While many ancient traditions include honey remedies as a sleep aid, only recently has sleep science begun to preach the virtues of the practice.
As Mike McInnes, Scottish pharmacist and researcher, notes, honey aids sleep in three primary ways:
- Assists in release of melatonin, the hormone that helps naturally regulate our sleep cycles
- Ensures liver glycogen stores – which helps prevent an early dose of two important stress hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline, both of which can wake you prematurely
- By stabilizing blood sugar levels.
McInnes refers to the process by which this works as the honey-insulin-melatonin cycle, and notes the following steps:
- Honey’s glucose moves from the gut into the liver and then into general circulation, resulting in a mild glucose bump.
- The resulting blood sugar elevation prompts a controlled insulin release from the pancreas.
- That insulin then drives tryptophan to the brain.
- Once there, the tryptophan is converted into serotonin, putting the body at ease.
- Serotonin is also converted to melatonin by the pineal gland.
- That melatonin helps activate a regulated sleep cycle, by which it also helps regulate insulin release (keeping blood sugar stable) and promotes the release of growth hormone, necessary for physical recovery to our physiology.
- That growth hormone release results in repair and maintenance of body systems, including bone, muscle, and tissue.
- REM sleep, triggered by the melatonin release, helps consolidate memory, thus backing up short-term memory in the long-term memory centers of the brain cortex.
- Simultaneously, the liver converts some of the honey’s glucose into liver glycogen, thus sustaining the brain over the sleep fast.
- Similarly, this sustained glycogen supply keeps the stress hormones – which are frequently responsible for waking us from our sleep – from being released.
As a result, honey makes a fantastic sleep aid – and is regularly recommended as an additive to any nighttime beverage, including tea, hot milk, or even hot water.
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