An Amazing “Back to Sleep” Hack

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Often when I’m reading a book I’ll think “I should be taking notes”, but then I don’t and keep reading. When the book is over, a few core ideas with stick with me. And some get forgotten. There was a gem of an idea in the book Eat For Heat by Matt Stone that I forgot the first time I read the book. I’m so glad I went back to that book to look something up. Because this idea is working wonders for me.

Eat for Heat: The Metabolic Approach to Food and Drink
Eat for Heat: The Metabolic Approach to Food and Drink by Matt Stone

For many years I often would wake up too early and have trouble returning to sleep. Several years ago it happened daily. Then I cut back my coffee consumption and that helped. Then I cut back my evening water consumption and that helped a lot. Although my sleep was much better, it wasn’t perfect. A few times a week I’d still wake early and not be able to return to sleep.

The feeling of both being tired and a rise in adrenaline would be a battle in my body. Usually the adrenaline won and I’d get up despite wishing I could sleep a few more hours. In the book Eat for Heat, Matt describes a sugar and salt mixture used stop the stress hormones.

  • 5 parts sugar
  • 1 part salt
  • mix it up

From the book:

The salt and sugar mixture is an absolute must for nighttime stress events.   For wakeups between 2-4 am, accompanied by a feeling of excess adrenaline circulating through your system (adrenaline peaks at this time), salt and sugar under the tongue is the only way to go…Keep the sugar/ salt mixture by the bedside for easy and thoughtless access until you stop having middle-of-the-night wakeups.

It works. I’ve been using this trick for a few weeks. Sleep is now winning the battle with the early morning stress hormones. My success rate is about 80%. This is a huge win.

You don’t need to just use this hack if you wake too early. It could work whenever you feel the stress hormones rising. I could see this being an excellent strategy for those that eat emotionally to reduce stress or even as a tool to help get to sleep.

49 thoughts on “An Amazing “Back to Sleep” Hack

  1. Dave Bishop

    First time posting here – what a fantastic site. If you were using one of the IF protocols would this break your fast? I know if carbs are kept low it might not count but unsure how much sugar to mix to minimise insulin release.

  2. Dan

    How much do you use each time?
    Do you make it a liquid or do you use the sugar/salt mixture dry?
    Under the tongue, for how long?

  3. Dan

    Do you think this approach may be along the same lines as taking a tablespoon of honey right before bed? People are reporting better overall sleep. Has to do with the brain needing the sugars overnight. Seth Roberts blog has a bunch of posts about it the last six months or so. Salt wasn’t mentioned however.

  4. @Dave Thanks. If I wake up early or have a poor sleep, I don’t engage in IF that day. Stressor on stressor isn’t a wise idea.

    @Dan I am using sounds or two, dry under tongue, allow for dissolve, sip of water.

    Yes, honey makes sense too.

  5. Txomin

    Off topic. Since you spoke about problems playing games on your cell, I wonder, are you still reading paper or have you moved on to ebooks? I resisted tablets as much as I resisted cell phones years back. But I’ve done it and am (again) surprisingly delighted. Away from the latest fad models, the technology is very, very cheap.

  6. @Txomin – Most books I read are still paper. Seattle has an amazing library, so I take advantage of it. I also listen to audio books. I did read Matt Stone’s books on a laptop. Someday I’ll get a tablet.

  7. Kathy

    A few blogs back you mentioned (I think) you would be trying out potato starch for its effectiveness — isn’t it also supposed to help with sleep? (I have not tried it yet as I am awaiting your results!)

  8. @Kathy – I have been inconsistent on the potato starch. I started questioning how I would measure its effectiveness and I couldn’t answer the question. I don’t measure blood sugar and I stopping scoring my sleep quality. When I did use a few Tablespoons of PS, I got wild dreams. Right now I have scaled back to a about a teaspoon a day. I’ve decided to be more on the sidelines for this until I figure out how I would score such an experiment.

  9. newtopaleo

    Sounds like Peat. Salt and sugar are the cornerstones of his plan. Salted OJ is what he recommends for reducing stress hormones.
    http://www.functionalps.com/blog/2011/09/12/master-list-ray-peat-phd-interviews/

    Theres multiple interviews on sugar and salt and stress. I have read through some of your blog. Do you still take the 5HTP? That seems to be in the direction of serotonin and serotonin is a stressor according to Peat. He recommends a low tryptophan diet to keep serotonin in check and hence the gelatin recommendation at night.

