I had the best sleep ever last night, thanks to this spoonful of golden medicine!

There is an ancient Chinese saying that calls for “eating honey every night.” European folk healers have recommended drinking a cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of honey before bedtime since the Middle Ages. Traditional Mexican healers have long prescribed a teaspoon of honey with chamomile. And yet… nowadays you constantly hear the warning to stop eating after 7pm. How did we adopt such an opposite practice?

It turns out that raw organic honey is a true miracle food to eat directly before you go to sleep. You may be afraid that the sugar content will cause weight gain, but the shocking reality is that it does the opposite: it helps your body burn fat and allows your liver to process toxins effectively. Sounds crazy, I know – but keep reading!

When we go to bed at night we have the chance to activate 1 of 2 types of physiology: recovery or stress.

Our liver is what works so hard to repair our bodies while we rest, so which one you experience boils down to whether or not your liver has enough fuel to do the reparation in the first place. This fuel is called glycogen.

The average adult liver can only store about 75 grams of glycogen at a time, and your body rapidly consumes it at the rate of 10 grams of glycogen per hour. This is not a problem if you’re eating regularly throughout the day (and should highlight the importance of not skipping meals to avoid highs and lows!)

However, this also means that if you ate your last meal at 6pm, your liver glycogen levels will be close to depleted by the time your head hits the pillow at 11pm. If you go to bed with a hungry (depleted) liver, the brain thinks it’s starving, and is forced to activate adrenal stress hormones which degrade muscle mass to create new glucose.

You see, although our brain makes up only 2% of our entire body mass, it’s the most energy demanding organ, burning up to 20 times the fuel of any other cell in the body. Imagine the type of energy it’s using at night to catalogue our memories and work through our emotions via dreams.

Stress Hormones = Weight Gain

When a depleted liver triggers the brain to release stress hormones (like adrenaline and cortisol), several things can happen:

– You can experience anxiety throughout the night that prevents you from getting quality sleep – I personally believe this low blood sugar swing/stress hormone release is related to nightmares!
– You may wake up and not be able to get back to sleep because your adrenals are in overdrive.

Worst of all, you’re more likely to store fat and gain weight thanks to the elevated cortisol levels which take you far away from recovery and right into stress mode. Slow wave sleep is the key time for both fat metabolism and cell regeneration, so missing this window day after day takes a huge toll on us.

The Honey Revolution

In the book “The Honey Revolution: Restoring the Health of Future Generations,” Dr. Ron Fesseden, MD explains that raw honey contains “an ideal ratio of fructose to glucose” to support the liver, which as I explained is working so hard during our sleep cycle. If we selectively re-supply the liver with honey prior to bed, we activate the recovery hormones such as melatonin that are exclusively fat burning.

How?! Well, let’s look at the Honey/Insulin/Melatonin Cycle (HYMN) thanks to Nathaniel Altman, author of The Honey Prescription.

  1. The glucose portion of the honey passes from the gut, through the liver and into the general circulation producing a mild glucose spike.
  2. The mild elevation in blood sugar (from glucose) prompts a controlled release of insulin from the pancreas.
  3. The presence of insulin in the general circulation drives tryptophan into the brain.
  4. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin, a key hormone that promotes relaxation.
  5. In darkness, serotonin is converted to melatonin in the pineal gland.
  6. Melatonin activates sleep by reducing body temperature and other mechanisms. It also inhibits the release of more insulin from the pancreas, thus preventing a rapid drop in blood sugar level.
  7. Melatonin promotes the release of growth hormone. Growth hormone is the hormone governing all of recovery physiology. This is the key first step in the recovery or restorative physiology that occurs overnight (with proper fuel).
  8. A cascade of recovery hormones initiates the repair, maintenance and rebuilding of bone, muscle and other body tissues.
  9. At the same time, the fructose portion of the honey carries out its critical role. The liver takes up fructose where some is converted to glucose and then liver glycogen, thus providing the brain with a sustained supply of glucose for the night fast.
  10. Additionally, fructose regulates glucose uptake into the liver by prompting release of glucokinase from the hepatocyte nuclei. Thus, fructose ensures good liver glycogen supply overnight and prevents a major glucose/insulin spike as referred to in step 1.
  11. An adequate liver glycogen supply means that stress hormones need not be released. Recovery takes place, and the body is calm and happy!

We cannot optimize body fat metabolism or recovery processes overnight when we go to bed with a depleted liver. A depleted liver activate stress hormones which inhibit glucose metabolism, inhibit fat metabolism, and cause the body to gain weight. This can be easily prevented by eating honey prior to bedtime as it provides adequate fuel for the liver during the night fast. Honey intelligently restocks the liver selectively without digestive burden and forms a stable supply of liver glycogen which our brain demands for the 8 hrs of night fast – when we sleep. Honey also contributes to the release of melatonin, which is the hormone required for both the recovery and rebuilding of body tissues during rest. Melatonin is highly anti-cancer and absolutely necessary for healthy cells! It’s wise that we go back to our grandparent’s routine of a late night snack before bed. Although honey is best due to the fructose/glucose ratio, you can have another light snack such as fruit to fuel your liver.

Update from 2018:

I wanted to come back and add a little update here in 2018 about adrenal fatigue. I’m currently attending herbalism school, and my teachers often mention the importance of having a small snack before bed for those who are suffering with adrenal symptoms (such as chronic fatigue, low immunity, and the inability to get going in the morning). Since I mentioned depleted glycogen in the liver triggering stress hormone release (which comes directly from the adrenals and is involved in the viscous cycle of HPA axis dysregulation), I thought this was an important supporting note to mention. If you are someone who has issues with adrenals or low/high cortisol, try this honey before bed trick and let me know how it goes. You can also have a teaspoon of honey with a pinch of salt to calm the stress response if you wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety/nightmares and can’t go back to sleep.

– Nathaniel Altman, The Honey Prescription
– Dr. Ron Fesseden, The Honey Revolution

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