Assorted Links

  • how to self-experiment with resistant starch. See comments.
  • A list of health benefits of honey says nothing about sleep
  • Someone says “I told you so” about the demise of Better Place, the Israeli car-battery-swap company. Better Place raised an insane amount of money, something like $1 billion.
  • Behind the New York Times series on health care costs. “The social media team analyzed the remarks and discovered that there were deep frustrations about the cost of inhalers and medications for asthma, the most common chronic condition affecting people of all ages.” There should be deep frustration that anyone still has asthma. The notion that figuring out what causes asthma is possible — and will cost about a million times less than continuing to buy inhalers and medicine — has not occurred to enough people.

Thanks to Tuck.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Casey Manion, Phil Alexander, Viorel Tulica, Melody McLaren, Christian Pekeler, Donna Warnock and Tom Passin.

Bedtime Honey and Motivation

A friend writes:

The honey has been the biggest improvement in my life in several years. It’s not just the energy, I think I’m more motivated to do things.

I started the honey with 1 tablespoon, but like others who commented, I had some trouble getting to sleep, so I reduced the dose to about 2 teaspoons. I take the honey about 15 minutes before bedtime, and I have not missed a dose since starting.

The first morning after the honey I felt much more alert and rested. I had no trouble getting out of bed even on 5 hours sleep at around 6:30 – 7:00 AM PDT.

The motivation that has come since starting the honey doesn’t feel primarily psychological. It doesn’t wax and wane or change in response to events. It feels raw (no pun intended), more like a drive.

The motivation improvement (that might be due to honey) seemed to begin a few weeks after I started it. The main aspect of the motivation is that I feel impelled to do things. This feeling lasts all day. It’s not a manic feeling, because I still have priorities, and I can bail out of a task if I’m not making progress.

I noticed a similar change. After I started the bedtime honey, it became easier to do everything. Not a big change, but noticeable. When it started is hard to say.

Why Do Sweet Foods Taste Good? The Importance of a Simple Observation

Stuart King writes:

I was very hungry today at dinner and the thought of sweet food wasn’t appealing at all, but after filling up on some rice, chicken and coconut cream curry I immediately had ice cream and chocolate slice [= what Americans call a brownie], which had had no appeal 15 minutes or so before!

An everyday observation that anyone can make. Studies have shown what Stuart noticed: When you are hungry sweet foods are unappealing. This is why dessert is eaten after the rest of the meal.

The main way that psychologists explain an experimental effect — choose between explanations — is by finding out what makes the effect larger or smaller. For example, discovery of what makes learning more or less (what increases or decreases the effect of one learning trial) is the main way psychologists have chosen among different theories of learning. Different theories predict different interactions.

Why do we like sweet foods? The usual answers are that sweet foods are a “good source of energy” and they provide “quick energy”. But these explanations do nothing to explain what Stuart noticed. If sugar is a good (= better than average) source of energy, we should eat it before other foods (average sources of energy) when we are hungry (hunger signals lack of energy). The opposite is true. You may not want to call it a “contradiction” but there is no doubt the conventional view does not explain what Stuart noticed. Of course many nutrition experts, such as Weston Price, are/were entirely sure sugar is unhealthy.

As a tool for choosing among theories, Stuart’s observation is especially good because (a) it is very large (sweets go from unappealing to appealing) and (b) paradoxical (eating calories should make all calorie sources less appealing).

If you have been reading this blog, you know I explain Stuart’s observation by assuming that we need sugar in the evening to sleep well. Sugar (sucrose, fructose, glucose) eaten in the evening increases blood glucose, which increases glycogen. During sleep, glycogen becomes glucose, which the brain needs to work properly. Evolution shaped us to like sweet foods after a meal so that we will eat them closer to when we sleep. (The value of replenishing glycogen close to bedtime also explains why we eat sweet foods after dinner more than after breakfast or lunch.)

I can’t think of another case where what experts say is so out of line with what’s easily observed. For example, I’m sure cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, but there is no everyday observation that supports my belief.

