Why Does Bedtime Honey Improve Sleep? More Helpful Data

At Free The Animal, Richard Nikoley blogged about the value of potato starch and other examples of resistant starch (RS) which is slowly-digested starch. As a reader of this blog named Xav points out, three commenters say it has improved their sleep:

1. 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. [Richard did explain the deep sleep — Seth]

2. After a few days of a few Tbsp RS in the evening, here are my observations . . .

  • sleep has been better the last 2 nights without any particular change of lifestyle.
  • dreams are vivid, I remember them much more

3. I took 4 tbsp of PS last night. . . .I had an incredible sleep (but no vivid dreaming, however). I mean, I did not wake up even once. I was sound asleep from the beginning to the end and it was such the most sweet and tranquil sleep I ever had in a long time!

Emphasis added. Someone else said, “Have been doing this for about a week now. 2T in am and 2 T after dinner. Sleep may be better.” No one reported better sleep after resistant starch at other times. Richard said nothing about the time of day to eat it. Several people say it raised their blood sugar.

Readers of this blog know there is abundant evidence that bedtime honey improves sleep. Honey is not a resistant starch, although fructose (honey is half glucose, half fructose) is digested relatively slowly. Potato starch and honey differ in many ways. That both, eaten near bedtime, produce better sleep, suggests that the better sleep is due to something they share. One thing they share is both increase blood glucose throughout the night. Honey does so because it contains a quickly-digested sugar (glucose) and a slowly-digesting one (fructose). Potato starch does so because its carbohydrate is slowly converted to blood glucose.

The potato starch stories support what I’ve said (here and here) about why bedtime honey improves sleep, namely:  You need a certain amount of blood sugar to sleep well. Many people have too little (e.g., due to a low-carb diet). Honey, a banana, or resistant starch near bedtime are three ways to ensure enough. When this becomes well-known, the improvement in well-being will be great.

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

  1. In a previous honey-sleep entry, you quoted someone noting that raw honey had less effect than cooked honey. If cooked honey, PS/RS, or a banana each work to improve sleep, would it make sense why raw honey does not? Does cooking change the relative levels of fructose and glucose, or is it more likely that raw honey does actually work and the observation was skewed by something else?

    1. “In a previous honey-sleep entry, you quoted someone noting that raw honey had less effect than cooked honey”

      I think someone theorized that. I don’t think there was any evidence it was true. I suppose the theory was wrong. Someone who actually compared the two found no difference between raw and cooked honey.

  2. I can attest to resistant starch improving sleep and even a sense of morning calm (as opposed to a kind of morning argument in my mind, which I’d frequently had — and which might’ve been a result of poor sleep.)

    I take the starch with kefir, and have become hooked on kefir as a daily staple. I don’t know how much the kefir plays into this. I go for unsweetened but sometimes they’re out, so I get the sweetened.

    There are other benefits of the resistant starch (or great sleep) for me, as well, mainly overall improved mood and outlook whether I take it at night or in the morning. But to be clear: for sleep, I take 1-2 tbsp at night. For morning, 1-2 tbsp mixed with kefir is often breakfast-appetite suppressant. (Not hungry again until the afternoon.)

    My husband often feels unrested from sleep. He went for a sleep study and they found no sleep apnea. When he took 2 tbsp of the unmodified potato starch with about a cup of kefir before bed he experienced great sleep. Also we both get intense, memorable dreams that seem less “flat” in memory later and retain their vivid quality. All of this may be an effect of deep sleep.

    To see how long the effects lasted, I stopped the resistant starch three weeks ago. It took 2 weeks for my poor sleep to return.

    However when I used honey instead — just to see if there was a difference and after reading your blog — I had a few of the worst nights of sleep in awhile. Not sure why, but part of it may be that I’m one of those people who gravitate toward non-sweets over sweets.

    I like sweet things, and I like honey — but I’ve always known via taste that there’s something about direct sugar and honey and any sweetener separated out from other food (as opposed to mixed or baked within something or occurring naturally within it like milk) that doesn’t taste that good to me.

