Why Does Bedtime Honey Improve Sleep? Helpful Data

I speculated that bedtime honey improves sleep because it consists of an equal mix of glucose and fructose. Glucose is used by the brain during the first half of the night. By the second half, the fructose has been converted to glucose. However, honey has other ingredients, so it is not obvious that fructose and glucose are responsible. I focused on them partly because a need for glucose and fructose during sleep would explain (in evolutionary terms) why we eat dessert after meals, a puzzling separation.

Other carbohydrates also increase blood glucose. Do other carbs also improve sleep? Stuart King (who told me how much bedtime honey improved his sleep) pointed me to a 2010 discussion on a body-building forum. One person wrote:

I save a good portion of my carb intake for my last meal as I’ve found I sleep better afterwards. The worst nights of sleep I’d have during my prep were during my low carb days. Brutal.

Which supports the idea that blood glucose is running down, with bad consequences, during sleep. Even more telling was what someone else said:

Why does this happen to me? Before I was eating 2 cups of milk and a banana right before bed and would sleep fine. In the past few days I’ve tried to switch to 1 cup cottage cheese and 2 tbsp natty peanut butter. I’ve figured out this is why these past few nights I’ve had much more trouble sleeping and have had to resort to taking more OTC sleep aids. Then I’ll still wake up in middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep so I end up having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a cup of milk and 20 min later fall back asleep and sleep fine through the rest of the night.

Bedtime Snack A (2 cups of milk, banana): Good sleep. Bedtime Snack B (1 cup cottage cheese, 2 T peanut butter): bad sleep. There are hundreds of differences between the two snacks but one is that A, because of the banana, has about 6 g glucose and 6 g fructose (plus 3 g sucrose) and B has neither glucose nor fructose (nor sucrose). Stuart and I and several others have found that one tablespoon of honey (20 g) at bedtime greatly improves sleep. That much honey has about 8 g glucose and 8 g fructose. This is excellent evidence that it is the glucose and fructose in bedtime honey that improve sleep. Further evidence is that a snack with lots of sucrose (jelly) also produces good sleep.

More about bedtime honey and sleep.




10 Replies to “Why Does Bedtime Honey Improve Sleep? Helpful Data”

  1. I am an American living in Thailand. There is a brand of Thai honey that comes with a booklet that lists uses of honey. One item in the list says that honey promotes good sleep. I’d never seen that anywhere else until your series of posts. I saw no noticeable effect when I tried it just before bed, but I had no sleep issues to overcome to begin with. For someone with issues, though, using honey as an aid seems to be backed up by Thai folk wisdom….for whatever that’s worth.

  2. I tried the bedtime honey, because I had already noticed that evening carbs would make me sleep better: so far, it totally backfired 3 times out of 3.
    I suspect it is due to the fact that I am generally trying to avoid sugars, and a lot of carbs: what happens with a spoonful of honey is that my brain goes in hyper-mode like it did not happen to me in ages.
    I used to suffer from imsomnia, it is better now… and honey seem to make it worse.

    Vitamin D in the morning: good.
    Blue blocking glasses/f.lux: good.
    Meditation: good.
    Honey: 2-3h wide awake, no worries, just my mind speeding all over the place.

    I will experiment more when I will go back to freelancing, when sleeping 3h later can be compensated waking up later…

    Seth: Have you tried a smaller amount of honey? You might also want to try getting more sunshine in the early morning and adjusting the time of the Vitamin D — it’s hard to know the best time to take it without trial and error. That may help “turn off” your brain at night.

  3. Not entirely facetiously: have you thought of trying the effect of a lullaby?

    Seth: On a visit to Stockholm when I was a teenager, I noticed that the Swedish narration in a museum put me to sleep. Later, when I was a graduate student, I tried listening to a foreign language at bedtime. I can’t remember the effect. Nowadays I fall asleep very fast.

  4. After having some sleep problems, basically sleeping “normally” yet never feeling rested, and feeling a bit curious, I tried some of the ideas here.

    f.lux: Using it, not sure of effect. A number of other sources of light, so the orange glasses could be more decisive.