I can’t think of another case where what experts say is so out of line with what’s easily observed. For example, I’m sure cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease, but there is no everyday observation that supports my belief.

If sugar is helpful for sleep, why is it associated with diabetes? My guess is that sugar is almost always consumed in foods that taste exactly the same each time — what in The Shangri-La Diet I called ditto foods. For example, soft drinks. Ditto foods with sugar, because they have a strong precise CS (smell) and a strong fast US (calorie signal), produce an especially strong smell-calorie association. Such an association raises the body fat set point, thus causing obesity. Obesity causes diabetes. It’s also possible that eating sugar during the day — at the wrong time — hurts sleep. Maybe sugar during the day raises insulin and thus reduces the conversion of sugar to glycogen. Less glycogen causes bad sleep, bad sleep causes diabetes. My blood sugar levels clearly improved when I started eating sweets in the evening — opposite to what the sugar-diabetes link would predict.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Melody McLaren.

The Wisdom of Google: “Dessert”, “Honey” and “Fruit” Closer to “Dinner” than “Breakfast” or “Lunch”

I have blogged many times that bedtime honey improves sleep. I learned this from Stuart King, an Australian musician. He also pointed out we eat dessert with dinner more than with other meals. which others who have described the honey effect have not said. The dessert observation suggests that other sweets, not just honey, improve sleep. After I repeated the dessert observation, a friend said I of all people should know it isn’t universal. The Chinese don’t eat dessert, she said. Yes, I said, but where I lived in Beijing there seemed to be lots of sweets eaten in the evening, and lots of street vendors selling fruit in the evening. Continue reading “The Wisdom of Google: “Dessert”, “Honey” and “Fruit” Closer to “Dinner” than “Breakfast” or “Lunch””

Good Sleep Prevents Cancer

I have long said that good health begins with good sleep. I came to this conclusion when I improved my sleep a great deal and at exactly the same time stopped getting obvious colds. I concluded that better sleep made my immune system work better. At the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium, in Los Angeles, Rob Wolf said something similar about the centrality of sleep: “If a person sleeps well, you can’t kill them. If they sleep badly, you can’t keep them alive.”

Mainstream health researchers, on the other hand, haven’t figured this out. James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, in a recent paper about how to fight cancer, wrote this:

Long known has been PERIOD 2 (PER2) involvement as a clock protein at the heart of the circadian rhythms of higher animal cells. Later, quite unexpectedly [emphasis added], PER2 was found to function as a tumour suppressor, with the absence of both its copies causing the rate of radiation-induced cancers to rise.

When PER2 is absent, circadian rhythms disappear and sleep becomes very fragmented, spread out over the whole day. When you sleep better (which usually means more deeply), your immune system works better band does a better job of suppressing tumors. There is plenty of other supporting evidence. For example, in 2012 two studies found sleep apnea associated with higher cancer rates. The PER2 evidence is especially good at establishing cause and effect.

Assorted Links

Thanks to John Batzel, dearieme and Adam Clemans.

Better Sleep, Less Cancer

A few years ago, two studies found that people with sleep apnea have a much higher rate of cancer than people without it, even controlling for several cancer-related variables. In one study, the increase in risk was five-fold. These studies raised several questions: 1. Were the associations due to chance? 2. If real, did the associations reflect cause and effect? Surely people with sleep apnea are different in several ways from people without it. 3. If the associations did reflect cause and effect, which of the many effects of sleep apnea was/were responsible?

A new study found that rats woken up frequently got more cancer. This is a correct prediction from the idea that bad sleep increases cancer, increasing the plausibility of that idea.

