A reader of this blog named Nile McAdams, who lives in Minnesota, wrote:
When I read your first blog post about honey I was gobsmacked. Not so much by the improved sleep — the idea of a bedtime snack improving sleep has been around a long time — but by the fact that a tablespoon of honey could double the time you were able to stand on one leg. [One bent leg. After being roughly constant for a year, the time doubled in two weeks. — Seth] Impossible!! Not that I thought you were lying — I didn’t — it is just that a lot can go wrong between collecting the data and interpreting the data. So I had to try it for myself.
A little back story. In June I began lifting lifting some 40-pound dumbbells I had laying around. I would hold one in each hand and then, alternating arms, lift them over my head for a total of 10 lifts — 5 for each arm (right arm, left arm, right arm, and so on). For me, the dumbbells were very heavy. I had trouble keeping them stable especially with my left, weaker, arm. Every time I lifted I had a little anxiety that I would lose control and the dumbbell would come crashing down and break stuff. The last straw was that I wasn’t really getting better or not getting better fast enough. I lifted almost every day for a month or so but then gradually drifted away. Here is the point of the back story: I had very minor improvement, if any, over the course of that month. I felt a little stronger and I may have been able to do 12 lifts but I was too unsure of how steady I would be on lifts 11 and 12 so I never tried it.
When I decided to try the experiment with honey I thought that these dumbbells would be a good test of strength. I am 70 years old and quite obese — 6’ and 300 lbs. I take 2 or 2 ½ tablespoons of honey right before I go to bed — my thinking is that my body mass could be almost double yours or other people taking honey so I should adjust the dose a little bit.
I started lifting on the same day I took the honey or perhaps the day after I took the honey. Here are my dumbbell lifts by day.10,10,10,10,10,10,12,10,[three day gap]
I went to Chicago for a long weekend so I did not lift that Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I also did not take any honey. I didn’t think much of the day I had lifted 12 times, even though it is a 20% improvement. I felt it was similar to when I was lifting back in June — random variation. Here are my lifts since I came back from Chicago after missing 3 days.16,14,16,20,14,20,18, 22,16,[1 day gap],22,24
These lifts are outside the bounds of any random variation as far as I’m concerned. In 15 days I doubled my lift with weights I had prior experience with!! This is incredible! The effect is real, at least for me.
A prediction of something that sounds impossible (bedtime honey quickly doubles a measure of strength) is confirmed — how often does that happen? I agree with the underlying idea. Lots of things improve sleep. It isn’t astonishing that X or Y improves sleep. The strength improvement, however, astonished me.
When I was standing on one bent leg to improve my sleep, I knew that if I did the exercise every other day instead of every day, my legs would get stronger — much stronger. I didn’t want that. I wanted to sleep well every night (that was the reason for the exercise) and I didn’t want the exercise to take too long. (To improve sleep, I am pretty sure the exercise must be done to exhaustion.) When he started lifting in June, apparently Nile did not realize that he would get better results — become stronger faster — if he lifted weights every other day instead of every day. The strength increase, it appears, happens whether you want it (Nile) or not (me).
Niles added later:
I am now certain that it is easier for me to go up and down stairs. When I first started lifting these weights, both in June and when I started again in November, I had a lot of “popping” and “cracking” in my shoulder and elbow joints. That has all but disappeared. I have definitely added muscle. My lifts show it and I have gained 3 or 4 pounds.
It took me awhile to feel the effects of the honey both in lifts and in sleep. I didn’t notice any differences in lifts until about 11 days and I didn’t notice any difference in sleep until 2 weeks or more. About half the nights my sleep is heavier or deeper [than before honey]. I’m not sure of the correct adjective but when it happens it seems clear. On those nights I have deep sleep I don’t take a nap the next day. I don’t wake up feeling “refreshed” as others have reported but I am not a morning person and it takes me awhile to wake up and get going. I am more productive the day after one of these deep sleeps.
I am on an Ancestral Health Society (AHS) steering committee. After the first symposium, some members of the committee wanted to make recommendations about how to eat. I argued against this, saying it was too early to be sure. No paleo theorist, as far as I know, has said that sweets have value, but at the same time, the honey effect supports the practical value of evolutionary thinking, the rationale for AHS. A big reason I believed the effect of honey on sleep was very important is that it provided an evolutionary explanation of dessert. Another big reason was my sudden strength improvement. Repetition of the sudden improvement suggests that evolutionary thinking pushed me in the right direction.
So bedtime honey doesn’t just improve sleep, it also increases muscle growth — a lot. I wonder how to test its effect on memory. Jason DeFillippio of Grumpy Old Geeks said, “My memory has really improved”. A reader named Crystal made the astute comment that the impact of a sugar-containing food (honey) on growth would explain why children like sweets so much, something that has never been well explained.
Nile’s experience impresses me not just because of the strength increase but also because the effect of the honey increased over a few weeks (“It took me awhile to feel the effects of the honey both in lifts and in sleep”). Maybe the honey caused healing. Some healing processes take years. Maybe bedtime honey speeds them up. The long-term benefits may be more than sleep and strength.