Front Lines of Personal Science: More Progress on Sleep

To recap: Three days ago I slept extremely well, better than usual. I wondered why. What had made the difference? That day (the day before the night I slept so well) had been different from previous days in at least five ways (e.g., chocolate, new brand of honey). I repeated four of them, and did not sleep better than usual. That suggested the remaining difference — I had eaten yogurt, blueberries (125 g) and honey (8 g?) a few hours before bedtime — was responsible. (Every night I had 1 tablespoon — 20 g — honey at bedtime. It wasn’t that.) Then I repeated all five elements, including yogurt, blueberries (125 g) and honey (14 g) two hours before bedtime. I woke up wired (jittery). Very rested, but wired, which wasn’t pleasant. Too much sugar, perhaps.

The next night I had a banana roughly two hours before bedtime. (In addition, I repeat, to 1 tablespoon honey at bedtime.)  A banana has about 6 g glucose, 6 g fructose, and 3 g sucrose, similar to 1 tablespoon honey. I had a strong craving for something sweet at that time, which was new to me — I almost never eat dessert. In the evening I had more brain power than usual. Yet at bedtime I fell asleep quickly, in about a minute. 

The next morning I woke up and felt great. Almost perfectly rested, neither tired nor wired. Even though I’d only slept 4.7 hours, a bit low for me. It really was the yogurt, blueberries and honey — almost surely their sugar, which is almost all they have in common with a banana — that had made me sleep so well.

Conclusion: For the best sleep, have sugar after dinner and sugar at bedtime. By sugar I mean a glucose/fructose mixture but for all I know sucrose would work, too.

13 Responses to “Front Lines of Personal Science: More Progress on Sleep”

  1. Mehmet Says:

    I really wonder how you can sleep so little. Is it a result of your sleep improvements? Did better sleep lead to less sleep? Also, I wonder how you wake up. With an alarm clock or spontaneously?

    BTW, honey improved my sleep. I have also observed that leg fatigue improves my sleep but I do not practice one leg standings.

    Thank you for this blog. Your experiments inspired me to do my self-experiments. Although I am in the academia, I have rarely investigated my life with scientific curiosity before discovering your site.

  2. Paulo Paiva Says:

    [Excuse if I made mistakes, english is not my native language -- I´m from Brazil]

    What a coincidence.

    Today I told my wife how deep I had slept and connect it to the 1 tbspoon of honey and 1 tbspoon of apple cider vinager mixed with half a cup of water before bed (it tasts realy good). Then I saw this post and remembered that yesterday I had banana flour pancakes topped with honey 3 hours before bedtime! I think you are at the right track.

    And thanks for your blog. I crave for new posts every morning! For years! :)

    Seth: So interesting! Thank you for reading my blog all these years.

  3. Remi Says:

    Sleeping less than 5h could be dangerous to your immunity system.

  4. Ripken Holt Says:

    Would homemade Ice Cream work? My family makes some really delicious homemade ice cream which I had stopped eating because I had gone mostly low carb except for a serving of potatoes with each meal. How about a slice of pound cake? Those are my two favorite deserts of all time.

  5. dearieme Says:

    But, but, but… surely many people do this anyway? I mean, a milky drink with sugar before bed – weak tea, cocoa, Horlicks, Ovaltine – is pretty standard in Britain, as is dessert – “pud” or fruit – after dinner.

    Still, I am currently taking a “probiotic” yoghurt drink because I’ve just finished a course of antibiotic. It’s sweeter than I like at breakfast, this “Actimel”, so I’ll try it before bed instead.

  6. Seth Roberts Says:

    “But, but, but… surely many people do this anyway? I mean, a milky drink with sugar before bed – weak tea, cocoa, Horlicks, Ovaltine – is pretty standard in Britain, as is dessert – “pud” or fruit – after dinner.”

    Usually I take 20 g of honey (about one tablespoon) before bedtime. I tried 10 g honey — clearly worse results than with 20 g. When I sweeten tea, I use about 4 g honey.

    “Still, I am currently taking a “probiotic” yoghurt drink because I’ve just finished a course of antibiotic. It’s sweeter than I like at breakfast, this “Actimel”, so I’ll try it before bed instead.”

    I drink Yakult every day, that’s a good idea — have it after dinner rather than in the morning. According to Wikipedia 1 bottle of Actimel has 3.3 g of sugar (sucrose), whereas 1 tablespoon of honey has 16 g of sugar (fructose and glucose).

  7. Seth Roberts Says:

    “I really wonder how you can sleep so little. Is it a result of your sleep improvements? Did better sleep lead to less sleep? Also, I wonder how you wake up. With an alarm clock or spontaneously?”

    I usually take a nap in the afternoon, 40-60 minutes. That reduces how much I sleep at night. I wake up spontaneously.

    I am sure my sleep is unusually deep, partly because I get plenty of sunlight and Vitamin D in the morning, partly because I get plenty of face exposure in the morning. All three of these (sunlight, Vitamin D, faces) I expect to increase the amplitude of a circadian oscillation. Deeper sleep should be more efficient sleep. I hear about other people waking up at night and falling back asleep. That almost never happens to me.

  8. Gina Says:

    I wonder if the sleep improvements with honey are primarily for people eating a very low carbohydrate diet. My brief low-carb stint was ended because of the complete inability to sleep (elevated cortisol) which was cured with a single carb-heavy meal.

    Seth: My diet, when I started the bedtime honey, was low-carb — I don’t eat rice or pasta or potatoes or bread — but not very low-carb. I ate fruit and honey (to sweeten tea) and sugar (to sweeten yogurt and Yakult) every day. What happened to you supports the general point I am making here: Details of your sugar (and carb) consumption have a big effect on your sleep.

  9. Dan Says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiment(s) – could you please approximate what was the total amount of sugar you consumed the entire day?

    Seth: Moderate amount. 10 g in Yakult, 5 cups of tea x 6 g sugar/cup = 30 g, 20 g sweeten yogurt, miscellanous fruit 10 g = 70 g. Not counting the sugar after dinner (10 g) and at bedtime (16 g).

  10. daz Says:

    “I hear about other people waking up at night and falling back asleep”

    …tho for some of these people, i’m guessing waking up in the night could mean waking up 4 or 5 hours after they went to bed, me included.

    whereas it sounds like Seth would call this…morning ? :)

    also, these people may not nap during the day (i don’t).

    Seth: When I wake up after 5 hours feeling rested and don’t fall back asleep later, I don’t worry about it. To wake up early and feel tired but be unable to fall back asleep, that was the problem.

  11. Kathy Says:

    Part of the legendary danger of sugar, to me, is its role in damaging dental health. I can appreciate sugar at the end of the last meal of the day, where the sugar is not unopposed. But it seems honey or dessert closer to bedtime would promote cavities/gum disease. What do you think? I’m very interested in exonerating sugar if it can be done!

    Seth: I brush my teeth after eating the bedtime honey. The benefits of good sleep are so great that I don’t worry about cavities. As for gum disease, that’s caused by lack of omega-3. See my post about Tyler Cowen and flaxseed oil, for example.

  12. Ben Says:

    What time do you usually eat dinner? How long after dinner do you eat the banana? Can’t wait to try this out. Thanks Seth!

  13. Seth Roberts Says:

    I eat dinner around 6 pm. Eat the banana 1-2 hr later.