[The study] used mice, housed in small groups. During the day—when mice normally sleep—a quiet, motorized brush moved through half of the cages every two minutes, forcing those mice to wake up and then go back to sleep. The rest of the mice were not disturbed. After seven days in this setting, both groups of mice were injected with cells from one of two tumor types (TC-1 or 3LLC). All mice developed palpable tumors within 9 to 12 days. Four weeks after inoculation the researchers evaluated the tumors. Tumors from mice with fragmented sleep were twice as large, for both tumor types, as those from mice that had slept normally. A follow-up experiment found that when tumor cells were implanted in the thigh muscle, which should help contain growth, the tumors were much more aggressive and invaded surrounding tissues in mice with disrupted sleep.

Great Sleep! Reduced Cancer! is a whole book (98 pp) about the connection between sleep and cancer.

Epidemiologists haven’t yet figured out that they should always measure sleep  quality, just as they always measure cigarette smoking and body weight, but at least interest is growing.  Both short and long sleep are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.



More Muscle Strength, Less Cancer

A 2009 study followed about 9000 men for 10-20 years. It found that strength (how much you can bench and leg press) measured at the start of the study was associated with likelihood of dying of cancer during the study. Men in the upper two-thirds of the study population in strength had 40% less cancer mortality. This might be the most surprising result:

Further adjustment for BMI, percent body fat, waist circumference, or cardiorespiratory fitness had little effect on the association. The associations of BMI, percent body fat, or waist circumference with cancer mortality did not persist after further adjusting for muscular strength.

In other words, muscle strength was a better predictor than several similar measures (BMI, etc.) and these other measures stopped predicting when corrected for muscle strength. Muscle strength is closely connected to something important.

Men who are stronger by and large exercise more, no doubt. Yet muscle strength is determined by resistance training, not aerobic exercise — and it is aerobic exercise (and to some extent walking) that have been promoted by countless experts since the 1960s and the invention of the concept aerobic. Jogging reduces how much time you have for resistance training.

These findings interest me because I do a lot of resistance training — stand on one leg to exhaustion several times per day — purely to sleep better. By improving something easy to measure (sleep), these data suggest I have also been improving something hard to measure (chance of dying from cancer). Not surprising, but reassuring.

My data also suggest two different possible reasons for the strength-cancer association. One is that men who exercise more sleep better as a result; better sleep, better immune function, less cancer. Another possibility is that strength is a marker for good sleep. Among men who do equal amounts of exercise, those who sleep better will be stronger.

From The Breviary.

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.

Which Ideas of this Blog are the Most Useful?

“Your writing has dramatically improved my health in a number of ways,” a reader said. I asked for details. He replied:

I’ve tried most of your health interventions. The first was SLD. Overall, I lost about 90 lbs. Roughly half of this was from a more traditional diet of eating whole foods esp. vegetables and exercise. I had plateaued until I discovered SLD and lost the rest. I added flax oil, butter and homemade kefir to my taste free meal over time. The butter helped me lose more weight. At the same calories, the saturated fat was somehow more filling. Initially the butter made me happier but that wore off after a few months. My HDLs and triglyceride levels are better than when I was training for a marathon and not eating this stuff. The flax oil has improved my gum health. I can’t really see a direct result from the kefir. I’m more eating it on faith. I skinned my knees quite badly a while ago. My wife commented on how quickly I healed. So maybe the kefir and other items are helping me heal faster. Continue reading “Which Ideas of this Blog are the Most Useful?”

Carbohydrate Near Bedtime Improves Sleep, Say Two Books

Janet Rosenbaum, a professor of epidemiology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, writes:

Has anyone mentioned the connection between the honey/banana before bedtime and the advice to have an ounce of simple carbohydrate without protein before bedtime? There have been at least two books on this idea: Potatoes, not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons and The Serotonin Power Diet by Judith Wurtman. The first book suggests a small baked potato and bans alcohol and sugar during the day. The second book allows an ounce of any carbs such as pretzels. The proposed mechanism is that eating protein during the day, and carbs before bed without protein increases serotonin production over night, and my own experience is that it improves sleep and creates more vivid dreams.

