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Honey is one of the most well-known household sweeteners and natural remedies. It’s often stirred into herbal tea, whisked into desserts, and even spread onto bread. But does it actually help you sleep at night? Here's what the science says.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, then released into the bloodstream. Quantities naturally increase as the sun goes down and decrease during daytime hours and exposure to bright light, thus regulating the sleep cycle (aka circadian rhythm).
Certain researchers suspect (1) that raw honey may promote melatonin formation because of its possible tryptophan content; however, this has not been proven (there’s a clinical study scheduled for March 2022 with the goal of examining precisely this.)
Tryptophan is an amino acid that plays an important role in the production of serotonin (the “happy hormone” that helps stabilize our mood) as well as melatonin.
Select studies have examined the impact that combining warm milk with a spoonful of honey has on restful sleep, with promising results to show for it.
In a clinical trial of 68 patients, (2) the study group received a milk-honey mixture twice a day for three days while the control group did not. Results showed a significant difference in sleep scores between the two groups; however, it’s important to note that this study was conducted on hospitalized patients with acute coronary syndrome. There have yet to be published human clinical trials on the efficacy of warm milk and honey for healthy adults.
It’s widely recommended to steer clear of sugary foods with a high glycemic index, which will spike your blood sugar levels and not be the most conducive to a good night’s sleep.
While honey is indeed a sweetener that, like all carbohydrates in the form of glucose and fructose, raises your blood sugar, it has a slightly lower glycemic index than refined sweeteners such as granulated white sugar (58 GI score compared to 60) (3) and, as found in this review, (4) may help keep blood glucose levels down for patients with diabetes—a sign that it won’t cause the same “sugar high” and dramatic drop that can compromise sleep quality.
Also worth noting, when comparing honey to other sweeteners, is that it contains select vitamins and nutrients such as potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, vitamin C, and some B vitamins. These aren’t directly correlated to better sleep, but they can’t hurt.
The problem with compiling evidence behind honey as a natural sleep aid for adults with trouble sleeping is that most of the research has actually been conducted on children with upper respiratory tract infections (URIs). (5) For example, one study found that consuming 10 grams of honey (1.42 teaspoons) 30 minutes before bedtime may support better sleep in children with URIs. However, we cannot extrapolate that data and assume the same for adults.
It may be the case that the health benefits of honey with regards to sleep are stronger than we know. But at the moment, the scientific evidence is sparse, especially for healthy adults. But here’s the thing: it can’t hurt. So go ahead and brew yourself a cup of chamomile tea with a touch of raw honey. For us, there’s no better way to calm down and relax at the end of a long day.
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