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Sleep 1: Complex carbs and our circadian rhythms.

September 2023 / by Cookhouse Hero

Studies consistently show that many people just aren't getting enough shut-eye. Along with old wisdom like sleeping in an uncluttered, cool, and dark space for 7+ hours, it's also important to connect the dots between what and when we eat and drink, as well as what our natural body clock is trying to teach us.

  • Real Food Recipes: Bed Threads developed five sleep-enhancing, vegan dinner recipes. LINK

  • In the News: Learn what CNS says about plant-based nutrition and how to sleep better. LINK 

  • Feeding Families: Veg Kitchen shares 9 familiar, kid-friendly foods that support healthy sleep. LINK

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Sleep 1

(the sugar-plum fairies are waiting)

CH BLOG - September 2023 / © by Cookhouse Hero / Reading time: 3.5 minutes

What are circadian rhythms?

     According to the Sleep Foundation, circadian rhythms are "24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important and well-known circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle." So, what does this have to do with sleep health? More than we realize. They add four key takeaways about circadian rhythms (see source link below):


  • Circadian rhythms regulate several processes in the body, including alertness or sleepiness, appetite, and body temperature.

  • The body’s internal clock is naturally aligned with the cycle of day and night.

  • Work schedules, travelling, or an underlying issue can negatively affect natural circadian rhythms.

  • Maintain a healthy circadian rhythm via a consistent sleep schedule, enough light exposure, and daily exercise.

     My personal takeaways connect the dots to alertness (brain functionality), appetite (overeating to compensate for feeling sluggish and/or eating appetite-inducing processed foods before bedtime), daily exercise (walking, swimming, yoga, sports, hiking, etc), and consistency (rituals before going to bed tell our internal clock that it's time to sleep). I reckon I'm not alone in thinking about thinking, too. Brain health is paramount to living fully, right? As we age, our brain's wellbeing becomes front and center to our lives. And since the early 90's, grey-matter research has exploded. We're learning how poor sleep and lack of sleep are primary risk factors in regards to dementia and cognitive decline, as well as heart health, regulating stress reactors like cortisol and epinephrine (stress hormones), and appetite regulation. 


     Then there's the ritual factor. Our body and brain clock needs to be "told" that it's time for bed. Setting up a nightly routine prepares our inner rhythm to get physiologically ready for some restful shut-eye. This includes turning off all blue-light electronic devices and darkening our environment at least one hour before bedtime. In fact, when we go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and turn on a light, our brain can think it's time to wake up. We respond to light no matter the time of day, so try to use a low-light night light in your bathroom (or nothing at all if possible).

Within a 24-hour day, circadian rhythms help control and regulate vital bio-chemical, emotional, and even psychological processes in our body and brain.

Don't ditch complex carbohydrates (and whole fruits) ever again!

     Keto, paleo, carnivorous, high-protein-low-fat etc diets are fads. They can have some beneficial effect SHORT-TERM because of weight loss and lower A1C levels (the bio-marker for diabetes). Long-term, they're clearly causing serious health issues such as significantly higher risks for heart disease, diabetes, dementia, erectile dysfunction, and other chronic conditions. It's time to stop believing that all carbs are created equally. It's just marketing, folks. So, adding complex carbs (and simple carbs in the form of whole fruits) are essential not only for healthy sleep but also for overall health. Solid research points to the positive effects on sleep via consuming 65% - 80% of our daily diet in the form of healthy carbs. Note: although french fries are a carb from potatoes, they have nothing to do with something called food and should, instead, be called a substance. French fries (potato chips, corn chips, veggie chips, etc) aren't a vegetable! 

Carbs that are particularly beneficial for healthy sleep patterns are:

  • spinach + kale

  • raw nuts

  • raw seeds

  • nut butters

  • carrot

  • edamame

  • tofu

  • avocados

  • sage + basil + chamomile

  • potatoes + sweet potatoes

  • bananas

  • tart cherries

  • lentils

  • black beans

  • whole grains (rice, oats, etc)

Foods and beverages to avoid completely *OR avoid 2-3 hours before sleeping:

  • cheese + dairy

  • butter

  • fried foods

  • red meat + processed meats

  • fatty fish

  • chocolate

  • candy

  • caffeine (some can handle it well)

  • processed baked goods

  • junk foods + processed foods

  • sugary + energy drinks

  • alcohol

  • * hot peppers + chilis

  • * tomatoes

  • * eggplant

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well."

- Virginia Woolf, English writer (died 1941)

What to do?

     For the food science geeks out there (like me), do some research on the following compounds that support healthy sleep: tryptophan / melatonin / gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) / calcium / potassium / magnesium / pyridoxine / folate / L-ornithine / serotonin / histamine / acetylcholine / antioxidants / vitamin D / B vitamins / zinc / copper. Then, learn more about how the 24-hour cycle of life affects appetite, weight gain, elimination (poop), mood, and higher/lower risks of chronic diseases. Take a moment and think about how, when, and how long you sleep. Studies consistently show that seven hours a night is ideal; children and some people need more. Less than seven hours has shown to cause an array of bio-chemical, emotional, and psychological issues. And don't forget about daily movement, bedtime rituals, and our body's sensitivity to light. Finally, keep your room cool, as dark as possible (a soft eye mask works wonders), and free of clutter (perhaps it's time to do a Donate/Keep/Toss Project?). I wish you all sweet dreams. Zzzzzz...

Click on the links below and learn more about smart choices that lead to a good night's sleep!

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