I cannot easily get the Serotonin book here in Beijing but I found this related to the Potatoes book:

Now that you are having three meals a day at regular intervals, let’s add Mr. Spud to your routine. Have a potato (with its skin) every night three hours after dinner. It will help your body raise your serotonin level and make you feel more confident, competent, creative and optimistic. You can eat your potato baked, mashed, roasted, cut into oven fries or grated into hash browns. Just be sure you eat the skin. And you can top it with anything you like except foods that contain a protein. (Protein eaten along with the potato at bedtime will interfere with your serotonin-making process.) Good toppings are butter, salsa, mustard, spices, or olive oil. Toppings you should NOT use are cheese, sour cream, bacon bits, or cream of chicken soup.

I found when I ate honey with cheese the sleep-improvement effect of the honey was much reduced, in agreement with what is said here about avoiding cheese.

Here’s what happened when one person tried this. I am quoting only the parts about sleep:

[Day 1] I had the infamous potato at the recommended time. That potato really kept me up. I barely slept. What was this about her saying that a potato helps you get a good night’s sleep? But I’m willing to give it some time. I never get a good night’s sleep so it will be nice to see what that’s like again.

[Day 2] This night, I could not sleep at ALL. I was up till around 4 am. How can a little potato keep a person up so much?

[Day 3] I finally had that promised sleep that the author was talking about. WOW. I haven’t ever felt quite like this before.

[Day 4] A blissful night’s sleep.

[Day 9] Those potatoes really work on making one’s sleep much better.

[Day 23] I am not eating potatoes at night most of the time, which is part of the PNP [Potatoes Not Prozac] diet, but not something that you start from the beginning. [Nothing about sleep.]

Maybe she stopped the bedtime potato because she wanted to lose weight faster.

A potato near bedtime will surely increase blood glucose during sleep, supporting the idea that a better supply of blood glucose is what improves sleep.  Presumably it’s important to do this without (a) triggering too much insulin production or (b) increasing brain activity so much you wake up. Whether glycogen, in the liver or elsewhere, has anything to do with this I have no idea. Glycogen is one source of new glucose as the brain burns thru blood glucose but another is not yet digested carbohydrate in what you’ve recently eaten (e.g., potato).


Donald Knuth and Dessert: A Heretic

I claim we eat dessert after dinner — separating high-sugar foods from other foods — so that we are more likely to get sugar near bedtime. We need sugar near bedtime to sleep well, I suspect. Donald Knuth, the computer scientist, seems to disagree:

Donald Knuth came on time [to dinner at a Stanford dorm] and started his dinner with dessert. Only after he finished the cake he proceeded to the salad. He explained that order of courses by not being consistent.

Perhaps he’s been reading Taleb, who stresses the value of randomness. I would have been more impressed had he eaten the cake at the same time as the rest of the meal.

“Bedtime Honey is a Godsend”

A reader writes:

The bedtime honey treatment has been a godsend for me. I had been sleepless for several months when you first wrote about the honey, waking up many times every night and staying awake for long periods. I immediately began trying the honey, and the first night, though I still woke up a few times, I had dreams for the first time in ages. After a couple more nights I was sleeping all night. I usually wake up once a night for one reason or another, but wonderfully, get back to sleep which was impossible for so long before the honey. Sleep deprivation is so miserable, I cannot thank you enough!

In case you haven’t tried it. What did I blog about before? I can’t remember.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Edward Edmonds and Bert Sutherland.

Eggs and Insomnia

It isn’t well known that eggs (large amounts) can cause insomnia nor that caffeine — in special cases — can reduce insomnia. But a reader named BM recently made those discoveries:

Back around July 2012, I was trying to improve my diet but I didn’t want to give up my vegetarianism, so I started to eat a LOT of eggs, usually in the range of 10 to 14 per day. Not long after, I started having awful insomnia. I could lie awake all night just unable to fall asleep. There were suddenly just too many thoughts buzzing through my head keeping me up. I assumed that it was a result of ketosis disturbing sleep. I tried reintroducing carbs, but when that didn’t work I gave up on dietary modifications. I started cycling through OTC sleep aids, but I developed tolerance to anticholinergics very quickly.

