The Turning Point in My Self-Experimentation

Several people have said that bedtime honey made them wake up too early. For example:

No effect for me, worse for my wife (hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night after a few hours of sleep)

The commenter said this meant it wasn’t working.

My view is different. To me, this experience suggests that there is something safe, cheap and practical (honey) that has a powerful and non-intuitive effect on sleep. Finding something like that is extremely hard. (Drug companies have spent billions of dollars trying to do this, with far worse results.) It isn’t easy or obvious or trivial to learn how to use that powerful force to produce improvement rather than harm (“hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night”), but I am sure it is possible.

My first important use of self-experimentation was in graduate school. I discovered that one of the medicines my dermatologist had prescribed for my acne wasn’t working. The notion that a prescribed medicine didn’t work is useful, but not shocking. This success was enough to launch me into self-experimentation to improve my sleep — specifically, to reduce early awakening. This turned out to be very hard.

After ten years of trial and error (all error), I discovered something that made my early awakening reliably worse. I was thrilled. After ten years, something finally made a difference, albeit in the wrong direction. It was a turning point. I did many experiments and finally figured out that any breakfast made my sleep worse. This was far more progress than finding out that a prescribed medicine didn’t work. It was progress because (a) nutrition experts usually said that breakfast was “the most important meal of the day”. My discovery flatly contradicted that. I became a lot more skeptical of experts, a view that has served me well. (b) Eliminating breakfast greatly reduced early awakening, and (c) the discovery showed that self-experimentation could do better than expert advice in surprising ways. My interesting self-experimentation began with the discovery of something that made my sleep worse.

I too have found that although I am sleeping much better, bedtime honey and other evening sugars have also made me wake up too early more often. I too need to learn how to better use this new knowledge.

16 Replies to “The Turning Point in My Self-Experimentation”

  1. Hi Seth,

    Today I came across a recommendation for honey before bed from another source, Dave Asprey ( known for recommending coffee+butter+mct(coconut) oil in the morning)

    He wrote:

    I also recommend that, on zero starch days, you consume up to 1 tablespoon of raw honey before bed along with MCT oil. Raw honey forms liver glycogen preferentially compared to other forms of sugar, and liver glycogen fuels the brain better than muscle glycogen. Some people don’t need to do this, but if your sleep quality improves, it’s an easy biohack that doesn’t take you out of ketosis thanks to the wonderful powers of MCT oil.

    No comment on whether or not it works..just thought you may be interested in another person linking honey and sleep.

    Seth: Thanks. I got the idea from Stuart King, who got the idea from Dave Asprey. Who got the idea from a book by Mike McInnes.

  2. This is interesting for me because I have the opposite problem. I’m a very deep sleeper and it take a lot to wake me up. If I didn’t set an alarm I’d overlseep every morning, and even after I wake up I’m still groggy for some time.

    I used to never eat breakfast, but I started after reading that it caused you to wake up too early. I found that it does help me wake up earlier, but I would still naturally oversleep without an alarm. And actually, writing this now, it occurs to me there’s probably room for improvement. I always get up, shower, get dressed, and then eat breakfast, when I should probably eat breakfast immediately after getting up. This would move my breakfast a half hour or so earlier each morning, and hopefully I’d see a corresponding shift in when I’d naturally wake up. I’m not sure why this never occured to me before, but I’ll give it a try.

    Back on point though, for someone like me, something that causes you to wake up earlier may be a feature and not a bug.

  3. Few who comment on honey/sleep divulge their age, health status, etc.

    I am a committed user of honey, but I also know that the older one is, the longer they have been pre-diabetic (or worse) the longer it will take for them to realize the full benefit of these principles.

    It has to do with the health of the endocrine glands. When they are old, sick and worn out (at any age) one needs to allow for their inability to perform as perfectly as the text book says they should. Also, I always take notice of the age of the author of any book or advice page. Young people assume youth is forever. If only it were so!