  10. @newtopaleo – Yes, Matt Stone is very much influenced by Ray Peat.

    I stopped taking 5-HTP. Felt good at first, but then it was disruptive to my sleep quality.

  11. I’ve tried this two nights in a row but without a positive result. I’ll keep trying. But exactly how much sugar are we talking about – two pinches or so?

    Glenn

  12. Gman

    Glenn—trying eating pumpkin seeds….this is what Dr. Oz recomends….I am experimenting with it…
    I slept good last night but this is the first night I have tried it…

  13. Gman

    Probably not….it is probably meant to be eaten before you go to bed….
    I have had the problem of waking up at around 3:30 for years…I am trying to
    cure that….alot of it is my body is trying to tell me I need to get up and take a leak….

  14. @Glenn – This hack may depend upon how you feel when you rise early. For me I feel like my head is tired, but my pulse and adrenals are rising. Almost like someone slightly drifted their car into your lane. Nothing shocking, but you feel more on alert.

    I have used both 1 and 2 pinches. It doesn’t work everytime, but it works better than ANYTHING I’ve ever tried before. For me this is a godsend already.

  15. Marcelo

    I will speak of my personal experience, relating to sleep problems, and how i stopped it.
    I always had the skinny fat look, because i was always bulking/cutting, 6 meals a day, etc.

    Then, i discovered IF and Paleo. Started it cold turkey, eating 2 meals a day (lunch and dinner), almost zero carb (only vegetables). Felt great, body fat decreased at a quick speed, first time in my life i saw a 4 pack in my abs.

    But then, it happened. I did exercises at evening, felt tired, and, when i was going to sleep, i had a “adrenaline surge” (heart racing, pounding, hot chest, sweating, clenched jaw) that i battled with until 4, 5 pm, when i felt totally crap, fatigued, and finally slept, waking up early morning to go to work.

    It was about 2 weeks until i discovered the cause. Stress hormones were a river on my body! I was living on cortisol and adrenaline, because this i could be very active during the day, even with 3 hours of sleep a day! But i was felling crap at night. Then i searched the web to solve this problem, i saw that people often with “high metabolism”, easy stressed, should not be on a regimen that stresses they body: IF + next to zero carb + heavy exercises everyday. Of course!

    What i did, to experiment (saw on paleo hacks forum): continued with paleo, but, every night, an hour before bed, ate 5 tablespoons of honey, straight of the spoon. WORKED LIKE A MAGIC!!! Slept well first time in almost 3 weeks sleep deprived! It’s like i were a boy that gained a candy!!!

    But, until then, i abandoned the restrictive paleo (i eat raw meat and eggs) and elevated my carbs consumption (my only carbs despite vegetables, are ice cream and orange juice) and never felt better. Its a case of adjusting calorie intake to be lean and not suffer from cortisol and adrenal issues. You dont have fry your adrenal system to be lean, but you dont need to live on 6 meals a day and be fat too.

    Now, after those experiences, i am lean with everyday IF and 3 meals a day: raw groundbeef + 6 raw eggs + kale/broccoli (lunch and dinner, with a good salt amount) and, in between, a shake of (in the blender): 2 oranges juiced + 2 lemons + 3 tablespoons of honey + kale + spinach + 2 big slices of pineapple. After training, ice cream. Simple and effective. Lost fat and built muscle with this, training bodyweight (chins + elevated diamond pushups) every day (monday to friday) + 2 hill sprints sessions a week. Weekends = pure rest, walking with dog, daughter, playing acrobatic moves, etc.

  16. @Marcelo – Wow! Outstanding tip. I haven’t tried the honey hack, but after reading your post I plan to go to the store today and buy some. Thank you for the comment.

  17. Gman

    Marcelo: I am using honey right now because I read where it would help coughing spells and I am just getting over a cold. But I have just been using 1 table spoon, whenever I get an attack. Hard to tell how it is working cause the spells seem to last about 20 minutes no matter what….
    But I have also read about the effects of taking local honey to ward off colds and allergies….
    so I think I will start doing your 5 table spoons…and try to kill 2 birds with one stone…
    I also like your diet and exercise routine….I really think all you need is sprints, pushups and pullups…

  18. Marcelo

    @ Mas: Glad to see that i could help you a little, because i learned a ton from your site (HIT, salt, muscle size, etc.)

