Bedtime Honey Doubles a Measure of Strength

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.

Other posts about bedtime honey and sleep.

15 Replies to “Bedtime Honey Doubles a Measure of Strength”

  1. I’ve been thinking about what sort of cheerer-uppers might encourage sleep if taken by the glass, so that both sugars and alcohol would help send you to the land of nod. Various digestifs are obvious possibilities; so is Pedro Ximénez sherry, or Bual or Malmsey Madeiras; I wonder how well this lesser-known drink would do.

    My motive is that I’d want some variety from honey, and tiramisu is not enough by itself. Madeira keeps very well after the bottle is opened, so that might be the place to start.

    Mind you, gently chewing a liquorice twist might be quite enough, and a good deal cheaper, and perhaps wiser if you’ve already had a drink or two during the day.

    Seth: A few weeks ago I went to an all you can eat Japanese restaurant — and it included all the sake I could drink. I just had one serving but that was enough to clearly disturb my sleep that night. There wasn’t anything else unusual about the meal. I like to drink (in small amounts) but since then I have cut way down on drinking in the evening.

  2. Hold on; I’ve just googled “liquorice twist”. Here’s the ingredients list from Tesco (a British supermarket chain).

    Treacle, Wheat Flour, Sugar, Glucose Syrup, Desiccated Coconut, Vegetable Oil, Glazing Agent (Beeswax), Liquorice Extract, Beef Gelatine, Flavourings, Humectant (Glycerol), Colours (Plain Caramel, Beetroot Red, Curcumin, Capsanthin), Fat Reduced Cocoa Powder.

    With its treacle, sugar, glucose and beeswax it sounds a bit like synthetic honey. A bit short of fructose, maybe.

  3. A traditional remedy for insomnia is a teaspoon of honey in a glass of warm milk.

    The honey part you have already gotten.

    Maybe milk helps also. Lactose is a type of sugar and may work with honey. Perhaps the calcium in milk calms the nerves and also makes healing / growing at sleep easier. Finally, amino acids in milk may have a calming effect.

    Anyone test himself using milk as well as honey?

  4. My wife and I have been testing honey at bedtime for a couple of weeks, and we have both had a noticeable improvement in sleep, mostly in the 3am restless wakeup period disappearing. She has more trouble with this than I have, so she found the improvement easy to notice.

    We take it with a nighttime concoction the includes a nitric oxide releaser and some kefir.

    That said, the thing that improved my sleep most dramatically was eliminating wheat from my diet several years ago. Before that I had a ferocious sleep apnea and snoring problem (which my wife would attest to). The sleep apnea went completely away and has not returned, and the snoring is down about 90%. One side effect of the sleep apnea, also gone, was probably long nightmares where I was frequently killed by monsters in my dreams – those, too, are long gone.

  5. In view of Cliff’s comment, may I ask whether we are the first generation of Westerners to have trouble from wheat? If so, why?

    Seth: Not enough fermented food? Too much refrigerated food? Not enough microbe-rich leftovers?

  6. Seth: your comment about fermented food may be apt.

    Here’s one small test I have done over the last couple of years, because of an accidental discovery. On vacation, I tend to indulge eating bread or pizza, and that night my snoring will increase and the cough will come back the next morning. Well, a couple of years ago while on vacation we happened to stop at a small farmstead which advertised cheese. The cheese was excellent, and they also made yogurt, an intense and funky yogurt that I loved.

    I ate quite a bit of it that day, after eating quite a bit of bread at lunch and dinner, and the next morning – no cough, and my wife said I had been very quiet that night.

    So, I have tried this experiment perhaps half a dozen times since then, and a little more than half the time taking yogurt at bedtime on a day I have indulged in some wheat product will eliminate the reaction. The older, funkier the yogurt, the better, store-fresh yogurt either works poorly or not at all.

    Perhaps not conclusive, but suggestive?

    Seth: Maybe the microbes in the yogurt and cheese made it harder for the wheat molecules to be absorbed into the blood. The microbes and microbe fragments clogged a lot of holes that would not otherwise be clogged. It’s a very interesting argument for the importance of fermented foods.

  7. ‘Funky’ – I was going to say smells like ‘cheese cellar by the barn’ but ‘socks’ is better…The taste is different from regular yogurt as the taste of aged cheddar is different from mild cheddar.

  8. In the weightlifting / bodybuilding community it’s heavily emphasized that one of the most important things you can do for full recovery and progress is get enough quality sleep. So perhaps the sleep improvements from the honey were enough to improve the body’s response to a training program.

  9. On the topic of wheat, Joel Salatin had an interesting take on it. His theory is that in pre-mechanized times, when wheat was harvested and tied into sheafs and allowed to stand in the field for several weeks, that the dew each night caused a mild fermentation.

    Weston Price and observed that the health benefits of whole grain wheat were only gained when the wheat was freshly ground an eaten within days.

    Modern wheat not only is harvested straight into the combine, but the flours can be years old by the time they are consumed, plenty of time for the omega oils in them to oxidize.

    I have seen comments by some (American) people that have wheat sensitivities, but to do not have them when travelling in europe, and they attribute that to different types of wheat being grown there.

    Finally, on the topic of kefir settling the stomach, I can personally attest to that, it does wonders!

  10. I have gluten allergy and dairy sensitivity (not lactose intolerant) and when traveling to Italy this past fall I ate all the bread, pasta and cheese I wanted with no ill effects. I do believe there is a difference in the foods in Europe. Could it be the bromated flour here, which is not used in Europe?
    I am going to try the honey tonight. I stumbled across this blog from Tim Ferris on FB. Glad I did!

  11. I’ve travelled in France and Italy a fair amount, and when I do I eat wheat in many forms, since I won’t even try to resist all the creativity with wheat in those cuisines. I invariably get my wheat cough back, and the bad sleep, too.

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