Honey, Sleep and Reddit

Looking at traffic to this blog, I found a discussion on Reddit, in the Paleo subreddit, of my sleep-honey post. ”I’m too stupid to know who’s wrong,” said one person. Someone else, not the original poster, said:

I’m not on a paleo diet by any means, but I’ve been taking teaspoons of raw honey before I go to bed this past week strictly because I like the taste. What I have found is a noticeable change in my sleeping. I always wake up with more energy…. regardless if I wake up a couple of times in the night or if I get a full night’s sleep. I’m generally a poor sleeper in that I wake up several times in the night. After taking the honey this past week, I have found out that I wake up less or even get a full night’s sleep. For example, last night I got a teaspoon of honey before bed, and I got an uninterrupted 6 and a half hours of sleep. I woke up so refreshed this morning, I got up and exercised for the first time in so long. I generally exercise in the afternoons because it takes me a bit for me to actually wake up, but I just felt so rested this morning. I noticed these changes lately, but it took this article for me to realize it might be [due to] the honey.

Again, notice that one teaspoon of honey made a noticeable difference. His or her belated realization is like what happened to me. As I said in the original post, now and then I’d sleep really well. It seemed to be correlated with dinner at other people’s houses. I’d sleep better than usual after those dinners. It hadn’t occurred to me until Stuart King told me about his honey experience that those dinners were almost the only times I ate dessert.

Person 2 commented:

I tried it last night and noticed an immediate difference this morning.

Person 3 commented:

Tried the honey thing. While I usually wake up feeling like there is a mammoth sitting on top of me, today I woke up not totally refreshed, but without the mammoth, definitely a good feeling

25 Responses to “Honey, Sleep and Reddit”

  1. dearieme Says:

    Ahoy, Seth. You were talking about gin a while ago; I have here something you must be sure to mention to anyone who you expect to buy you a present for Christmas. Just be sure that they’ll understand that they must actually give it to you in time for Advent.

    http://www.masterofmalt.com/gin/drinks-by-the-dram/the-ginvent-calendar-gin/

  2. Paul Says:

    I tested out skipping the honey last night. Even 1 day without it was enough to make the sleep quality worse. Good stuff here.

  3. ChrisB Says:

    If you noticed even on morning’s after eating dessert for dinner at friend’s house, then it implies this isn’t restricted to honey. Fortunately for me I have lots of honey around, and it is working for me as well, even if I sleep on a cramped couch I wake up feeling refreshed.

  4. Darin Says:

    I’ve been using a tablespoon of honey before bed all week since reading the previous posts. The results have been surprising. I’m sleeping an hour less (6 instead of 7) but feel much, much better in the morning. It’s as if the quality of sleep is improved so I need less. I’m convinced.

  5. Matteo Says:

    I’m two days into honey experiment. I didn’t sleep as good as usual the last two nights (I usually sleep quite well), but I think it’s unrelated to honey.

    I’ve been testing my strength with one set of push-ups to failure. Baseline: 14. Too bad I’ve estabilished the baseline on just one value, as I was eager to start the experiment. Anyway first day with honey: 16 push-ups. 2nd day: 19.
    I think it’s too impressive to be solely due to the training effect.
    I’ll keep you updated on my progress

    Seth: Here’s how you can do the experiment. 1. Take honey every day. Do one set of pushups to exhaustion every day. You will level off quite soon…maybe at 30 pushups, who knows? 2. after it is clear that you have levelled off, change just one thing: stop taking the honey. don’t change anything else. Question: what happens to the pushups? My prediction: the number of pushups you will be able to do will decline.

  6. gwern Says:

    > I tried it last night and noticed an immediate difference this morning.

    > Even 1 day without it was enough to make the sleep quality worse. Good stuff

    > I have lots of honey around, and it is working for me as well

    > I’m two days into honey experiment. I didn’t sleep as good as usual the last two nights (I usually sleep quite well), but I think it’s unrelated to honey.

    It’s not often one is gifted with such a clear demonstration of selection bias.

  7. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    It seems to work for me– there’s a clear difference in the number of times I wake up in the night (once or twice vs. too many to count). I haven’t done a careful check by not taking honey to see what happens.

