Does Bedtime Honey Improve Sleep? Nine Reasons to Think So

Stuart King, an Australian musician in his thirties, recently commented:

Most days I wake up feeling more tired than when I went to bed the night before, however I find that if I take up to a tablespoon [15 ml] of raw honey immediately before bed I almost always wake up feeling totally refreshed. I’ve suffered from low energy, brain fog, fatigue and sore muscles for years. I tried eliminating food groups (dairy, grains, nightshades, etc) but that didn’t fix the problems (although wheat has been problematic) but taking the honey did. I usually sleep without any problems that I’m aware of — even if I awaken feeling unrefreshed I will still sleep through the night and won’t awaken early or whatever, but the crucial thing is I feel rested when I wake up, if I get that right I can even eat bad food and feel good all day. I tried coconut oil and coconut oil combined with honey but they didn’t work.

I hadn’t heard that before. I searched “health benefits of honey” but didn’t find it.  A Wikipedia entry about the health benefits of honey doesn’t mention it. In China, many people think honey is a health food, yet a Chinese friend of mine, who eats honey daily, hadn’t heard this. The uses of honey in Traditional Chinese Medicine lie elsewhere. Honey as sleep aid is briefly mentioned (with a question mark: “Key to a restful night’s sleep?”) in The Honey Prescription (2010).

Many say or assume something quite different. According to Dr. Mercola, to sleep well “avoid before-bed snacks, particularly grains and sugars”. A Huffington Post writer says, “You already know which edibles to avoid before bedtime — namely, alcohol, coffee and sugary desserts.” Honey is half fructose, which UCSF professor of pediatrics Robert Lustig calls “poison”. Lustig says fructose is “one of the most egregious [= worst] components of the western diet, directly contributing to heart disease and diabetes, and associated with cancer and dementia.”  John Yudkin, a well-known nutrition professor, wrote books about the harm done by sucrose. He considered fructose even worse. Nutrition researchers rarely study time of day effects. For example, nutritional epidemiologists ask what you’ve eaten but don’t ask when.

I found a bit of evidence supporting what Stuart found — namely, two comments here:

Just started honey and vinegar hot drink 2 weeks ago. Am amazed at the increased quality of sleep and relief of night time pain. Thought I was imagining it so did not have my drink one night. Didn’t sleep and was racked with pain again all night. . . [my recipe:]  2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1 tbsp honey with 1 cup hot water.

Honey knocks me out and I actually wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready for the day–amazing. I’ve been using the honey for a few months now. The difference has been “night and day!”

In addition, a 2007 study found that honey at bedtime was slightly better than no treatment at reducing the symptoms of coughing children. A 2010 study and a 2012 study found the same thing.

I asked Stuart how he discovered that honey improved his sleep. He replied:

I read something that Tim Ferriss said about having a small snack before bed [Ferriss advises protein and fat, not honey -- Seth], I think he mentioned that unrefreshed sleep was due to low blood sugar. At the time I was doing carb back loading (I’ve since stopped that as carb restriction gave me problems). I would have a snack before bed but it didn’t always work. I think the small fructose amount in honey was what helped, starches didn’t always help. I did some research and came across your blog and Dave Asprey’s blogs on sleep, Dave mentioned raw honey. He encouraged people to take MCT oil with the honey to stay ketogenic, I tried coconut oil with the honey instead but it didn’t work. If anything it made my sleep worse with stomach cramps. I think there is an amount where benefits end, I think anywhere between a teaspoon or a tablespoon is about right. . . . The first time I did it I couldn’t believe it, I felt so good the next day.

He added later:

I have noticed that if I eat a lot of sugar during the day (soft drinks, desserts and so forth) then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey. Perhaps there’s something about honey that helps regulate blood sugar. I think it works better on an empty stomach/lightly fasted. So if you had dinner at 7 pm you might not eat anything after and take the honey at 9 or 10. In the past I’ve had a late dinner then maybe some dessert or fruit in the following hours, then added the honey just after and I don’t think it worked as well. When I first tried it I used commercially available heated honey and it worked great. I’ve tried 2 tablespoons, but I don’t think that worked any better than one and sometimes as little as 1 teaspoon is enough.

In summary, three people reported great improvement in sleep from honey at bedtime. Stuart found several other things: 1. If he ate a lot of sugar during the day, the effect went away. 2. Other carbs didn’t work. 3. An empty stomach was important. 4. Effective doses ranged from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.

I believe Stuart has discovered something very important. My belief rests on several things:

1. Repetition. I started eating honey (1 tablespoon) at bedtime. My sleep (much better than Stuart’s to begin with) clearly improved, even with 1 teaspoon. I felt more rested when I awoke and more rested throughout the day. The improvement happened night after night. One evening I didn’t eat the honey on an empty stomach. The improvement didn’t happen, just as Stuart would have predicted. I told a friend about it. He took 1 tablespoon at bedtime. His sleep immediately improved by a large amount. He stopped waking up in the middle of the night and stopped needing a nap in the afternoon. Another friend has tried it once (so far). “When I woke up the next morning,” she wrote, “I’d realised I’d slept all the way through the night without waking up in the early morning (a nice change) but had a terrible case of the jitters (a not-so-nice change).” A third friend tried it twice. She slept better the first night but not the second. Maybe she failed to eat it on an empty stomach or had too many sweets during the day.

2. Strength increase. As soon as I started the honey, I got stronger — a complete surprise. For years I have done one-legged standing to exhaustion several times per day because it improves my sleep. To reach exhaustion sooner, I stand on one bent leg. Recently I’ve been doing it four times per day (right leg twice, left leg twice). For a year, I’ve averaged about 3 minutes to exhaustion. After I started the honey, the length of time until exhaustion quickly increased. Here are the measurements:

 photo 2013-11-02effectofhoneyatbedtimeonone-legstanding_zps41d50272.jpeg

Each point is a different day; each is the average of the two durations for the first right and first left leg standing of the day. The 2013 tick marks the start of 2013. Nothing changed except the honey. The strength increase was also clear in other ways. In Beijing, I live on the sixth floor of a walk up. It became noticeably easier to climb the six flights of stairs.

The strength increase astonished me. The dietary change was tiny, did not happen before exercise, and involved a safe widely-available food (in contrast to the drugs athletes use, such as steroids). I believe better sleep increased muscle growth. I predict that taking the honey at other times, such as in the morning, would not have the same effect. My earlier observations that lots of standing  and one-legged standing improve sleep make more plausible causality in the opposite direction: something that improves sleep will increase muscle growth.

When I described my strength increase to Stuart, he replied:

I have noticed that when I do the honey, my weight goes up over the next week or two, perhaps by 400-500 grams [yet] my waist doesn’t increase (I measure it with a tape measure) even after a few weeks. I also have been sure that I noticed rapid muscular growth around my chest, shoulders and arms, similar to what I have noticed when going hard at the gym after a few months off. I kind of assumed that maybe I had more stored muscle glycogen from the honey, but had also considered that improved sleep as you said was the reason.

3. Evolutionary explanation. It has been a mystery why evolution shaped us to like sweetness so much. Israel Ramirez (whose research led to the Shangri-La Diet) pointed out that the usual explanation (sugar is a  source of energy) makes no sense.  If it’s because sugars provide energy, why don’t potatoes and rice taste just as good? They don’t. Nutritionists lump sugars with other carbohydrates, thereby ignoring the puzzle. No anti-sugar advocate — not Yudkin, Lustig or anyone else — has provided a good explanation of why evolution shaped us to like the taste of a “poison”.

There are several related puzzles. Why are meals divided into main course and dessert? In other words, why do we eat the sweet part separate and later? If we like sugars because they provide energy, this makes no sense. If sugars are simply carbs, this makes no sense — we eat plenty of carbs during the main course. The separation of dessert and main course, if it reflects brain mechanisms, must mean that sugars are quite different than other carbs. Somehow we benefit from this division. A few people, in particular Elizabeth Capaldi, an experimental psychologist, have figured out that sweet food tastes worse if we are hungry (enough). This is why dessert comes after the rest of the meal. Yet other carbohydrates do not taste worse. Stuart pointed out something else along these lines, which I had not heard before but which is clearly true: We eat dessert much more after dinner than after lunch.

