Front Lines of Personal Science: Progress on Why I Slept So Well

A few days ago I noted that I had slept unusually well. I wondered why. The previous day had been unusual in five ways (yogurt blueberries and honey 2 hours before bedtime, only one blackout curtain, chocolate, unusual timing of morning faces, new brand of honey). Was one of them responsible? Or was it random variation?

The next day I repeated four of the five unusual things: only one blackout curtain, chocolate, unusual timing of morning faces, new brand of honey. Result: I did not sleep unusually well. This pointed to either yogurt blueberries and honey or random variation as the explanation. Those happened to be the explanations I had considered most plausible (yogurt blueberries and honey) and least plausible (random variation).

Yesterday I repeated all five of the unusual things. Yesterday evening it took longer than usual to fall asleep. Usually I fall asleep within a minute, but this time it took about 4 minutes. As I was lying there, I attributed the long latency to lack of exercise that day. In the morning, for the first time in my whole life, I woke up what a friend called “full of jitters”. Very rested, yes, but also too much energy. As if I’d had too much caffeine. Usually I have a cup of black tea first thing in the morning. I started to make one and realized it would make things worse, not better. As I said, this has never happened before.

So it was the yogurt blueberries and honey. The first time I had it I had added the honey just for sweetener and hadn’t measured it. The second time I did measure the honey — 14 g, about 2 teaspoons. Probably more than I had used the first time, which may explain the different results (1st time: very rested, 2nd time: very rested and jittery). Both times I ate 125 g blueberries, which has 12 g sugar (half glucose, half fructose). I doubt the yogurt (homemade, no sugar added) matters.

Perhaps the best dose (for me) will turn out to be one teaspoon honey 2 hours before bedtime and one tablespoon of honey at bedtime. I had tried taking more than one tablespoon of honey at bedtime; it seemed to produce the same effect as one tablespoon.

I want to test with and without blueberries, of course, and different amounts of honey 2 hours before bedtime. If honey alone is powerful, then I will test different forms of sugar. I don’t want to be at the mercy of differences between brands of honey, although honey is very convenient.

Let’s say it turns out to be the sugar in honey that produces these big improvements in sleep. Then it will turn out that the nutritionists of the world have been even more wrong about sugar than they were about saturated fat. All the data is not yet in, let me repeat. But the data so far unquestionably point in a surprising direction. It is entirely possible that sugar — in the right amounts at the right times of day — will turn out to be the greatest health food of all.

Which would explain what has never been well-explained: why we like it so much.

5 Responses to “Front Lines of Personal Science: Progress on Why I Slept So Well”

  1. Rashad Says:

    I think your research is pointing in the direction that some ice cream after dinner is ideal. It has lots of cream, so could probably substitute for some of the butter you normally consume, and has a decent amount of sugar, possibly comparable to a tablespoon of honey?

    Seth: That’s an interesting idea. However, the fat in the ice cream might interfere with the digestion of the sugar. Ice cream has a surprisingly low glycemic index. I once had honey and cheese at bedtime, instead of just honey. The results were worse than usual, presumably because the cheese slowed down digestion of the honey. I agree it’s worth trying sugar in different contexts.

  2. Gina Says:

    What Seth is suggesting sounds more like Italian ice or sorbet to me (fruit blended with sugar). I think he found that fat before bed didn’t help.

  3. George Says:

    Hi Seth! I would love to try and replicate your results. I found that what I eat for breakfast and lunch has a strong effect on my sleep with or without honey (if I eat too much carbs before PM I sleep badly, but if too little I get anxious and also sleep badly)

    Could you please share what you ate for breakfast and lunch on these days? thank you.

    Seth: No breakfast. Lunch: 60 g butter, 20 g cheese, small amount of pork or duck, 30 g ground flaxseed, 18 g dark chocolate, yogurt, fruit, tea with honey and cream as desired.

  4. John Kojis Says:

    Do you think it’s possible for the quality of sleep to be affected by something even earlier, maybe a few days or more? It might take a longer for some food or environmental factors to work their way through the system. Of course, factors that are closer in time could be assumed to be stronger influences, and would be a logical place to begin, but it seems too simplistic to say it’s either what you ate yesterday or random noise.

    Seth: By “random noise” I meant everything else. As for your hypothesis (“the quality of sleep is affected by something even earlier”), I agree. There is jet lag, which takes several days to recover from. The bad effects of breakfast took me a week or so to recover from.

  5. peter Says:

    if you eat sweets at the end of the meal it just sits in your stomach on top of the rest of the food and ferments, producing gas. I try to eat food in the order in which it is easily digested.
    This suggests eating fruit first (which is what they do in Latin America), carbs second, i.e., potatoes etc, vegetables next and then protein last.