    I suppose you’d double blind it by putting honey or something else of about the same weight in opaque capsules?

    I don’t necessarily try to go to sleep immediately after taking honey. I note that Seth’s desserts with friends were probably a while before he went to sleep.

  8. gwern Says:

    > I suppose you’d double blind it by putting honey or something else of about the same weight in opaque capsules?

    Yes. Ideally it’d be a similar density and viscosity too – you wouldn’t want to put in an equal weight of lead, because it will move around and feel differently. So maybe molasses? The other non-obvious thing is that while making the capsules, you’re probably going to get traces of honey on the capsules, so you need to mix together the control and experimental capsules so they’re all equally sticky/honey-y. I had to do this with my vitamin D capsules because the oil got on the outside.

  9. Alex Chernavsky Says:

    Does the honey only work if you take it on an empty stomach? I usually eat a substantial snack not long before going to bed.

  10. Matteo Says:

    Gwern,
    Thank you for showing us how one can brilliantly complicate simple things.

    If someone wants to test for placebo, he can put the honey in a tea or in hot water. Or not put it. And cover the taste with vinegar for instance, as mentioned in a post on this blog. And if one lives alone one can put stickers on the two cups, and then cover the stickers, and in the morning unveil which one one did drink.

    Seth: To make the two drinks (with and without honey) equally sweet you should add artificial sweetener, such as Splenda, to the one without honey. You will need to adjust the amount of Splenda to equate the sweetness. If you also add a complex vinegar to both I think it will become very hard to distinguish them. However, I am sure it is not a placebo effect, because a placebo would not have caused me to suddenly become stronger. And I have tried many things to improve my sleep that failed to do so.

  11. ChrisB Says:

    Gwern, let me give you more context before you throw up selection bias. I have ~10 pounds of honey laying around intended for making mead which is unlikely to happen. So for the first time in a year I started using it for real, the tsp’s before bed. And there is a noticable difference on waking in the morning. True its not double-blind placebo, merely unscientific and N=1, but that is seems to work for me is all that really matters.

  12. Nancy Lebovitz Says:

    Pre-sleep honey doesn’t taste nearly as good as I’d expect, and I normally like honey. I’m not sure whether it’s a matter of intent or timing or what. Anyone else notice something of the sort?

    Seth: I don’t have any trouble eating the honey but I agree it is much less tasty than usual, when I use it to sweeten stuff. That may be a clue that the effect is larger if the honey is eaten earlier. Or maybe it should be eaten with a little bit of something else (yogurt?). Or maybe it is simply the strong concentration that makes it less tasty.

  13. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Does the honey only work if you take it on an empty stomach?”

    This is what Stuart noticed. My experience agrees with his. If I eat other food at the same time — cheese, Yakult — the effect disappears or at least gets much smaller. On the other hand, the Dutch have honey & milk at bedtime and I seriously suggest this may be why they are so tall.

  14. Seth Roberts Says:

    “I don’t necessarily try to go to sleep immediately after taking honey. I note that Seth’s desserts with friends were probably a while before he went to sleep.”

    I haven’t studied it, but I think you can take the honey a few hours before bedtime and it will still work. However, it might not work if between taking the honey & bedtime you did something that depleted your blood of glucose, such as (a) eat something (which increases insulin) or (b) exercise.

  15. Vladimir Heiskanen Says:

    Hello from Finland!

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for a few years, and I especially have enjoyed your writings on circadian rhythm, and motivation (magic dots, brown/rain noise). I have also tried Shangri-La diet (with sucrose water) but it didn’t feel right for me. Gonna possibly try later again.

    This time I would ask whether you’d like to read an article written by me. In my article, I present some research showing that both red and near-infrared light have direct health benefits on tissues and they could be effectively used for many diseases. Red light and near-infrared could possibly explain daylight’s positive health effects even better than vitamin D.