Stuart’s observations explain these mysteries. All four observations (liking for sweetness, separation of main course and dessert, sweet things taste bad when hungry, dessert after dinner but not lunch) make sense if we have evolved mechanisms to push us to eat sweet foods near bedtime. Long ago, these foods would have mainly been fruit. Because sleep is so important for health, there would be powerful selection for anything that improved sleep.

4. Basic physiology. The brain runs on glucose. In my brain tests, sugar drinks, cupcakes, and other sugar-rich foods make an obvious difference 30 minutes to 2 hours later. (I get faster.) And the brain controls sleep, an enormously complicated and time-sensitive process. Too little blood sugar during sleep could easily disrupt sleep.

5. Basic nutrition. Honey is half glucose, half fructose. When you eat it, the glucose enters the blood quickly and would supply glucose to the brain in the first half of the night. In contrast, the fructose turns into glucose and enters the blood slowly (fructose has a low glycemic index). This would supply glucose to the brain in the second half of the night. Many fruits, such as bananas, figs, and grapes, have a similar composition (similar amounts of fructose and glucose). Most fruits have plenty of fructose and glucose.  A 50/50 glucose/fructose mixture makes honey near the start of sleep a good source of blood glucose over an extended period without food. Notice that you need both — glucose and fructose — in roughly equal amounts to get a roughly steady supply over six or seven hours.

6. Basic engineering. When you are asleep, there can be no “course correction”. You must subsist for the next six or so hours without any behavioral help, such as drinking water when thirsty. So it makes design sense to do something shortly before sleep that will provide a relatively steady supply of glucose throughout the night (“time-release”). That won’t be a lot of glucose at once. You need a food that is a mix of sugars.

7. Support for general idea. A few weeks ago a woman told me that when she ate very low-carb her sleep suffered, so she ate more carbs and her sleep got better. This supports the general idea behind what Stuart found — that the brain needs a certain amount of glucose to work well during sleep and it is best if it gets at least some of it from carbohydrate.

8. Explanation of correlation of sugar and bad health. Why is sugar consumption often correlated with poor health? This is easy to explain: sugar at the wrong time is the problem. Too much sugar during the day interferes with the bedtime benefit (and may also interfere with sleep in general). Stuart found exactly this: Eating lots of sugary foods during the day disturbed his sleep and eliminated the honey effect (“if I eat a lot of sugar during the day . . . then I don’t feel refreshed [when I wake up] regardless of the honey”). Too much sugar during the day could make it harder to get optimal glucose levels during the night. For example, too much sugar during the day might raise insulin levels, causing too-low blood sugar at night and/or causing a fructose/glucose mixture eaten at bedtime to be digested too quickly. Anything that harms sleep will increase disease. Good health, good sleep and good immune function are closely connected. An example of the evidence is that shift workers get more cancer than non-shift workers.

9. Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle, in my paraphrase, is lightning doesn’t strike twice in one place for different reasons. If two rare events might have the same cause, they probably do. In this case, lightning has struck three times in one place. 1. Huge sleep improvement from tiny dietary change. 2. Huge strength improvement from tiny dietary change far from time of exercise. 3. Evolutionary explanation of why sugars taste good, why dessert exists and follows the main course, and so on. Before this, no one has come close to a plausible evolutionary explanation. The absence of an explanation is remarkable because two of the phenomena — sweetness tastes good, sweets are eaten separately after the rest of the meal — are so obvious.

I believe Stuart’s discovery is important for two other reasons that might not impress anyone else. One is similarities with my earlier work. First, I’ve found  other “cross-over” interactions with time of day, where something helpful at one time is harmful at another time. Vitamin D in the morning improves sleep, Vitamin D at night harms sleep. Morning faces improve mood, evening faces harm mood. Second, wondering why we like sour, umami and complex flavors was the first thing to suggest to me that we need to eat plenty of fermented food to be healthy. Many facts later, I’m sure this is true. Finally, evolutionary reasoning has helped me find several new experimental effects (morning faces, Shangri-La Diet, flaxseed oil, standing and sleep).

Finally, Stuart’s discovery explains something puzzling I’d noticed repeatedly for years. Now and then I slept unusually well. I’d wonder why — how was yesterday different from usual? — and see that the only unusual thing was that I’d had dinner at a friend’s house. At the times, I guessed that seeing faces in the evening was somehow improving my sleep. This did not make sense in terms of my morning faces work, but a connection between social contact and sleep was well-established. Now I realize that dinner at a friend’s house is one of the few times I eat dessert. A friend told me that when his partner has dinner parties, she serves dessert long after the main course.

This report suggests that different honeys may differ in important ways.

I told a Dutch friend about this. She said it was common in Holland to have milk and honey at bedtime, although she herself didn’t do this. I asked why. No clear reason, she said. An excuse to have something sweet? Could this be why the Dutch are so tall? Children grow when asleep. Better sleep, more growth. My strength increase suggests what a big effect this could be.

More posts about honey and sleep.

95 Responses to “Does Bedtime Honey Improve Sleep? Nine Reasons to Think So”

  1. michael Says:

    I first heard about this from Dave Asprey… his explanation is

    “During the night, your brain uses a lot of energy. One efficient form of brain energy comes from sugar stored in your liver, called liver glycogen. Your brain taps your liver glycogen before hitting your muscle glycogen (stored sugar in your muscles), so having a little extra sugar before bed can help your brain function better at night. Raw honey is preferentially used to stock liver glycogen, so it is used first for brain function.

    Raw honey is 22% better at making liver glycogen than the cooked, conventional stuff you’re likely to find at the supermarket. Taken without protein, a small amount of honey will raise blood glucose while you sleep too. I was skeptical of this trick when I first heard about it in The Honey Revolution, but I found it does work well as long as you don’t combine it with protein.”

    /michael

    Seth: I don’t follow the logic of this sentence: “Your brain taps your liver glycogen before hitting your muscle glycogen (stored sugar in your muscles), so having a little extra sugar before bed can help your brain function better at night.”

  2. dearieme Says:

    If glucose/fructose is the answer, surely a cup of weak tea with sucrose would do just as well? (It’s what my mother did and she slept like a log. Though her evening nip of whisky might have helped too.)

    We tend to eat our honey at breakfast: perhaps I should try it last thing at night instead.

  3. dearieme Says:

    “she serves dessert long after the main course”: ah yes – dessert before or after cheese? Or cheese instead of dessert? Or savoury dessert instead of sweet dessert? Tricky territory, this.

  4. T. J. Allen Says:

    I have noticed a great improvement in sleep from consumption of 1 tablespoon of resistant starch (for example, resistant potato starch) before bed. For a while I was using a teaspoon of Diamond XPC before bed and noticed a similar improvement in sleep quality.

  5. Sam Says:

    Looking back… for years, We gave our younger son honey and milk at bedtime as a naturopath told us it was good for his recurring cold. He grew up to be 6’2″ vs his older brother who is 5’10″ and both parents under 5’10″.
    Correlation.. Causation.. I don’t know. But this blog post is fascinating..!
    Thanks Seth.

  6. Three Pipe Problem Says:

    ‘No anti-sugar advocate — not Yudkin, Lustig or anyone else — has provided a good explanation of why evolution shaped us to like the taste of a “poison”.’

    I recall someone, cannot remember who, making the argument that certain amino acids are actually quite sweet tasting. I remember this person challenged readers to taste plain unsweetened protein powder with a clean palette, which I remember doing, and thinking it was indeed quite sweet. I don’t think this a huge factor as we obviously seem to have a protein-specific hunger. Just thought it was worth a mention.

    Great post, looking forward to trying this.

  7. August Says:

    There’s also a book called the Honey Revolution: Restoring the Health of Future Generations.
    I tried this and it worked, but then my fasting blood sugar numbers got high, so I stopped. Since then I may have fixed the blood sugar issue- when I remember to check my numbers are normal now that I workout, so I may be able to do the honey again.

  8. Charlie Currie Says:

    I tried the honey at night after hearing Dave Asprey mention it a couple of years ago…horrible acid reflux ensued about an hour after falling asleep.

