A reader writes:
My eight-year-old son has autism, on the serious end of the spectrum, with equally serious sleep troubles. A month ago I tried giving honey at bedtime after reading about it on your blog. It has made a tremendous difference.
My son has had trouble sleeping since he was a toddler. Since age four he has seen a pediatric neurologist who is also a sleep disorder specialist. With the doctor’s guidance we have tried different over-the-counter and prescription-drug approaches, but none has given him regular sleep, and the side effects from the drugs make increasing dosages risky.
His basic problem is not insomnia (a general inability to sleep) but rather delayed sleep phase disorder. He could sleep fine from the wee hours of the morning to noon. But whenever we managed to advance sleep onset [= get him to fall asleep earlier], he would wake up early. It was hard when we struggled to get him to sleep by midnight and then struggled to wake him at 7:00 a.m. for school. But it was even harder when he would fall asleep at 9:00 p.m., then wake up at 4:30 a.m., often falling back to sleep at 6:30 a.m, just in time for us to wake him at 7:00 a.m.. It’s not safe for him to be awake on his own for hours, and he was desperate to go back to sleep until about 9:00 a.m.
Since we started giving him a teaspoon of honey at bedtime he has slept through the night. We still have to give him meds to go to sleep between 9:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m., but once he’s asleep he stays asleep all night until we wake him at 7:00 a.m. The one night, early on, when we forgot to give him honey, he woke up just as he used to.
One factor that may make honey particularly effective for my son is that we’ve been eating a low-carbohydrate paleo diet for the past two years (because it helps his autism symptoms). Before that he was an extremely picky eater who preferred baked goods, milk, and cheese. With high-glycemic foods all day long a teaspoon of honey at bedtime might not have had much effect.
This is the best my son has slept in his life, and it has been a huge improvement in his and our family’s lives. Before the past month, the last time my son had gotten three good nights of sleep in a row was because he’d had a concussion.