    My article was published in 180DegreeHealth, and it contains more than 100 scientific references: http://180degreehealth.com/2013/11/red-light-and-near-infrared-radiation-powerful-healing-tools-youve-never-heard-of/

  16. dearieme Says:

    We’ve recently tried Cretan honey on Cretan cheese. (A persuasive stallholder at a village market gave us a sample and thereby made a sale.) It’s delicious, even though neither is anything special on its own. How it would do as a pre-bed snack I don’t know.

    I suppose it’s a pricier version of a staple of my hill-walking days: honey and cheese sandwiches.

    Seth: I found that when I ate the honey with cheese it didn’t work.

  17. Kirsten Says:

    Interested in the comments on the honey method–and seeing patterns with something I’ve personally been working on.

    For the last year, I’ve been taking a natural approach to heal thyroid issues (which can be done while taking thyroid medication–best of both worlds, then.) The approach includes a focus on healing the gut (lots of good animal fats, bone broth, lots of probiotics, avoidances of grains and other food that irritates the gut) and correcting gut dysbiosis and/or vitamin/mineral deficiencies that come from not absorbing your food well. It’s not a permanent diet, but a healing diet that you can gradually ease out of.

    Various conditions can go hand in hand with a wonky thyroid: most people with Hashimotos or hypothyroid issues will also have compromised adrenals–the theory is, when the thyroid is compromised, the body has a diminished engine and the adrenals start working double time to make up. First, they produce too much cortisol; then they get burned out and produce too little. This can be measured with a 24-hour saliva cortisol test to see what your cortisol is like at various times of the day.

    Without getting too far into the weeds, there’s a theory out there that uses T3 (thyroid hormone) therapy to help support and heal the adrenals. The theory is: The body needs the greatest amount of cortisol when waking up, to start the day. Like every other cell in the body, the adrenals have T3 receptors and need thyroid hormone. In a normal body, the body will start producing cortisol about four hours before waking up, so that the body has the fuel it needs to wake up and start the day. Therefore, if you change your T3 dosing so that you wake up two hours (or so) before your alarm and take your first thyroid medicine dose, then go back to sleep, the body will be better supported in producing the cortisol you need to start your day. This is a simplification–there’s a guy named Paul Robinson who has written a whole book on the method.

    Anyway: I’ve been doing the CT3M for about 4 weeks, and the difference is remarkable–and very much like what you’re describing. People worry about getting back to sleep after the dose; Paul says that not only are you likely to fall asleep, that sleep is likely to be deeper and more restful than the sleep that came before it. This has definitely been my experience. And in the four weeks I have weaned off of glandualar adrenal support and now wake up refreshed and well-slept. In fact, it makes me realize that for pretty much as long as I can remember, I’ve been waking up with a slight feeling of jet lag, a pinch somewhere internally.

    Way back when my naturopath gave me the 24-hour cortisol test and talked to me about my adrenals, she suggested a small protein snack before bed to support them. Separately, I know people who have tried gelatin dissolved in hot water. On body building boards, there are a lot of comments that the gelatin trick will result in significantly increased fat loss…which I believe you would say is possible true because they are getting better and more restful sleep.

    Anyway, I always enjoy your blog because your observations tend to intersect with the things I’m working on and trying. I may try the honey trick next, and see if that affects the amount of the a.m. T3 dose I need to feel rested.

  18. peter Says:

    i’ve had a similar experience, i.e., better sleep and more energy. Intuitively i sense that the effect will wear off in the same way the beneficial affects of medicine wear off. I’d be interested in where others will notice a wearing off etc.

  19. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Intuitively i sense that the effect will wear off in the same way the beneficial affects of medicine wear off. ”

    I doubt very much that the effect will wear off. No more than the ability of Vitamin C to prevent scurvy wears off. I believe this effect is why we have been shaped by evolution to want dessert after meals rather than before and eat dessert after dinner more than after lunch.

  20. Simon Says:

    So it seems that, based on Seth’s evolutionary argument for sweet things after dinner, and his experience with dessert at friends’ houses, it’s not honey in particular that confers these benefits but rather anything that’s sweet. Has anybody experimented with this idea?

    I’m going to test it by eating a date before bedtime instead of the honey, as it seems to provide the same amount of total sugar [1], although the fructose:sucrose ratio of honey is 22 times higher than that of dates. Can anybody think of an objective, quantitative test for assessing how well one has slept?