    Fructose before bed equals heart burn for me…I prefer my Ice cream in the late afternoon…cold, dry rice cereal (like rice chex) as a between dinner and bedtime snack works for me like honey seems to works for others. I’ve never been a “sweets” person, preferring bread and butter over donuts (however, I don’t eat bread anymore either)…weird, huh…

    Cheers

    Charlie

  9. Tom Passin Says:

    Fructose does not primarily metabolize into glucose; much of it goes into glycogen, but the reactions seem to be rather complex. According to the 1st edition of The Perfect Health Diet by the Jaminets, a small amount of fructose seems to help the liver manage blood glucose levels, and some fructose helps restore deleted glycogen levels in the liver and maybe muscles.

    But only a small amount. The Jaminets recommend 100 calories/day as the most to ingest. Also, fructose promotes fat retention and weight gain.

    If the effects Seth is talking about are specifically honey-related (as it seems) , then it must be something else in the honey, because table sugar and the sugar in most fruits is about 50-50 glucose-fructose. Anyway, most of us take in way too much fructose in the prepared foods we eat.

    If the effects are stronger with raw honey (unclear from what Seth has posted here), then they may be related to anti-microbial properties of raw honey which would be degraded by the pasteurization of most honey. Also I’ve read that most commercial honey is blended with a lot of high-fructose corn syrup. So it would seem best to try this with locally produced, preferably raw honey.

    Here’s a report of new research which finds that the liver’s metabolism of fructose is much more complex than previously realized -

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081209221742.htm

  10. Paul Says:

    I get the impression from reading this that the honey doesn’t need to be raw. I think I’ll start experimenting tonight with “regular” honey and see if it works. If not I’ll source some raw and see if that makes a difference.

    Might also be worth trying with some of the fruits you mentioned to help isolate the mechanism. I quite like grapes, so that might be a good one to try.

  11. Bruce Says:

    Be sure to avoid ultra-filtered honey (which removes all the pollen, etc) and chinese honey, which often has heavy metals and/or antibiotics in it. Often the two are the same, as pollen is the only way to determine the geographic origin of honey.

  12. Susan Says:

    Question for you: Did you conduct your self experiment using local honey? I am asking that question since I am a beekeeper. I will be starting the experiment on myself tonight. Thank you.

  13. Al Says:

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    This is not directly related to sleep, but there have been a number of articles making their way around the internet about the problematic international trade in honey.

    These articles state that some honey is contaminated with heavy metals and/or antibiotics which are not allowed in the US. Also, some honey is so heavily filtered that no pollen remains, which is important because without pollen, it’s not possible to track its origin. Finally, some “honey” isn’t honey at all.

    Here’s an example of such an article:

    http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2011/11/tests-show-most-store-honey-isnt-honey/#.UnkpKvkqiNI

    Cheers.

  14. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Did you conduct your self experiment using local honey?”

    No I used Australian honey. I am in China and don’t trust Chinese honey. I also have honey from Canada and from a French company that is “a blend of EC and non-EC honey”.

  15. Seth Roberts Says:

    “If the effects are stronger with raw honey (unclear from what Seth has posted here)…”

    Raw vs cooked honey made no difference to Stuart. I am using cooked honey. So are my friends that have tried it. Long ago I suspect the effect came from fruit, not honey, although that’s just a guess.

  16. Seth Roberts Says:

    “He grew up to be 6’2″ vs his older brother who is 5’10″ and both parents under 5’10″.”

    Four inches is close to the difference between the Dutch and their neighbors. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2441250/Average-BMI-Artist-compares-sizes-men-various-countries.html

  17. Heidi 555 Says:

    There’s a book called The Hibernation Diet that is about talking a spoonful of honey before bed. As I recall the diet claimed it would help you to sleep well, lose weight, and build muscle.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Hibernation-Diet-Mike-McInnes/dp/0285637371

    I tried it for a month (pre SLD) and it didn’t work for me — I gained 3 pounds. I wrote about it on this thread here: http://boards.sethroberts.net/index.php?topic=6285.msg68506#msg68506

    Seth: gaining muscle and losing weight are not compatible…but I have definitely gained muscle and slept well.

  18. Bee Says:

    Very interesting post. Not sure if this is related, but as a type one diabetic, I can tell you that it very hard to sleep with low blood sugar. I’m sure mine goes lower in the night than a normal person, as mine can get down to 40-50 at times from taking too much insulin or a hard workout day. A normal person is usually around 70-80 throughout the day, unless it’s after a meal. Also, the lower the blood sugar, the more lucid my dreams. Maybe because I’m not sleeping as soundly. I don’t know. Just thought that I’d add this.

  19. Stuart King Says:

    When I first tried the honey I used an organic, but lightly heated variety which worked very well. After switching to raw local honey it didn’t work as well. I’m trying different varieties, according to this study conducted by the Australian Government https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/05-027 different varieties of honey have different glycemic indexes ranging from low to high.
    In the outcomes they say ‘The results of this study showed that different honeys could have significantly different effects on blood glucose and insulin levels, due to differences in their sugar content and physical form, and should not all be classified as one type of food for people with diabetes.’
    This information may be more important than whether the honey is raw or not.
    If the honey increases fasting blood sugar or gives you reflux then perhaps try a different variety to see if there’s a difference?
    I’m also curious about whether sucrose would work however honey (unlike table sugar) is a natural food and has antimicrobial, antibacterial and anti fungal properties, can kill pathogens and candida, prevents biofilm formation, (see here https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/09-180) has prebiotic properties promoting the growth if beneficial microbes in the intestine and also has antioxidants. (https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/09-179 and also https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/05-040).
    It appears that honey, much like fruit, has many other benefits to eating it in small quantities (it seems our preference for sweet things after meals takes care of this anyway). I can’t see how table sugar would be beneficial compared to honey or fruit but it still may improve sleep.

  20. dearieme Says:

    Re Susan’s point: we routinely eat two sorts of honey, both sparingly
    (i) Local, and (ii) Manuka honey from New Zealand.

    Our most recent experiment was honey from Pitcairn Island: we found it in a drawer; presumably it was an old Christmas present.

  21. Adam Says:

    J. Stanton recently looked at some studies comparing Sucrose (pure sugar) to Honey & Protein:
    http://www.gnolls.org/3559/calorie-cage-match-sugar-sucrose-vs-protein-and-honey-there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-calorie-part-vi/

    There must be something else in Honey aside from the Sugar.

    Quoting:

    J Food Sci. 2007 Apr;72(3):S224-9.
    The effect of honey compared to sucrose, mixed sugars, and a sugar-free diet on weight gain in young rats.
    Chepulis LM.

    “Overall percentage weight gain was significantly lower in honey-fed rats than those fed sucrose or mixed sugars, despite a similar food intake.”

    And…

    “Weight gains were comparable for rats fed honey and a sugar free diet although food intake was significantly higher in honey-fed rats.”

  22. Israel Ramirez Says:

    Honey is a very complicated substance, containing lots of substances in varying amounts, depending on what kind of plant the bee harvested. http://www.beesource.com/resources/usda/honey-composition-and-properties/

    I wonder whether any beneficial effects might be due to the micro components rather than sugars. When I was a child, my family took great stock in honey as a treatment for the common cold but I had trouble eating it on account of the overly sweet taste.

  23. Dennis Mangan Says:

    I think evolution shaped us to like a ‘poison’ like sugar is the same as for cocaine or porn, both of which humans have a taste for – they’re all supernormal stimuli.

    Seth: With porn, it is clear what’s going on. Obviously sexual arousal/pleasure via vision was helpful in certain situations. So with sugar what is the corresponding beneficial situation? The answer is not obvious.

    With cocaine it is not clear what is going on — what the beneficial situation is, for example. Nor what the paleo equivalent was. What paleo event triggered the same neural pathways as cocaine? I have no idea.

    However, leaving aside cocaine, I think you’re right: the implicit assumption of many people is that we just have too much sugar now. This fails to answer the question of why we like sweetness at all (or why dessert is separate). I’m saying it’s not the amount so much as the time of day.