    Vitamin D: One capsule 5000 IE within 5 minutes of waking up; effect unclear, possibly some improved wakefulness.

    Honey: One teaspoon before going to bed; when tried, vivid dreams and wake up after about 3 hours fairly rested, though I then normally wait and go back to sleep again for a normal total of 7-8 hours. Interesting.

    Standing until exhaustion: One-legged knee bends until exhaustion before going to bed, quickly done and seems to help well with falling asleep.

    Seth: I take my morning Vitamin D at 8 am, which is 3-4 hours after I get up. You might also want to try getting more sunlight in the morning.

  5. Seth’s Shangri La oil method had obvious benefits for appetite, so much so that I didn’t need to continue past a month.

    So I’m happy to hear his recommendations for sleep improvement.

    Sadly the vit D hasn’t done it for me. Tried variations over the past year, but nothing that helps with sleep.

    Happily I’ve gone a long way in the past couple of months to solving my chronic insomnia.

    The main thing is magnesium supplementation, especially epsom salt spray – good link here:

    Not perfect, but it’s a big improvement.

    This week I took the honey (1 tsp) along with the magnesium supplement – on one night it gave me the best night of non-pharma sleep I’ve had for thirty years: almost 10 hours, and I awoke rested with an arms-out-wide stretch.

    Will apply this combination more carefully for the next fortnight and report back.

    The best explanation of the honey effect I’ve read is at this commercial link:

  6. My wife and I have both just had an exceptionally good night’s sleep. Perhaps the secret was eating dessert (tiramisu) about an hour before bed. Unfortunately, much though I love it, I couldn’t face eating tiramisu every evening.

  7. I have to admit that I am quite often awoken by the urge to urinate.

    One of my speculative hypotheses as to why honey and other more simple carbohydrates might improve sleep is that carbohydrates make your body hang onto water (carbo… hydrate). The inverse is also true — most bodybuilders who are preparing for contests and those preparing for sports with a ‘weigh in’ eliminate carbohydrates entirely a few days before the event to empty their body of as much stored water as possible to increase definition.

    People who go on low carb diets hit a point where they are also urinating frequently as their bodies utilize their glycogen stores before going into ketosis. This initial weight loss is a cause of confusion and frustration for people who think that they are making very quick progress on whatever diet they have chosen, as even diets that are not “low carb” still cause one to consume less of them due to the calorie deficit — people lose water weight as a result. I think I may have even learned that from your Taubes interview!

    Anyway, not sure of any of this. Just an idea. Some people report getting up several times during the night to urinate when starting out their low carb diets. Maybe you have stumbled upon the reverse?

    Seth: When I started using the honey, I found myself getting up to pee more often than usual (usual = zero times). The opposite of what your theory predicts. After a few nights it stopped (maybe because I reduced my fluid intake).

  8. This lady dr says when she got her patients’ vitamin D to 60-80 ng/ml, they had more stage III sleep and started healing problems. She thinks it’s something about vitamin D receptors in an area of the brain that help paralyze the body during certain stages of sleep.

    Seth: Thanks. Her name is Dr. Stasha Gominak. Maybe it was only patients who took the Vitamin D in the morning who improved. Others have reported that taking Vitamin D in the evening made their sleep worse. In other words, her study confounded two things (= changed two things at the same time). 1. Taking more Vitamin D. 2. Doing something that improves sleep. It may have been the second factor, not the Vitamin D, that was crucial. Maybe if her patients had all taken the Vitamin D in the evening, the results would have been much different.

  9. Perhaps another bit of anecdotal evidence for late night carbs in general helping with sleep – I was just reading a blog post about resistant starch with comments from people taking potato starch, especially in the evenings.

    There were a couple of comments like this one :

    “On week three of 3 TBS of Potato Starch per evening. Any explanation on the exceptional, uninterrupted deep sleep? No complaints mind you. Have never slept so well. Never.” TR


    Seth: Thanks, that’s very helpful.

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