HONEY AND WELLNESS
HONEY: KEY TO A RESTFUL NIGHT'S SLEEP?
In the United States alone more than 40 million people are chronically ill with various sleep disorders, and an additional 20 to 30 million experience intermittent sleep-related problems.
The U.S. National Commission on Sleep Disorders reports that the consequences of sleep disorders are diverse, serious, and even catastrophic. While there are no well-established databases on the cost of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation, the commission was able to assign 15.9 billion dollars as the direct cost of sleep disorders and sleep deprivation each year. They also estimated that there were 50 to 100 billion dollars in indirect and related costs when individual accidents associated with sleep disorders and sleep deprivation are assessed and taken into account, including litigation, destruction of property, hospitalization, and death. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, memory problems and other cognitive dysfunction, depression, and neurodegenerative disorders.
At the present time, millions of Americans are taking both prescribed and over-the-counter medications to promote sleep. In addition to the high expense, there are dangers of dependency and adverse drug reactions, especially if these drugs interact with other medications. The untimely death of actor Heath Ledger in January 2008 was determined to have been due to an accidental overdose of prescribed painkillers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, and other prescription drugs.
HONEY AND SLEEP
Honey has been used as a popular remedy to induce sleep for thousands of years. An ancient Chinese saying calls for “eating honey every night,” and European folk healers have recommended drinking a cup of warm milk with a teaspoon of honey before bedtime since the Middle Ages.
Another old-fashioned remedy is to take two teaspoons of cider vinegar with two teaspoons of honey in a glass of warm water before bedtime, while traditional Mexican healers have long prescribed a teaspoon of raw honey in a cup of warm té de manzanilla, or chamomile tea. Variations that are said to induce sleep include a teaspoon of honey in a cup of hot water, a teaspoon of honey in a cup of passionflower tea, or simply a smear of honey on a peanut butter sandwich before bedtime.
HONEY, SLEEP, AND THE HYMN CYCLE
Scottish pharmacist, researcher, and author Mike McInnis believes that honey improves, facilitates, and lengthens restorative sleep by at least three mechanisms. When taken before bedtime, he teaches that honey
• ensures adequate liver glycogen stores for eight hours of sleep (this prevents or limits the early morning release of two stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline),
• stabilizes blood sugar levels, and
• contributes to the release of melatonin, the hormone required for both the recovery and rebuilding of body tissues during rest.
The mechanism for this process can be described by what McInnes calls the Honey-Insulin-Melatonin Cycle, or HYMN Cycle. In a presentation at the First International Symposium on Honey and Human Health on January 8, 2008, McInnes described this cycle, which begins with the ingestion of one to two tablespoons of honey in the hour prior to bedtime, as follows:
1. The glucose moiety [portion] of honey passes from the gut, through the liver circulation 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 recovery or restorative physiology that occurs overnight.
8. A cascade of recovery hormones initiates the repair, maintenance, and rebuilding of bone, muscle, and other body tissues.
9. Melatonin impacts memory consolidation by its requirement for the formation of neural cell adhesion molecules during REM sleep. These molecules are necessary for the processing of short-term memory from the hippocampus into long-term memory in the brain cortex.
10. Concurrent with the above, the fructose moiety of honey carries out its critical role. The liver takes up fructose where some is converted to glucose and then to liver glycogen, thus providing the brain with a sustained supply of glucose for the night fast.
11. 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 #1 above.
12. An adequate liver glycogen supply means that stress hormones need not be released.
The possibility that honey can be used as a safe, inexpensive, and effective sleep aid is exciting. Further research is needed in this important field with carefully controlled and randomized human trials.
HONEY REMEDIES FOR INSOMNIA
1. Add one teaspoon of honey to one cup of warm chamomile, orange blossom, lemon balm, or linden flower tea. Drink before bedtime.
2. Add one teaspoon of honey to one cup of warm milk. Drink before bedtime.
3. Prepare one-half glass of orange juice diluted with an equal amount of lukewarm water. Add two teaspoons of honey, and drink just before bedtime.
4. Add one teaspoon of honey to a cup of warm peppermint tea. A clove can be added if desired.
5. Combine two ounces (55 grams) of honey with five drops of lavender oil. Add one or two tablespoons of this mixture to a warm tub of water and enjoy a relaxing soak for ten to fifteen minutes.