    However my husband puts honey or sugar in coffee every day and loves hard candy (I’ve haven’t liked it for years). When he got the teaspoon of honey at night, he again had great sleep.

    Also started on the blue blocker glasses, which have helped me get to sleep. All of this has made me understand that sleep may have been my main stumbling point in life — for decades.

    Good sleep with remembered, intense dreams has always equalled good mood, productive day and a willingness to participate more and tackle problems.

    Long note, but wanted to put it all down. And thank you for your insights. I typed this via smartphone so please pardon typos.

  3. A few years ago, Kathleen Des Maisons wrote a book called “Potatoes, Not Prozac.” As an aid for recovering addicts — most of whom, she says, are sugar-sensitive — she recommended a baked potato before bed. The release of serotonin was what she focused on.

    Seth: Interesting, I’ll check that out. Eating a baked potato before bed has many effects. I wonder why she chose one of them to emphasize (release of serotonin). Perhaps she believes what professors of psychiatry say about causes of depression, but she shouldn’t.

  4. Honey is also more easily incorporated in the diet, as it doesn’t require a restructuring of the gut biome to make it effective. Even Richard and others have commented they needed some time for their digestive system to get used to the resistant starch, which they attribute primarily to needing the RS adapted gut flora to flourish and crowd out some of the other flora that were not RS adapted and caused flatulence.

  5. I found that consuming 2TBLS of potato starch in the morning improved my sleep (1 wake up – to pee – instead of 2 or 3. I’ve always been an 8-9 hour sleeper but I found as I got older – I’m 67 – waking up to pee and waking up, but falling right back to sleep increased in frequency)…I really don’t think it matters when you consume it.

    I’m also giving the honey at bedtime a new look…I’m doing it to test the muscle strength component…so far no difference in sleep.

    I have to be certain not to eat anything for at least two hours before consuming the honey and going to bed. If I don’t – as happened last night – the honey causes acid reflux – not a fun thing to wake up to.

    Knowing that you are also very focused on gut health (consuming fermented foods) you should find this post on FTA regarding resistant starch and improved gut health very interesting: http://freetheanimal.com/2013/11/resistant-american-comparison.html

  6. Hey, Seth! Richard’s buddy here from FTA…

    I love everything you say except that RS is slowly converted to glucose. It’s actuallu slowly converted to fat–SCFA to be exact. Hardly and, if any at all, gets converted to BG–simple to test with BG monitor!

    I don’t think anybody ever said that potato starch raised the BG–not in the thousands of comments anyway. There was some concern with tapioca starch, which we initially thought was good RS source, but it definitely caused raised BG…maybe that’s what you saw?

    I like you are looking into timing, it’s something we haven’t toyed with much. We just consider better sleep a nice side-effect.

    Keep and eye on FTA for some cool crowd-sourcing projects we have up our sleeve.


  7. My main self experiment at the moment is using the VSL3 probiotic for a period of 8 weeks, as animal experiments with this specific probiotic have shown appetite / weight reduction amongst other things.

    I’m currently contemplating starting using the potato starch at night, instead of honey, as the effects of the starch on both the gut bacteria AND sleep may give a 2 for 1 benefit . If I do, I’ll report back with any results.

  8. I tried honey a few times (1 tbsp) but I felt I slept more fitfully. I couldn’t rightly isolate honey as the cause though so I may try again in the future.

    Regarding potato starch – it’s about 85% Resistant Starch, meaning this: enzymes in the small intestine can’t break down the starch molecules into glucose, so it travels into the large intestine for fermentation via bacterial action. In doing so, the gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids (butyrate) as waste product that the cells of the colon use as fuel. In other words, RS is a source of dietary fat.

    A lot of knowledge about RS is just coming to light, but Tim Steele (aka tatertot) did an excellent series of posts on Animal Pharm about his experiences with RS as a means to cure gut dysbiosis. A few people have noticed improved sleep on such a regimen.