  24. dearieme Says:

    A young friend was recently on his first business trip to the US. He found two of the main courses he was served in restaurants inedibly sweet. He rejected them: I hope he was quick-witted enough to find a diplomatic excuse for his hosts.

  25. Seth Roberts Says:

    “I wonder whether any beneficial effects [of honey] might be due to the micro components rather than sugars.”

    I doubt it, for two reasons. One is that, if so, our liking for sweetness and the institution of dessert would remain mysteries. This is the lightning doesn’t strike twice in one place for different reasons argument. The other reason is that something hugely important (sleep) was massively improved. Something as major as sleep is unlikely to be massively improved by a tiny part of the diet. It would be like building something essential for life that depends heavily on a tiny hard-to-get part. Sure, we require micronutrients (such as vitamins) for many things. But the vitamins we need are not hard to get and deplete very slowly. It is really hard to get scurvy, for example.

  26. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Dessert is not universal.

    However, the evidence from experience was interesting enough that I tried honey last night. It didn’t make any difference, which I guess isn’t too surprising. My sleep problem seems to be driven by hot flashes.

    I wake up (feeling alert), have a hot flash, and it takes me a while to get back to sleep. I believe that the pre-hot flash state includes a gradual increase of body temperature which takes me out of sleep.

    There may be adrenalin/cortisol involved, too. The whole cycle (which also happen during the day includes feeling tired/distracted before a hot flash (something I wouldn’t notice when I’m asleep.)

    Anyway, I’ll keep trying the honey for a while. Who knows? I might get the strength increase.

    Seth: If you already get a fructose/glucose mixture near bedtime (how near is unclear. one hour? two hours? three hours?) more of it is unlikely to help.

  27. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Not sure if this is relevant to cocaine, but coca leaf (the source of cocaine) is a staple for people living in the high mountains– life is hard and they need the extra energy.

    I’d love to see whether coca would help people off a cocaine addiction or even be a useful drug like caffeine, but the experiment isn’t legal and I guess coca isn’t expensive enough to be worth smuggling.

  28. GeoffD Says:

    Seth,

    Thank you for the best blog on the internet.

    Seth: Thanks! That’s a lot of blogs.

  29. Three Pipe Problem Says:

    “The other reason is that something hugely important (sleep) was massively improved. Something as major as sleep is unlikely to be massively improved by a tiny part of the diet.”

    Milligrams of melatonin can massively improve sleep, and it’s found in foods.

  30. How to Manufacture the Best Night of Sleep in Your Life | Mark's Daily Apple Says:

    […] a tablespoon of honey, preferably raw, right before bed. Seth Roberts has shown through rigorous self-experimentation how it might very well improve sleep, perhaps by keeping […]

  31. Sue Says:

    I have hypoglycemia and horrible insomnia. I have tried manuka honey before bed but did not see results; however I can concur with Stuarts discovery that a day of low sugar/low refined carbs will guarantee me a good nights rest as opposed to waking up after only a few hours of sleep and not being able to get back to sleep until sunrise. I find I sleep best with light dinner and sleep even better if Im a little hungry before retiring.

    I do feel like my insomnia is related to blood sugar problems (possibly caused by weak adrenals). Before discovering the diet connection a snack of cheese and fruit before helped a lot but was not any where near as successful as low sugar/low refined carb diet.

    Another thing that seem critical for me is potassium supplementation. I use about 1/8 tsp of nu-salt and that ensures me refreshing sleep. Too much and Im groggy the next day.

    My husband who gave up coffee and was looking for a replacement for mental acuity discovered that a spoonful of honey works just as well without the side effects

    I am curious as to what brand/type of honey you are taking Seth? I would like to try another source of honey.

    Andrew–how did you solve your blood sugar problems?

    Thanks

    Seth: I have been using a blend of Australian honeys from Leabrook Farms (in Australia).

  32. Meets Says:

    I tried this last night, and it worked. I had a deep sleep and woke up refreshed, which doesn’t happen often.

    I’ve been eating a lot of honey, but mainly in the morning and afternoon with coffee or yogurt. Occasionally I would sleep well and not know why. Maybe those were the days I had honey with yogurt before going to bed, which I occasionally would do.

  33. Inquisitive Raven Says:

    Hi, I’m a type 2 diabetic and I’d like to talk about blood sugar. There is a known phenomenon of elevated fasting blood sugar that seems to be related to the long period of no food that people undergo when they sleep. Basically, as I understand it, when blood sugar drops sufficiently at night, the liver releases glucose into the bloodstream. In non-diabetics, the insulin response keeps it from getting too high, but in diabetics, the result is elevated morning blood sugar. There’s an alternate explanation in the linked article, but whatever the reason, I’ve found that taking a small amount of carbohydrates before bedtime seems to prevent it.

    What I haven’t done is test whether the form of the carbohydrate matters, nor have I figured out the optimum dosage though I suspect that it’s between ten and twenty grams. According to the USDA nutrition database, honey has about six grams of sugar/tsp, so 2-4 tsps is about the right dose. I get the 10-20 gram figure from the fact that the recommended dose for treating a hypoglycemic emergency is 15 grams of glucose and, well, trying to avoid spurious precision.

  34. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    Save-the-sugar-for-dessert might be a modern invention:

    Were we to attend a 16th century court banquet in France or England, the food would seem strange indeed to anyone accustomed to traditional Western cooking. Dishes might include blancmange—a thick puree of rice and chicken moistened with milk from ground almonds, then sprinkled with sugar and fried pork fat. Roast suckling pig might be accompanied by a cameline sauce, a side dish made of sour grape juice thickened with bread crumbs, ground raisins and crushed almonds, and spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Other offerings might consist of fava beans cooked in meat stock and sprinkled with chopped mint or quince paste, a sweetmeat of quinces and sugar or honey. And to wash it all down, we would probably drink hypocras, a mulled red wine seasoned with ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. […] Before 1650, the elite classes throughout the Islamic and Christian worlds from Delhi to London shared pretty much the same diet: thick purees, lots of spices, sweet and sour sauces, cooked vegetables, and warmed wines. Sugar was ubiquitous as a seasoning in savory dishes.

    (Emphasis added.)

    From: “Birth of the Modern Diet”, by Rachel Laudan. Scientific American, Aug. 2000.

    http://www.rachellaudan.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/birth_of_the_modern_diet.pdf

  35. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Save-the-sugar-for-dessert might be a modern invention”.

    There are plenty of modern instances where main courses have small amounts of sugar. Sushi rice has a small amount of sugar. Korean marinades have small amounts of sugar. Cranberry sauce, sweet and sour sauce and pomegranate sauce are modern. And so on. So sugar is certainly used in main courses, but is it new to have dishes that are mainly sweet (dessert) separated from the rest of the meal? The quotation doesn’t show something that we would today call a dessert served at the same time as main courses.

    Elizabeth Capaldi’s experiments that show that sweetness is less pleasant when we are hungry don’t depend — one hopes — on when they were done.

  36. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Milligrams of melatonin can massively improve sleep, and it’s found in foods.”

    But not in milligram amounts. Much less. Here is the amount of melatonin in various foods that are HIGH in melatonin:

    http://www.thehealersjournal.com/2013/04/08/foods-high-in-melatonin/

    You would almost never get enough melatonin from food to improve your sleep.

    Because melatonin is found in food in such small amounts, it is very unlikely that we need melatonin in our food for optimal sleep. However, your comments makes me curious what effect it will have. I have some lying around.

  37. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Second night, I got a definite improvement in sleep– I only woke up once rather than the usual more times than I can remember.

    I still don’t believe in evolutionary arguments, especially if they’re supposed to apply to the whole human race. There are foods which are healthy for most people, but debilitating or deadly for some.

    There are the usual reasons for why childbirth is risky, but some women (for some births?) have a reasonably easy time of it. Why haven’t the traits which make childbirth risky been bred out, or at least made much more rare?

    I believe strongly in experimentation and observation, and I can live with evolutionary theories being used to check on which experiments are worth trying.

  38. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Why haven’t the traits which make childbirth risky been bred out, or at least made much more rare?”

    at the last Ancestral Health Symposium, a doctor named Will Lassek made exactly that argument: that certain easy-to-notice things evolved because they made childbirth less risky. His talk was titled “Why Women Need Fat: Three Evolutionary Puzzles”. His answers to these puzzles were quite different than the usual answers.