    [1] http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=%28sugar+in+2+teaspoons+honey%29+%2F+%28sugar+in+1+date%29
    [2] http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=%28%28fructose+in+1g+honey%29+%2F+%28sucrose+in+1g+honey%29%29+%2F+%28%28fructose+in+1+date%29+%2F+%28sucrose+in+1+date%29%29

    Seth: Yes, it would be nice to have an objective quantitative test for assessing how well one has slept. How many times you wake up is a good measure — the more you wake up, the worse your sleep. That’s objective and quantitative. How long it takes to fall asleep is another measure.

  21. David199 Says:

    ” . . . it’s not honey in particular that confers these benefits but rather anything that’s sweet. Has anybody experimented with this idea?”

    One theory of why it works is that honey 1) provides an insulin spike which pushes tryptophan into the brain which becomes serotonin which becomes melotonin and 2) honey nourishes the liver which provides a steady stream of glucose to the brain during sleep whcih allows the brain to keep stress hormones low. Honey has a roughly equal ratio of glucose and fructose which is importance since frutose liberates glucokinase which allows the liver to store glucose. Fruits should be similar. Sucrose (table sugar) is 50/50 glucose/fructose but unlike honey, the sucrose and fructose are bound by a glycosidic bond which is broken down in digestion; however, the theory is that this changes the absorption of sucrose making it less healthy (it spikes insulin faster and the fructose is delayed in opening up the liver). HFCS is an more complicated beast. Milk contains lactose which is a disaccharide of glucose and galactose, the later stimulates glucokinase thereby allowing liver storage of glucose as well. This may lead credence to Seth’s question as to why the Dutch’s tradition of giving milk and honey before bed contributs to their above average height.

    There is a crossfit forum where people found eating ice cream before bed resulted in fat loss and better sleep, so there is some anecdotal evidence that sugar and dairy may work.

    From the theories i have seen, dates should work as would other fruits assuming you are eating the density of calories.

  22. Jenny Says:

    Since reading about the honey, I’ve been trying it. The first few nights nothing changed. Then I started sleeping through the night – even on the nights I forgot the honey.

    I’ve had years of mid-sleep waking – triggered by a child who woke every 2 hours for 2.5 years. I’ve tried increasing Vitamin D3 – helped the quality of sleep, meant I went back to sleep (somewhat) quicker. But I would still often wake thoroughly at 3-4 a.m.

    Now, I often have milk at night, but this didn’t do the same thing, and often I woke up thirsty mid sleep. So why didn’t that do the same thing as the honey?

    My feeling is that the honey has somehow ‘reset’ the sleep pattern. Anyone else noticed this?

    Also, for about 10 days I became very tired very early, but that seems to have worn off now. Maybe I am catching up a sleep deficit? I’ll keep monitoring this.

  23. Seth Roberts Says:

    “Now, I often have milk at night, but this didn’t do the same thing, and often I woke up thirsty mid sleep. So why didn’t that do the same thing as the honey?”

    Milk has the wrong sugar (lactose). A cup of milk has 13 g of lactose, I’m told, which is not so different from the amount of glucose and fructose in the 20 g of honey I’ve been eating. But lactose is slowly converted into glucose. It would not provide substantial blood glucose for several hours. If milk increased insulin, that would remove glucose from the blood. Anyway, you can ignore comments about mechanism, which are just guesses. What’s clear is that (a) the sugar in milk is different from the sugar in honey and (b) milk and honey are very different in several other ways, e.g., milk has lots of fat and some protein.

    It’s also possible that the non-sugar aspects of milk interfere with the benefits of the sugar in milk (if any).

  24. Darrin Says:

    @Jenny,

    good feedback/info Jenny,

    a question…how much honey have you been taking before bed?

  25. Jenny Says:

    I was taking between a large teaspoon and a desertspoonful. I’m 65Kgs, in case that is relevant. Also, being coeliac, I eat no gluten or sugar, and only a small amount of root vegetables.

    I am still sleeping all night – and only erratically have the honey! I now take it when it ‘feels’ right!