    I’ve been taking 4 tbsp/day of potato starch for about 3 weeks now (2 tbsp AM / 2 tbsp PM). Sleep quality has been good, but I still occasionally but less frequently experience early AM waking (1:30-2:30 AM). I find I fall back to sleep easier in general though. There was an adjustment period for me as well – tremendous amounts of gas for five or six days (not smelly though, just windy). It has subsided now. Waiting to see if I notice other effects.

  9. Regarding muscle strength improvement I have two thoughts:

    1. Increase might come from improved sleep.

    2. Increase might come from sufficient rests between workouts. I find I gain strength more consistently though working out 1-2 x per week versus 3-7 x per week. Muscles take a lot of time to repair it seems.

    Seth: when my sleep improved due to honey, the timing of my workouts (daily) did not change.

  10. @Jeff ”

    Yes, the rest between workouts was my initial impression of what happened to an older fellow in a previous post with bell presses. It is well documented that allowing for more rest makes greater strength gains. I would imagine better sleep would promote strength gains. Working out more infrequently resulted in similar gains for me.

  11. I have never had any problems sleeping. I have been taking potato starch after my evening meal since July and have been taking a tablespoon of honey since Seth mentioned it in his blog. I noticed more vivid dreaming from the potato starch and hope that it helps my colon since colon cancer and other colon problems have occurred in my family. I look forward to taking the honey before I go to bed and I love its taste; I haven’t noticed anything from taking the honey.

  12. “In a previous honey-sleep entry, you quoted someone noting that raw honey had less effect than cooked honey”

    one possible reason, some people may be ‘sensitive’ to raw honey,
    ie. raw honey usually contains small amounts of propolis and pollen, it could be possible that this is problematic for a few people…& therefore cancel out the sleep benefits & possibly even worsen sleep.

    this may or may not be an allergy, idk, but i did see mention of a ‘honey allergy’ which listed some possible symptoms to look for,
    – Itchy throat,
    – Tongue swelling up,
    – Watery eyes,
    – Hives or constant sneezing.

  13. (should have read)
    …but i guess if the reaction/”allergy” was only very minor, you would Not notice any of these symptoms…but may be it would disturb sleep (and non-raw honey would not)

  14. About that glucose/fructose thing, I have a way to test the hypothesis: table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are both about 50-50 glucose/fructose. So if honey aids sleep by providing the sugar mix, then so would a tablespoon of table sugar in water, or a few ounces of non-caffeinated soda.

    I wonder if anyone in the dieting group taking the sugar water before bed has had improved sleep?

    Seth: I’m not sure the timing of blood glucose would be the same comparing table sugar and honey. Table sugar is not 50/50 glucose/fructose, it is 100% sucrose. Yes, the sucrose is split into glucose and fructose, but that takes a while. But HFCS should work.

  15. I wonder if sleep is dependent on how ‘fat adapted’ you are, or how long you can comfortably go without a meal (I’m not good at fasting).

  16. Tom I think you may be on to something there – I don’t know much about ‘fat adaption’ but I noticed my sleep was excellent recently for over a week (I have been measuring my sleep quality) and interestingly enough, that week I lost weight. I got on the scale every morning, and everyday there was a small reduction in weight which ended up being about 1kg (about 2 pounds).
    As part of my experimentation (trying different dietary approaches), my weight went back up (everyday) to where it originally was after another week or so and my sleep declined dramatically. I think there is a correlation between the two things which probably suggests I was doing something which was good for me.
    I did originally discover the honey when I was very low carb and it worked well then. I quit very low carb because of health problems it created. I think I might try alternate day fasting for a couple of weeks to see if that improved the honey effect.

    1. “I’m surprised no one’s made the probiotic/prebiotic connection between honey and RS.”

      the effect of bedtime honey is instant — same night. surely improving gut biota will take days weeks or months.

  17. Not necessarily. While increasing bacterial count takes longer supplementation, short-chain fatty acid production by one’s existing bacteria (which is what creates the hypoglycemic effect) should happen right upon dosage, whether it’s the first time or the hundredth.

    And from anecdotal accounts, many experience the sleep affects of RS almost immediately.