  39. Kelly B Says:

    Another hot-flash sufferer weighing in; I have exactly the same issue that Nancy reported – an increase in body temperature sometime during the night that wakes me up (thinking it’s morning, sometimes at 10:30 pm) in order to have a hot flash.

    I tried the honey last night for the first time – just 1 tsp. I’ve been eating very low-carb lately, so no sugar throughout the day at all. I had a hard time getting to sleep initially, and I did wake up for a hot flash at 2 am, and at first, I didn’t think it was working.

    However, when I woke up for the day (unfortunately, about an hour earlier than I wanted to – probably a hangover from the time change this past weekend), I felt an incredible sense of well-being. Normally, I wake up with aching hip joints and feeling pretty ugh, but not this morning. My sense is that the sleep was “richer” – I can’t describe what was different, but it seemed different in quality from my normal sleep in the way that heavy cream is different from skim milk.

    I’m very interested in the strength and muscle mass improvements, although I do realize that I just totally blew the opportunity to set up a control. Still not going to stop.

  40. How to Manufacture the Best Night of Sleep in Your Life | Doohickey Says:

    […] a tablespoon of honey, preferably raw, right before bed. Seth Roberts has shown through rigorous self-experimentation how it might very well improve sleep, perhaps by keeping […]

  41. David199 Says:

    So a few years ago i stumbled on this thread on the Crossfit Forum. Guys/Girls who were normally strict about their diet found that eating ice cream before bed was causing them to lose weight. The thread is 56 pages and spans 7 yrs of comments. I have not read it all but it appears they never considered the brain/liver combination in regards to sleep. They also didn’t seem to put together that it needed to be done before bed and just thought it was something in the ice cream alone. Who could blame them? Most of them would have strict diets during the day and then ice cream before bed – in line with Stuarts observations except it was ice cream vs honey.

    Comments like this from one poster (on page 51) make me think its a similar phenomenon affecting sleep: “When I’m at college, my sleeping pattern is . . . I don’t get much sleep. When I eat breyer’s there, the next day my WODs [workouts of the day] feel great. However when I go home and get alot of sleep, the ice cream does nothing and I feel better eating real food.” And comments like this on page 45, point out that sugar seems to be an important part of the equation: “Oddly, I almost always PR [set a personal record] the next day after eating a bowl or two of ice cream. If I go overboard on pasta or something the night before, I am usually burned out halfway through a respectable length metcon [metabolic conditioning workout] (20 minutes), but with ice cream it doesn’t matter what the WOD is, I always feel and perform better.”
    http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=20754

  42. Seth Roberts Says:

    “So a few years ago i stumbled on this thread on the Crossfit Forum. Guys/Girls who were normally strict about their diet found that eating ice cream before bed was causing them to lose weight. . . Most of them would have strict diets during the day and then ice cream before bed – in line with Stuart’s observations except it was ice cream vs honey.”

    That’s fascinating. Not just the results — the benefits of the bedtime ice cream — but also the fact that their will power somehow gave out near bedtime. Their willpower went down or the sweets became more attractive or both. I’ve heard many times about willpower going down in the evening — I can’t remember for what. I wonder if it goes down for sweets (less able to avoid them) more than other things, such as cigarettes and liquor. People binge in the evening much more than at other times of day.

    It is paradoxical that willpower goes down in the evening because in the evening we should do less of stuff…because we need to do nothing in order to fall asleep. In this case less willpower = more tendency to do something. I find that in the evening it is harder to do almost everything.

  43. David Says:

    Incredible. Something so simple triples your leg endurance. This is the most epic Seth Roberts discovery to date!

    And to think a honey-sweetened creme brûlée can now be considered a health food to improve strength and endurance, give better sleep thus overall health, boggles the mind.

  44. Louise Says:

    Regarding the height of dutch people in relation to milk and honey at bedtime. Perhaps it is as simple as better sleep equals better hormone production. Human growth hormone in particular is produced when we sleep.

    I’ve had far too much carbohydrate and sugar today to try it tonight but will definitely try tomorrow evening. in general I have noticed that if I eat fairly low carb during the day and then have a small but carbohydrate rich meal for dinner (such as a vegetable and legume curry with half a cup of white rice) I sleep well and wake feeling both relaxed and refreshed the next morning.

  45. Louise Says:

    I forgot to add – traditionally honey is considered to help the body retain fluid, helping people sleep through the whole night without needing to pee. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know. Perhaps some people who normally need to get up during the night to pee could report back here if it made any difference.

  46. Guy Says:

    Well I tried it last night and I have two things to say; first, it seemed to work as I woke up feeling more refreshed and second, technicolor dreams!!

  47. David199 Says:

    Louise, i’m currently being treated for insomnia- waking up in the middle of the night, usually around 4am. I always need to go to the bathroom. The honey is helping me sleep better but i still awake to go to the bathroom even though i drink almost no fluids after 4pm.

    I have bought the Hibernation Diet book and searched the web for information while i wait for it to arrive. There is very little information other than the following FAQ with the author (www.hibernationdiet.blogspot.com ). His short view is that honey nourishes the liver (and you need fructose to open the liver up to store glucose – this could be a reason why we crave sweets), which provides a stready stream of glucose to the brain during the “8-hour fast” while you sleep. When the brain is “happy”, you sleep deeply and the rest of the body burns fat as it rebuilds. If the liver does not have sufficient stores of glucose, the brain signals for stress hormones to kick in and rtake or make glucose from outside the liver to nurish the brain. These stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol) compete with rest and shift the body away from a primary fat metabolism. This is the paradox of eating sugar to burn fat (like the Crossfit guys did)

    This of providing for the brain during sleep (and the crossfit ice cream thread) are making me rethink how we eat and sleep. We’ve always been taught not to eat at night. Most people eat around 7pm, go to bed at 11pm and wake around 6-7am. This means we are doing a 12-hour fast each night. During the day we eat several times and people complain of fatigue, esp after lunch. Seems odd that we know we get tired after a big meal (think Thanksgiving) and yet we’ve set up our day to eat heavily when we want to be active and to fast while we are trying to rest.

  48. Kirk Says:

    David999,

    I solved my waking-up-to-pee-often problem by adding iodine. I take one fourth of a 3mg tablet once a day in the morning.

    Seth,

    I experimented the last three nights with honey-before-bedtime. My recent typical sleep pattern is an initial 3 hours, wake lightly, then 3 sessions of 1.5 hours each. Sometimes I wake up strongly at 4am at which time I’ll either change sleep locations, splash cold water on my arms and face, and/or hold standing meditation for 15 minutes, before attempting sleep again.)

    Night 1: 1 t honey, slept deeply 4 hours, lightly for another 3 hours
    Night 2: 1 t honey, no change in sleep habits (both my wife and I were cold that night so perhaps we kept waking each other up)
    Night 3: 1.5 t honey, slept deeply for 5 hours, woke up strongly, stayed awake for half an hour, then slept another 2 hours

    I plan to increase the dose to 2 teaspoons tonight.

  49. David199 Says:

    Kirk, any idea why the iodine helps stop the urge to urinate in the middle of the night?

  50. guv Says:

    on the dessert/ice cream subject,

    I found a quote attributed to Ray Peat here, http://www.dannyroddy.com/main/2011/12/29/ray-peats-brain-building-a-foundation-for-better-understandi.html
    that reads,
    “During the night all of the hormones of stress and inflammation rise, and the ice cream decreases them enough for you to stay asleep, but they still rise”

    purportedly (from the Danny Roddy site again), Peat likes/uses low fat Haagen Dazs (one without any gums or fillers).

