Front Lines of Personal Science: Why Did I Sleep So Well?

Last night I slept great. I woke up feeling very rested. I can remember only three situations when I woke up feeling more refreshed. (a) On a certain camping trip. (b) When I was on my feet for ten hours. (c) After eating a lot of pork fat. I cannot simulate camping trips, and standing ten hours/day was very hard. The pork-fat effect was repeatable, in the sense that I slept better after eating pork fat, but I never ate that much pork fat again. It was too much.

Why did I sleep so well? I can think of several possible reasons.

1. Random noise. Let’s say there are 20 factors that affect my sleep and they just happened to all line up in a good direction.

Another set of possible reasons derive from what was unusual about yesterday. I can think of five things:

2. I had yogurt and blueberries and honey about 6:30 pm. (In addition to 1 tablespoon honey at bedtime.)

3. I forgot to hang a blackout curtain that darkens my bedroom. Usually I hang two. Last night, by mistake, only one.

4. I started eating dark chocolate daily two days ago. Maybe the good stuff in it (the flavones) accumulates in the brain so that the good effects get larger day by day.

5. I watched faces in the morning a half-hour later than usual. Usually I start watching them at 6:00 am. Yesterday I started at 6:30 am. I had forgotten about this difference until I looked at my records.

6. I switched to a new brand of honey (from a German brand to a Canadian one).

#1 is unlikely. #2 vaguely corresponds to the idea that honey helps us sleep because it supplies energy. Maybe honey at 6:30 fills up the liver (with glycogen) and honey at bedtime goes into the blood. But I’ve eaten plenty of meals at 6:30 without any obvious effect. Maybe they were too low-carb. I don’t know if making my room very very dark (two curtains) is better than making my room dark (one curtain) but there is no obvious reason making my bedroom less dark would improve sleep (#3).  I have never heard anyone say chocolate (#4) improved their sleep. Morning faces did improve sleep but the mood improvement was much more obvious (#5). I’ve tried several brands of honey; there was no obvious difference between them, arguing against #6.

As the day wore on I found myself in a good mood but not a great mood, arguing against #5.

I’d say #2 is the most plausible, the rest less plausible, with #1 the least plausible. But I will test all of them.

More (a day later) I did #3 (only one curtain), #4 (chocolate), #5 (later faces), and #6 (new honey) again. I did not sleep exceptionally well. That makes #1 and #2 more plausible.

14 Responses to “Front Lines of Personal Science: Why Did I Sleep So Well?”

  1. GeoffD Says:

    Seth,
    I can explain the camping effect. You were grounded to the earth. Look into grounding- its the best sleep hack of all. I started with a grounded bracelet and graduated to a grounding sheet for my bed. It plugs into the ground socket of a properly grounded electrical outlet. It dissipates harmful EMF which normalizes nocturnal hormonal patterns. It really is life changing. Earthing.com sells the one that I have. I do believe there are others vendors. Look into it.

    Seth: Very interesting. We slept on a tarp (inside sleeping bags, wearing clothes); would we still be grounded then? But your idea seems easy to test.

  2. dearieme Says:

    “You were grounded to the earth”: in Britain we’d say “you were earthed to the ground”. Wot larks, eh?

  3. Banh Li Says:

    Paul Jaminet has a bit exploring a possible link between chocolate consumption and positive circadian rhythm function. Weak, but consistent with hypothesis #4.

    http://perfecthealthdiet.com/2012/11/chocolate-what-is-the-optimal-dose/

  4. Peggy Says:

    I sleep worse with blackout curtains; I need the gradual decreases and increases in light to calibrate my internal clock. (Which might also explain the camping effect.) I try to avoid using overhead lights after dark or early in the morning, and just use lamps.

  5. Christopher Sturdy Says:

    I still like the honey idea; it’s the quality Canadian honey that did the trick! I suppose I could help test the theory. Mmmm…more honey eating for me.

  6. daz Says:

    Hi Seth,

    What colors were the German and Canadian honeys?

    (i just discovered there is actually a honey color scale/grader called the Pfund Scale)

    Seth: The Canadian honey is lighter-colored and less viscous than the German honey.

  7. Kirk Says:

    Another alternate explanation: the honey effect is cumulative. At least it seems that way to me. On those nights that sleep is not as rich and deep, I can associate it with some external cause, such as when the bedroom was much colder than usual, or my wife was sleeping poorly.

    Seth: I’ve been taking honey at bedtime for at least a month. No reason the effect should suddenly get larger.

  8. daz Says:

    i have heard that becoming magnesium replete improves sleep.
    (magnesium deficiency worsens sleep).
    & the darker the chocolate the higher the magnesium content (ref usda nutrition database).

  9. Stuart King Says:

    Seth when you tried to repeat the effect on the second day, did you try another new honey that you hadn’t had before?
    I actually think it’s the increase in sugary foods that led to better sleep… But I have noticed improved sleep after trying new honey (but not on the second night) which is interesting

    Seth: No I used the same new honey as the first night. A “first night” effect is strange. I’ll look for it next time I change honeys.

  10. Heisenbug Says:

    #2 seems to lend even more credence to the prebiotic/probiotic hypothesis.

    Seth: That honey acts as a prebiotic, increasing butyrate production and a bunch of other things? Yes, I agree, it supports that idea. I found one study where probiotics improved sleep:
    http://www.insidershealth.com/article/probiotics_not_just_for_your_gut/3862

  11. DA Says:

    Seth, have you seen much discussion of the role that alcohol plays in poor sleep, particularly alcohol’s role inhibiting gluconeogenesis (glucose secretion) in the liver? It could help explain, by its opposite, the role that sugar plays in honey’s sleep-enhancing effect.

    Seth: That’s a good point.

  12. tom Says:

    I’ve figured out lately that dehydration causes stress and lessens my sleep quality. Like if I have a lot of protein or dry flour products at my last meal and sleep 2 hours later without drinking enough water.

  13. GeoffD Says:

    Seth,

    Unless the tarp was rubber you would still be grounded. Plus, since you were likely in the woods and somewhat remote, you would have been away from any EMF.

    Seth: I think the tarp was plastic. But I agree with you, I should not jump to conclusions about whether or not I was grounded. It does seem worth looking into. Maybe I slept especially well partly because I was away from light in the evening. The harder-than-usual surface (the ground) may have also helped.

  14. Omnivorous wolves, spiders that play tether ball, worms instead of oranges, and yogurt and honey improve sleep Says:

    […] Is it the yogurt or honey? The brain seems to like lactate. The brain can also store glycogen and it probably converts it to lactate (whether or not that is a good thing I don’t know, but healthy babies have elevated lactate levels besides the ketones, nonetheless it is still not clear whether lactate is an emergency substrate or preferred) However, the main components in different honey are fairly similar, the glucose and fructose part. If two different brands of honey have different effects, then we can more than likely eliminate the sugar component and look at other properties of various kinds of honey. Different kinds of honey have different antimicrobial properties and contaminants. A little hormesis to improve sleep? How does endotoxin impact sleep? (Personally, honey ruins my sleep even tiny amounts and so does sugar (sugar also negatively impacts my typing tests), I seem to sleep best when I eat about 600g of cottage cheese throughout the day, it’s probably less then that since I strain the fat out (I’m after the protein anyway, I eat plenty of butter and full fat yogurt), and beef which I like seems to make me sleepless if I eat it too late in the evening or too much of it during the day) […]