    Seth: The brain — which controls sleep — runs on glucose. It does not run on SCFAs. To say that small changes in SCFA concentration affect the brain you have to get really speculative (speculative = beyond what is known). What about the possibility that RS improves sleep because it increases blood glucose during the night? Based on my theory that it is the glucose produced by honey that matters, I predict that if I take the honey 10 hours before bedtime it won’t improve my sleep. Does the SCFA theory predict what will happen if I do that?

  18. But it doesn’t increase blood glucose. It’s an indigestible fiber. It passes through undigested and is fermented in the colon. People on ketogenic diets who supplement with RS stay in ketosis. No rise.

    Seth: I was under the impression that RS is slowly digested starch, not undigested starch. I agree that some of it is not turned into glucose, but I am not so sure that none of it is. However, I agree with you that it is not settled. It’s just that when a starch (resistant or not) greatly improves sleep, and sugars greatly improve sleep, and this would explain why we eat dessert, it is tempting to think that the starch improves sleep because of the sugars it generates. Rather than assume two different mechanisms.

  19. And in fact, people’s fasting blood glucose in the morning is lower when supplementing with RS, as a result of the SCFAs. Whether or not the lower FBG is what’s resulting in better sleep is not clear.

    To see if the same thing is happening with honey, I think the test is simple enough. Measure your morning FBG after a day without any honey. Take honey that evening, and measure your FBG the next morning. If it’s lower, then you’ve replicated the RS mechanism.

    Seth: I don’t think it’s that simple. You write: “People’s fasting blood glucose in the morning is lower when supplementing with RS, as a result of the SCFAs.” Why is SCFAs the only possible (or even the best) explanation of why their FBG is lower? What about the possibility that RS increases BG at night and this lowers FBG? People who like RS make a big deal of how it differs from other starch, but if a banana (with no RS) at bedtime also improves sleep and lowers FBG — just like RS — I begin to doubt they understand the effects of RS as well as they think they do.

  20. It is the best explanation because:

    a) It is undigested, and its only effect is fermentation of bacteria and production of SCFA.

    b) Butyrate’s (the primary SCFA stimulated by RS) effect on blood glucose is well-established.

    c) Again, blood glucose does not rise with intake of RS. Day or night. Try it yourself.

    Seth: How do you know that blood glucose during the night does not rise with intake of RS? I cannot measure my blood glucose while asleep or I would try it. Also, to get the sleep improvement provided by RS, at what time of day can the RS be eaten? In the examples I’ve read, it was eaten in the evening. What about eating it in the morning?

  21. Given that RS’s physical properties don’t allow it to be digested and affect blood glucose, it stands to reason that time of day doesn’t have any effect.

    I don’t know for sure whether the time of dosage influences the sleep effect. Most people seem to be breaking up their intake into two doses, daytime and evening. Though my guess is that there is a correlation, as a nighttime dose would feed your gut/boost SCFAs closer to bed. I don’t know if anyone’s tested this.

    Also, figuring out if honey lowers morning FBG would be a relevant finding, as it would bring it that much closer to mirroring the RS mechanism.

  22. I take the potato starch after my evening meal in order to experience vivid dreams (which I assume is a healthy symptom),and to encourage a complete bowel emptying upon rising in the morning, and to minimize flatulence during daytime hours at work.
    The meaning of a vivid dream for me is: when I briefly awake from a dream, I realize that my dream was of long duration with many “scenes” and that those “scenes” were vivid; however, generally I can’t remember the dreams in the morning when I get up.

  23. Warning about resistant starch. It’s great for a lot of people, but for some people, like me, it’s absolutely horrible and leads consistently to digestive upset. I had to learn to avoid it as much as possible.

    I think it depends on the nature of your personal digestive system. My hormone/neurotransmitter balance runs towards a very, very slow-digesting digestive system to start with. Slowing it down further causes gas, bloating, and cramps. It’s important that I eat stuff which digests *quickly*, because for me, quickly is a matter of hours.

    I figured this out in a fairly unpleasant way due to neurotransmitter-balance-altering medications and really bad digestive reactions.

Comments are closed.