  51. Stuart King Says:

    Lower will power in the evening might be a result of decision fatigue or ego depletion, which seem to have a direct correlation with blood glucose levels

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/trustedadvisor/2012/05/22/keep-those-glucose-levels-up/

  52. Kirk Says:

    David199,

    Why does iodine reduce the urge for night-time urination? In my case, I rarely eat manufactured food or at restaurants. This means I am also not ingesting the salt added during manufacturing. Most salt has iodine added to it (see Iodised Salt entry at Wikipedia). But I don’t like the taste of iodized salt, therefore, once I stopped eating potato chips and tortilla chips, I probably slowly got deficient in iodine. My hunch is that after a while my body was doing whatever it could to recycle the little iodine it had and not lose it via urination, and whatever process it used to recycle the iodine made the body want to urgently remove the waste. But that’s a layman’s viewpoint, probably wrong. All I know is that at some point I added iodine based upon supplement recommendations by the Jaminets, then after noticing the good effects, it didn’t take long to narrow the cause to the iodine. It’s the only supplement I’ve taken where I have noticed a result.

  53. Seth Roberts Says:

    That’s a good point. These willpower/ego-depletion/blood glucose studies support my views in several ways: that glucose is crucial for brain function, that low glucose leads to bad function, and that glucose levels depend greatly on both food and amount of mental activity. The alternative is that blood glucose regulation is so powerful and precise that blood glucose is not something we need to worry about. Like body temperature.

  54. guv Says:

    i read another reason for the need to get up & pee during the night, could be due to a deficiency of sodium in your diet.

  55. Brian Says:

    In the books “The Iodine Crisis” by Lynne Farrow and/or “Iodine: why you need it, why you can’t live without it” by David Brownstein it was mentioned that iodine supplementation can reduce the need to get up and pee during the night. I don’t recall if it was said why it works. If you buy Brownstein’s book do so from his website to make sure you get the current edition.

    I think I still have a little local raw honey left in my cupboard. I’m going to try this tonight.

  56. Shane Says:

    Hmm interesting. Who would have thought that honey before sleep would help!
    If only it didn’t need to be done on an empty stomach I’d give it a try. (I find eating before bed has me sleeping a lot better for some reason.)

    Seth: I’m sure the “on an empty stomach” part is not exactly right — that some foods in some amounts are okay. I am tempted to try thin crackers — eating the honey on thin crackers.

  57. Robnonstop Says:

    I was told by a chef:

    The idea of dessert at the end comes from the French. Europeans had sugary meals, and drinks (everything served at once) like other cultures do but when kings got fat, lost their teeth etc. their doctors decided to BAN those who produce the desserts into a separate, smaller kitchen and only allow a little bit of sweet food at the very end of the meal.

    What royals do is fancy, so everyone adopted this order.

    Seth: Interesting. Here is another answer:
    http://www.quora.com/Desserts/Why-and-when-did-desserts-become-the-last-course-of-a-meal

  58. Robnonstop Says:

    On why we get up at night:

    Apparently adults in rural areas without electricity always get up at night. It’s supposed to be that way. You have to go to bed when it gets dark though.

    When traveling in rural areas in Asia, I noticed people were often awake around midnight, sleeping before and afterwards. This TED talk makes the same claim but without any explanation:
    http://youtu.be/-Z-vyLHi2us

  59. Christina Says:

    I’m confused by why there’s confusion around the evolutionary desire for extremely sweet things. Lots of sugar = lots of glucose = higher spike in blood glucose and ability to do whatever we need to do with renewed energy. Why is it more complicated than that?

    Seth: Sugar is a low density form of energy. Fat is almost twice as dense. It is unclear that there is an evolutionary desire for “extremely sweet things” separate from a preference for sweetness. The Paleolithic world did not have a lot of extremely sweet things, so perhaps we like extremely sweet things because we like sweet things. High blood sugar is damaging (diabetes), why would we develop a preference for foods that damaged us? If extremely sweet things are so good for us, why do we get sick of them so quickly? (Sweets are generally small.)

  60. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Apparently adults in rural areas without electricity always get up at night. It’s supposed to be that way.”

    I’ve heard this many times: “It’s supposed to be this way.” I am less sure. How do the people who say this know what paleolithic sleep was like? Maybe rural people always get up at night because they don’t get enough sunlight in the morning, or enough exercise or enough X — there are dozens of possible X’s.

    To be sure that sleep is supposed to be this way we’d need to know all the variables that have a big effect on sleep and then set all of them to their paleolithic values, and see what happens. The people who make the “supposed to be this way” claim don’t seem to understand this.

  61. Chuck Says:

    In Honey’s Unknown Benefits By Lindsey Duncan, ND, CN he states…”Improved sleep and relaxation: Honey can promote relaxation and help ease you to sleep at night. The natural sugar found in honey raises our insulin slightly and allows tryptophan, the compound famous for making us sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving, to enter our brains more easily. Taking a spoonful of honey before bed can help you get restful sleep.”

  62. Darrin Says:

    hi all,

    i am trying to work out how important the Type of Honey is in this instance (for improving sleep)…

    i have found two local honeys, both are Raw & Organic. Both are 100% Australian honey (i am in Aus).
    & am trying to decide which one to buy first (i’ll buy the 2nd if 1st choice ‘fails’), here’s how they differ;

    Option A: honey is a dark colour & runny (i seem remember reading that the higher fructose honeys can be runnier than the lower fructose honeys).

    Option B: honey is light colour & a lot thicker than option A (possibly with some minor crystallisation). label also reads that this honey “retains small quantities of propolis and pollen”.

    Both honeys were at the same temperature, same shop/shelf.
    Although both honeys are raw & organic, i wonder if option B may have the least processing, due to the mention of propolis and pollen.

    so which do you think i should buy first for this sleep experiment & why…
    is runnier better,
    is higher fructose better (although i do not know the actual fructose contents),
    is inclusion of some propolis and pollen good or bad,
    etc,

    Thanks for any feedback/comments/help

    Seth: I don’t know. That is a really hard question.

  63. Seth Roberts Says:

    “The natural sugar found in honey raises our insulin slightly and allows tryptophan, the compound famous for making us sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving, to enter our brains more easily.”

    Tryptophan has been found to reduce sleep latency — the time it takes to fall asleep after you turn off the lights and try to fall asleep. I don’t care much about sleep latency since I usually fall asleep quickly. That being said, it’s possible that the honey has caused me to fall asleep more quickly. Last night it seems like I fell asleep in a few seconds.

  64. Darrin Says:

    Hi Stuart,

    you said, “When I first tried the honey I used an organic, but lightly heated variety which worked very well. After switching to raw local honey it didn’t work as well. I’m trying different varieties…”

    I am in Australia as well, which particular honey have you found that works best for you so far? & i’ll see if i can find it.

    &/or have you found a difference between say, thick/light colour honey versus runny/dark colour honey…which one worked best for you?

    thx

  65. Stuart King Says:

    Hi Darrin, the honey I first used and have found to be effective since is available at Coles in a 1kg glass jar and is called pure harvest organics – organic honey. I emailed them and they said it is an iron bark variety from Queensland. It is heated to 45 degrees Celsius. They have a variety that looks exactly the same in the health food store but it says raw, however on the side of the jar it still says its heated so I don’t know what’s going on there. It’s consistency is more runny and it isn’t as dark as the raw variety I use in my tea (which has a much better flavour).
    The interesting thing is that the raw local variety of honey I was using which wasn’t working as well is also iron bark. Maybe the heating process increases the glycemic index of the honeys. It is thicker and darker. My understanding is that the more pollen and particles there are in the honey, the better the quality.
    This report (https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/05-027) gives details on the amounts of fructose versus other sugars in different varieties of Australian honey. Iron bark and other pure floral varieties were low GI yet blends were moderate to high GI. Seth posted that he is using a blend, which I haven’t tried yet, I’m testing different honeys to see the effects and quantifying the data.

  66. Darrin Says:

    Thanks Stuart,

    regarding “…the more pollen and particles there are in the honey, the better the quality”, this could be true & could be ‘healthier’ as well, but whether either of those things is a factor for improving sleep is another matter.

    Just looking at the info on the pureharvest/coles honey you mention, which can be found here,
    http://shop.coles.com.au/online/national/pureharvest-honey-organic
    As this honey is not listed on the pureharvest web site, i am guessing this must be a ‘supermarket’ version.