By October 2013, I was going crazy. I couldn’t sleep well. It was making me depressed and seriously impairing my academic performance. I was exhausted constantly, but then I noticed something. I slept better when I consumed a lot of caffeine in the morning. I noticed there was a clear dose dependent relationship between how much caffeine I consumed and how well I slept. I had a hunch that the caffeine was depleting my acetylcholine levels, serving a similar function as OTC anticholinergics like diphenhydramine and kava.

I wondered what would happen if I sharply reduced my intake of acetylcholine precursors. A lot of people advertise eggs as “choline packed”, so I cut back to less than 3 per day. Suddenly, I was sleeping much better. Now, it could be something else in the eggs (I’m not really attached to my choline hypothesis), but either way I feel confident blaming them for my sleep troubles. My insomnia returns whenever I start eating them again.

I asked him why he hadn’t realized earlier that eating so many eggs was the problem. He replied:

I just didn’t think there was anything special about the eggs. I googled around for it and the only things I could find were about ketosis induced insomnia, so it didn’t occur to me that eggs specifically were likely to be problematic. I tried consuming enough carbs to knock myself out of ketosis, but when that didn’t improve the situation, I just assumed that something else was going on aside from diet. Eggs seemed like the perfect food. Cheap, nutrient rich, paleo, easy to prepare, and compatible with my (then) vegetarianism. It would have been hard for me to find a suitable replacement, so while the idea of testing it probably occurred to me, performing the test itself wouldn’t be trivial and the results wouldn’t be actionable.

As it got worse, I tried treating it more aggressively with OTC sleep aids, and that worked well enough that I stopped worrying about it. I wasn’t sleeping great, but it was enough to get by. Eventually they stopped working, but not long after that I made the caffeine connection and decided to try removing eggs. It was easier to do at that point because I had given up on paleo and vegetarianism and could just substitute chicken and sprouted lentils, and I had a (probably
incorrect) neurochemical explanation to support it. Moreover, it had become VERY difficult to eat the eggs. My body just didn’t want to consume them and I had to slowly force them down. Something seemed to know it was bad for me, but I wasn’t listening to the signs. My behavior was not at all rational, and believe me after I discovered eggs were the problem I was kicking myself for not trying it sooner.

I asked him what he learned from this, apart from how to sleep better. He replied:

  1. Costly experiments sometimes need to be performed.
  2. Sometimes your values are bad for your health.
  3. Don’t give up just because there’s no evidence to support a hypothesis.
  4. Simple things can easily go unnoticed.

Those are good lessons.

Bedtime Honey and Sleep: Different Kinds and Amounts of Honey

A reader named Sam, an engineer in Irving, Texas, writes:

I am a long time reader of your blog. Based upon your writings, I have taken Vitamin D in the morning and Magnesium Glycinate powder at night for over a year. Both have helped. So I do not have any sleep issues that needed to be addressed. I took the honey only to see if it would make any further difference. I was a bit wary to begin with as I do not usually consume honey. I have had a mild allergy to eating honey until at least several years ago. Even a teaspoon of honey would within an hour give me abdominal cramps that would last for an hour or more. Continue reading “Bedtime Honey and Sleep: Different Kinds and Amounts of Honey”

Interview with Mike McInnes, Author of The Honey Diet

Mike McInnes is a retired Scottish pharmacist and the author of The Honey Diet, published today. This book interests me because it advocates eating honey at bedtime.

Could you summarize the book?

It’s based on two ideas — that modern obesity is driven by two main factors. First, overconsumption of carbohydrates and sugars. Second, poor quality sleep. The medical profession has been saying that the cause of obesity is fat. We’ve known since the 19th century that it is carbohydrates, not fat. Poor quality sleep drives up stress hormones and appetite hormones. Continue reading “Interview with Mike McInnes, Author of The Honey Diet