    And we have been conditioned (by the drug pushers) to expect immediate results. Like right now, Man. Overnight! Hey if it didn’t work the first time it is no good! Yet we all know we have tried myriad other ‘approved’ methods that didn’t work either.

    Seth is right on top of the ball having had the light come on in his head, that the experts are looking after their own garden. We as individuals will either tend our own or suffer the consequences.

  4. Seth –

    In the comment section of an earlier post you mentioned you are now eating sugar three times before bed. What are you eating each of these times?

    1. yes, I eat sugar 3 times after dinner and before bed:

      Time 1 (soon after dinner): longan (approx 140 g) plus Yakult (1 bottle, 60 kcal)

      Time 2 (a few hours before bedtime): banana (approx 120 g)

      Time 3 (near bedtime): honey (20 g)

  5. What do you think of Trehalose? It’s a disaccharide composed of 2 glucose molecules. The enzyme required to digest it apparently resides in the small intestine, so theoretically it should last longer while providing a steady stream of energy through the night, unlike honey which gets digested quickly. Honey helps me get to sleep quickly, but it has not solved my early waking problem. I am going to try Trehalose on my next order from Swanson’s. It’s not cheap, but not prohibitively expensive either:

    Seth: I haven’t heard of Trehalose. Very interesting.

  6. To be honest, waking up after a couple of hours would be what I expect would happen. The sugar would cause low blood glucose, and eventually your body would kick out some adrenaline to get your blood sugar back up. And then you would be wired and not able to get back to sleep. That won’t happen with everyone, some people have more stable blood sugar, but I would imagine that’s exactly what happened with that guy’s wife.

  7. @Sidney Phillips: That waking up problem is specifically what a number of people have reported as being helped or eliminated by potato starch (as a concentrated form of resistant starch) supplementation. I’ve had that problem for decades and it was almost completely eliminated a couple of weeks after starting potato starch, and has stayed that way for months. The same for my girlfriend and other friends.

    Seth and I have disagreements about the mechanism, but it’s been reported by too many people to be an illusion or confirmation bias.

  8. Hi @Sidney Phillips,

    keep us posted on your Trehalose experiment.

    i too still have trouble with nightime/early awakenings.
    & have been experiment with various sugar/carb strategies myself, with various timings & doses.

    @Charles, potato starch is definitely ‘good stuff’ imo. tho for me personally it had no effect on my sleep (good or bad).
    i started ‘supping’ with it back in April (2013). i am still taking it tho & will continue to do so. i currently take 1.5 to 2 tablespoons per day.
    ( i did go as high as 4 tbls p/d for a while in the beginning).

  9. @daz, Sorry to hear it hasn’t helped. For those people who have had little sleep benefit, the protocol that will sometimes help is to take a couple of tablespoons in water an hour after dinner, then no more food after that. If you’ve been doing that, and it hasn’t helped, then I guess your unqiue biome and/or other affected systems aren’t where the issue is. That’s a bummer. It’s really helped me and a lot of others I know. But everyone is different.

  10. Thanks Charles,
    “…the protocol that will sometimes help is to take a couple of tablespoons in water an hour after dinner, then no more food after that”

    This is actually new info to me, would you have a link that would take me to more on this pls Charles.
    (is it from comments on the f-t-a web site, i have not checked that site in months & i am sure there are hundreds of comments now, under multiple posts…).

    it’s been a while since i did the PS post dinner & then my max would have likely been 1.5 tbls, but more likely 1 tbls.
    (i currently take my PS during the day)

  11. I just wanted to chime in that when I was pregnant (my son is now 11 months old and nursing) I started waking up in the wee hours of the morning every a few nights, quite alert, and felt unable to sleep unless I had a snack. This also happened another time a few weeks ago. Trying a spoonful of honey before bedtime sounds like a sensible thing to try; I didn’t have this problem pre-motherhood, but perhaps I need to compensate for the higher 24/7 glucose demands of pregnancy and nursing, which should be especially interesting to try in future pregnancies.

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