, “You mean steak for breakfast and oatmeal for supper?” That’s an oversimplification, but it’s the basic idea.

If you feel perfectly fine, there’s no need to change anything. However, if you have a sleep or health issue, you’ll find that although any change takes some discipline at first, this diet isn’t radical at all. You can still eat any healthful food you like, as long as you focus on protein in the morning and carbohydrates in the evening.

Most other elements of the circadian diet—such as eating healthy oils, drinking eight glasses of water each day, eating regularly, and eliminating artificial sweeteners—are found in other books about sleep.  There are two exceptions:

  1. If you’re going to drink coffee or tea, do it at a time when it’s “circadian neutral”. That’s around 4:00 p.m.–coincidentally, the famous British tea time.
  2. Limit your consumption of alcohol to the early evening, and never after 10:00 p.m.

If you’re having trouble sleeping or are plagued by other chronic health problems, consider adding the circadian diet to your good-sleep regimen. Your odds are excellent that you’ll notice an improvement not only in the quality of your sleep, but also in your overall health.

It can be a challenge to adjust your life to be closer to the rhythms of an earlier age, but The Circadian Prescription is likely to be more effective than one for sleeping pills. Why not give it a try?

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