    I’ve noticed something else on some honey labels which may be relevant here, most honeys label the carb content as all or nearly all sugars, usually 80+ grams per 100g.
    But a few list sugars as a lesser percentage of carbs, ie. with the coles/pureharvest linked above, sugars 73.6g, carbs 82.4g.
    & another one i just saw in the local coles express, coles brand 500g organic honey, sugars 69.4g, carbs 87.9g.
    This could be something to track when testing which honeys work for you.

  67. Christina Says:

    IRT your comment:

    Seth: Sugar is a low density form of energy. Fat is almost twice as dense. It is unclear that there is an evolutionary desire for “extremely sweet things” separate from a preference for sweetness. The Paleolithic world did not have a lot of extremely sweet things, so perhaps we like extremely sweet things because we like sweet things. High blood sugar is damaging (diabetes), why would we develop a preference for foods that damaged us? If extremely sweet things are so good for us, why do we get sick of them so quickly? (Sweets are generally small.)

    Right, but could it be a speed thing? If you’re a zebra about to run briefly from its prey, you’d be better off having a Twix bar than a steak.

    Lots of things – in larger quantities than “needed” – can end up being bad for us, right? Excessive porn, excessive exercise, excessive sugar. The problem here is that our pleasure system is hard to modulate perfectly, not that there can’t possibly be an evolutionary reason for liking refined sugars.

    Also, I don’t think excessively sweet things are necessarily “good for us” beyond serving their purpose in the short term. The fact that we get sick of them is = to people (mostly) no longer being interested in sex post-orgasm, right?

    Really trying to think through where the confusion is coming from, sorry if I’m being ignorant.

    Seth: My point wasn’t that X or Y was the case, it was that there was nothing simple or obvious about the answer to the question of why we like sweet foods.

  68. Stuart King Says:

    Darrin yes that is the honey I was referring to. I suspect that labelling of sugar content only refers to the glucose, fructose and sucrose contents of honey. There are at least 12 disaccharides in honey in addition to fructose and glucose – sucrose, maltose, isomaltose, nigerose, turanose, maltulose, leucrose, kojibiose, neotrehalase, gentiobiose, laminaribiose and isomaltulose. My guess is this is where the extra carbs are from.

  69. Stuart King Says:

    Here’s an interesting story about someone who went without artificial light for a month and fell into a bimodal sleep pattern http://jdmoyer.com/2010/03/04/sleep-experiment-a-month-with-no-artificial-light/

  70. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    I ran into an example of sugar being good for me.

    Friday I felt really drained, even though I’d had a reasonable amount of sleep and eaten as much as I wanted of low glycemic and fairly high-fat food.

    Towards the end of the day I had a piece of Texas sheet cake (white flour, sugar, Crisco, and applesauce). The world snapped into focus, and a friend said it was the first time she’d seen my eyes open all day.

    It would seem that keeping myself fed properly is more complicated than I thought.

  71. Eric Says:

    RE: Evolution and sugar. Glucose can provide a temporary substitute for rest in that it can help restore executive functioning for people that are cognitively fatigued. Since hunting can be a high vigilance activity, and therefore one that can fatigue executive functioning this suggests one possibility.

    http://www.psych.utah.edu/psych4130/Kaplan_and_Berman2010.pdf

  72. David199 Says:

    Chuck Says:
    In Honey’s Unknown Benefits By Lindsey Duncan, he states…” The natural sugar found in honey raises our insulin slightly and allows tryptophan, the compound famous for making us sleepy after eating turkey at Thanksgiving, to enter our brains more easily.”

    Chuck, supposedly insulin pushes tryptophan into the brain, which becomes serotinin which becomes melatonin and melatonin moderates insulin which is why eating sugar before bed doesn’t cause blood sugar swings or fat gain. Melatonin also helps with HGH pulsing which is beneficial.

    However, i don’t understand the idea of “natural sugar.” Honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Sucrose is a 50/50 mixture of glucose and sucrose. The only difference is that while the two monosaccarides are in free form in honey, sucrose holds the fructose and glucose together with a glycosidic bond which is quickly broken during digestion. Does anyone know if “natural sugar” and sucrose are really that different in terms of how the body metabolizes them? (I do realize that honey has several other benefical compounds. I’m specifically refering to the “natural sugar” argument.)

    As to why we prefer sweet foods, my guess is that it has to do with proper liver uptake of glucose, since fructose plays a role in activating glucokinase which is involved in glycogen synthesis. Either way, our taste for sweetness must serve some evolutionary purpsose in terms of the doses someone woudl get from fruit and honey ingestion. It’s very difficult to overeat on those foods. I think drinking a 24 oz Mountain Dew perverts our inborn taste for sweetness.

  73. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    More evidence about the non-universality of dessert:

    http://thoughtcatalog.com/michael-koh/2013/11/16-people-on-things-they-couldnt-believe-about-america-until-they-moved-here/

    Not dessert as in sweet foods, but as in the specific course eaten after dinner. It doesn’t exist. Guyanese people eat dinner and then that’s it. I remember going to my American friend’s house and being shocked that people in real life actually ate dessert.

    Seth: Dessert is rare in China, where I live much of the year. But the Chinese people near me eat lots of sweets, especially at night. I see this any evening I walk down the street.

  74. David199 Says:

    Eric, my only issue with your link to the research on glucose is that it doesn’t explain why we enjoy things that are sweet. Starch is pure glucose and yet its not sweet. All sweetness in nature, honey and fruit, contain fructose. Potatoes taste great, but are not sweet. Actually, potoates only taste good with either adding fat or sugar.

    Seth, in your original post you discuss why we separate sweetness (dessert) from the rest of the meal. But i would question that assumption. Let’s say we are having a simple dinner of meat and a sweet potato. Many people would put some sugar on their meat (steak sauce, BBQ sauce, etc) and would add brown sugar to their sweet potato. Can anyone deny that BBQ tastes better with sugary sauce or that sweet potatoes taste better brown sugar? Sugar is the third ingredient in most ketchups. Most breakfast cereals have added sugar – even the “healthy” ones. (Kellogs All-Bran lists sugar as the second ingredient) And i dare anyone to eat a bowl of oatmeal without putting something in it to sweeten it. We simply like the taste of sweet and sweet = fructose.

  75. How to Manufacture the Best Night of Sleep in Your Life ‹ Healthy Naturally Club Says:

    […] a tablespoon of honey, preferably raw, right before bed. Seth Roberts has shown through rigorous self-experimentation how it might very well improve sleep, perhaps by keeping […]

  76. Victor Says:

    This is a very interesting documentary (“Lights Out”) on the effect of electric light at night on the natural production of melatonin.

    http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2313199682/

    After watching it, I bought a pair of the type of glasses recommended (cheaper safety glasses off of amazon) and used them religiously for 1 month. I noticed significant improvement after 3 nights which continued for the full month of use. For the next month I stopped using them and found reduced quality of sleep after 2 weeks. Before watching the documentary I had had very poor broken sleeps from doing the nighttime parenting of our 2yr old and 1 yr old.

    Now that winter is approaching I am using them again at night and again noticing the sleep improvements.

    I think that this is well worth watching and trying it out for yourself.

    I will be trying the honey now as well, and watching for changes in sleep quality, dreaming and strength changes.

    Thanks all for the insights

    Seth: Funny coincidence. A few days ago I wrote a post about the use of the glasses you are using. I agree with what you say. The post will appear very soon.

  77. Robnonstop Says:

    “I’ve heard this many times: “It’s supposed to be this way.” I am less sure. How do the people who say this know what paleolithic sleep was like? Maybe rural people always get up at night because they don’t get enough sunlight in the morning, or enough exercise or enough X — there are dozens of possible X’s.”

    Not sure what you mean by that. The results from rural areas were only relevant because they fit with what scientists observed in unrelated tribal cultures. The logical conclusion is that it’s the standard and that artificial light and lifestyles change sleeping behavior. Of course our artificial unbroken sleep might be better but if your argument is that in rural areas people just don’t get enough sleep (for some mysterious reason), why would that not also apply to early humans?

    Waking up at night has many benefits, survival and reproduction being the most obvious.

    Also worth noting is that there is no point in having 100% identical behavior and preference among members of a tribe. Someone has to not like berries, in case they are poisoned, someone has to not sleep at a certain time, in case there is an attack etc.

  78. Vincent Colombo Says:

    I started taking honey before bed two days ago, after reading this article. Both days I noticed that I had increased dream activity, or at least more awareness of my dreams. They also seemed much more vivid, but this may just be the difference between not really remembering/being aware of my dreams and now at least remembering that I did have dreams.

    Anyway, the first day I tried this I didn’t think it helped, and in fact I felt I may have even woken up more and slept less. The second day (last night) I also felt like I had woken up more during the course of the night, and again felt like I had more frequent and more vivid dreams. However, after being up for a short period of time I started to realize how good I felt overall. Perhaps my body simply needs to adjust from my many years of restless sleep to the more restful sleep that I may now be experiencing. The results are interesting enough that I will continue the experiment and see how it goes.

    This idea and conversation reminds me of something someone told me years ago. They mentioned they drank something they referred to as “silver tea” before bed, which helped them sleep. Silver tea was simply warm milk with a small amount of sugar dissolved in it. I tried it once or twice when younger, and it did actually seem to help me sleep.

  79. Sara L Says:

    Really interesting, I will try it.
    Also, I would like to add something a friend recomended me about honey. I don’t know how extended it is, but he recomended, to prevent muscle stiffness (I am not sure it’s the proper name, in spanish is “agujetas”) , to eat one teaspoon of honey before exercising. As I workout very randomly, I usually had muscle stiffness the first days I worked out, but with the honey I never had it again.
    I guess having the proper amount of sugars available to the muscle during the whole workout keeps it from anaerobic activity.

  80. Melanie C Says:

    Here’s my guess on our inborn love of sweetness — it’s about milk. Human breast milk contains a significant amount of sugar in the form of lactose. Traditionally, children were nursed until at least age three (still the case in current hunter-gatherer tribes.) An inborn taste for sweet is a big survival advantage for kids — they’ll nurse more and get lots of calories from all the sugar and fat in milk. Maybe adult enjoyment of the sweet taste is just a leftover from childhood?

  81. Seth Roberts Says:

    “An inborn taste for sweet is a big survival advantage for kids — they’ll nurse more and get lots of calories from all the sugar and fat in milk.”

    good point. this may be why kids like sweets so much more than adults.

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  85. Tim Lundeen Says:

    I’m curious whether a mix of glucose/fructose would have the same effect as honey. If so, this would confirm that the micro components of honey are not important.

    Sucrose causes more inflammation than honey, so wouldn’t expect it to be as effective.

    Also, contaminants in the sucrose/fructose mix could cause it to be less effective, whereas organic honey presumably has much lower levels.

  86. Fructose - The Natural Born Killer. Fact Or Fiction. | Get Real Living Says:

    […] Interestingly, there are studies that show a tablespoon of raw honey can aid in better sleep. This is due to honey being half glucose and half fructose; glucose enters the blood quickly, supplying the brain in the first half of the night, with fructose turning into glucose (provided you haven’t gorged on sugar throughout your day) slowly, meaning your body has a steady supply of energy the entire night. Read more here. […]

  87. Dinis Correia Says:

    I’m from Portugal and milk with honey is one of the common recommendations for a good night’s sleep (not been drinking milk for some time now, but my mother did this when I was a kid).

  88. julia Says:

    Sounds plausible. The only obvious issue is tooth decay. Are you brushing your teeth after eating/drinking the honey?

    Seth: yes, I brush my teeth after consuming the honey.

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  90. Crystal Says:

    Fascinating discussion. I just started trialling it last night, and although I did get up mid-sleep (usual pattern) I noticed the zeo this morning was showing solid blocks of light and rem sleep minus the short waking spikes I normally have, with a higher than normal proportion of REM to deep sleep (1.5:1 vs normal 1:1). I should also note that I’m recovering from stress-related problems including insomnia, but am not medicated.

    I probably should have waited, since yesterday was also the first day of doing a new exercise program (aquarobics) but I was interested in the strength side as well so thought it might be a good combo to try. Having been hobbling around like a really old woman most of yesterday with muscle ache from the session, I was surprised to wake this morning and find virtually no muscle ache left – maybe the drink helped with processing lactic acid? There was also a significant drop on the scales this morning. Admittedly, I would have expected that with the levels of exercise yesterday but while under the high stress situation I’ve had over 3 months of sustained and spiked calorie deficits which failed to show any results on the scales. Maybe there’s a reason people head for sweet foods under stress?

    Re: the children growing overnight, there’s some interesting research I came across over a year back now, so I can’t remember where, that talks about how children’s tastebuds are geared towards sweet over savoury, to the point of aversion to some savoury tastes – on a personal level I know I hated some things that I later became almost addicted to, eg avocado & coffee. This dovetails in nicely with the sleep/ growth hypothesis, I would think.

    Stuart, having experimented on going raw vegan, the ‘raw’ but heated honey may be because there’s a definition of ‘raw’ that includes anything not heated above 105 degrees F, approximately (the exact figure varies, but the highest I’ve seen was 108). The idea being that the raw diet retains health properties because it doesn’t kill off the enzymes in food through heating, so anything not heated above the point where they start to die off gets considered ‘raw’. (We won’t go into whether sustained low temperature heating via dehydrator a la ‘gourmet raw’ recipes also kills them, that’s a whole other can of worms).

    Thanks Seth. You always give me food for thought ;-)

    Seth: That’s a good point about children and growth. Yes, maybe that explains their sweet tooth. To make sure their brains have enough sugar when they are asleep.

  91. Matt Dippl Says:

    I have the suspicion that this ritual before bed time might have a beneficial effect on gut flora for some people. Honey in a way is a prebiotic food that could feed beneficial bacteria.

    This could explain the weight and muscle gain because of improved nutrient absorption due to a we functioning gut. The well being in the morning could be due to improved neuro transmitter renewal again through better nutrient absorption.

    I will see if I can find some data and research on my hypotheses. Great article!

  92. Michael Says:

    Hello Seth,

    the famous German Doctor Strunz (best selling author and doctor for preventive medicine) gives the following explanation:

    It is because of tryptophan!

    This amino acids competes with 6 or 7 other amino acids for the brain receptors.
    If you take sugar, the insulin sends the other amino acids to your muscles so that tryptophan gets to your brain. And will likely have still enough amino acids in your blood pool when going to sleep.

  93. Seth Roberts Says:

    “It is because of tryptophan!”

    where does Doctor Strunz say this? I’ll be surprised if he has any supporting evidence.

    Tryptophan does make people sleepy, but the honey improves sleep throughout the night, in a big way. I have never heard of tryptophan doing that — for example, improving how rested you feel in the morning. Nor do tryptophan-rich foods improve how rested you feel in the morning, as far as I know.

  94. Annie Kolatkar Says:

    A human’s first food is breastmilk which is incredibly sweet. All infants need sugars to fuel their impressive growth within the first year until they get transitioned to solids. Lactose is in great abundance in breastmilk because it is so easy for the infant gut to break down into two basic sugar molecules which are used for forming other items and energy. The brain is wired to encourage breast feeding. The actions of latching, sucking, swallowing trigger all kinds of brain responses and the reward is more milk in the mother as demands increase. We are hardwired for the taste of sweet. If you remove lactose from an infants formula, the infant will not thrive. No other sugar comes close to lactose in the first year. There really is no substitute. And breastmilk usually puts a baby to sleep. Feeding is a lot of work and the growth of an infant is mind blowing. Fast forward to sugar when a baby is older. A connection between good feelings and having energy has been present since birth and is now in association with the taste of sweet. It is just a suggestion, but if you wish to look deeper into why we might be wired for sweet, I’d start there. (PS: I’m the mother of two!) And RS is fascinating to me. My 5yo daughter with Down syndrome instinctively eats cold starch. She has never been constipated which is typical of kids with DS. We raised her for 4 years on beef bone broth with lots of lactose and veggies. She is in great shape! Will check back for more info on RS. Thanks!

  95. Annie Kolatkar Says:

    Sorry, I wrote “info on RS” but it is the honey research I am interested in since my daughter is not a great sleeper. It was the RS that lead me here to your site. Too many browser windows open at the bottom of blog and not enough sleep! :-D