    @ Gman: yes, it worked very well, but with 5 tablespoons of honey, you do nedd watch out your overall carb intake. With My shake, it fits in 100-120 grams. What was happening when i got paleo was exercising too much, too heavy, too frequently, forcing my kidneys to make glucose to supply the zero carb i was going back then. The 5tbs of honey were like a “thanks God, we have some carbs here to stop making adrenaline and cortisol to survive” to my adrenals. Yes, pretty scary now, i know LOL!

    Ps.: forgot to say, weekends i ate more junk food (mother’s house, my wife mother’s house, cinema, etc.). All i need is minimum 100-120g carbs a day, wihtou that, no deal, stress kicks in.

  19. gman

    There is alot of info out there on the web on sleep and honey…wonder how magical 5 tablespoons is?

  20. 320 calories right before sleeping? How ancestral is that?

    Also, I assume one should brush ones teeth after ingesting the honey, no?

    And if this is about boosting one’s carb quotient before bed, why not have a yummy “paleo” type dessert like a semi normal person?

  21. @Glenn – The 300 calories of honey is a non-ancestral solution to a non-ancestral problem. If we were living an ancestral life we wouldn’t be staring at screens or exposed to light other than campfires after dark.

    I believe the problem with a paleo type snack is it doesn’t address the hormonal problem which is causing the poor sleep. Sugar + salt is the combo that lowers stress hormones.

    As for the teeth, I don’t see a problem with brushing afterwards, since this hack is suppose to deepen and extend sleep throughout the night. It shouldn’t have a drug effect.

  22. Marcelo

    @ Glenn: i never told that 5 tbsp is “ancestral”. But if it fixed my low carb issues and sleep problems, stopping my adrenaline surges, i will go for it. And honey is not a medicine, it’s natural. Period.

    DO YOU EVEN PAID ATTENTION to the fact that i was doing zero/low carb? Yes, the honey did the job, but i think it could be done with bananas, sweet potatoes, ice cream, along i was giving close to 100g of carbs to my body a day. 5 tbsp of honey a day = no stress hormones bothering me. No clenched jaws, no hot sweats spurts, no frying adrenals, no mood swings, no waking up/batting sleep in the middle of the night, just plain and simple life, as it needs to be.

    WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: if you are having trouble with sleep, chances are that 80% could be stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) where it need to be HGH, testosterone, etc. I bet you never saw a naturally ripped man or woman (teenager, old, middle age, wherever) overstressed. Stress on the body shut down your muscle gains, fat loss, rejuvenating cells (HGH), etc.

  23. Gman

    With me, there are alot of variables that I need to isolate….

    1)I often wake up about 3-3:30 cause I need pee, plan and simple but I just try and ignore
    it cause the urge is not super strong but strong enough to wake me up….

    2) I’ve now tried melatonin in various forms, valerian root, pumpkin seeds, and honey….
    they all may work just fine but if I need to pee, that over rides everything….or so it appears.

    3) Do I drink an abundance of liquids at night? Maybe or foods that contain alot of liquids….I guess limiting liquids needs to be my 1st experiment…

  24. I’m nearly 50, so my prostate and bladder aren’t what they used to be. That often means needing to get up in the middle of the night, usually only once.

    But taking saw palmetto (various formulae) definitely reduces the urge to pee in the middle of the night.

    Only problem is that it’s yet another supplement to take and the good stuff isn’t cheap….

  25. Gman

    Yea, I am 61 and know what you mean…I think I am going to try and
    concentrate on the MAS method of trying to limit my night time
    fluids as much as possible and see what that does…

  26. Marcelo

    Mas, yes, i’m a tall “hardgainer”, more prone to “skinny-fatness” (fake lean): lean face, arms and calves (really veinny arms and calves), thin giraffe-long neck, soft chest, soft belly with love handles and lower back fat, middle soft thighs.
    I never had problem with the skinny fat dilemma “big waist-narrow shoulders”, because i alway had a big clavicle, giving me a wide back and ilusion of wide shoulders. I guess because i’m tall (193cm). In college, i saw a friend that had the “classic” skinny fat look, it was really weird, looking like a woman (wide hips and legs, small narrow chest and clavicle).

    It’s amazing when you do “cure” the skinny-fat look, how your chest magically appears and, at the same weight (or less) you appear way more muscular (without clothes, with clothes, more a normal person).

    Analizing my childhood, i can see that i ate too much cookies, pasta, bread, margarine, milk and so little protein, that was without doubt what caused my teen skinny fat look. Too much processed carbs and almost no “man” protein (always not wanting to eat meat, eggs, etc.).

    About coffee: when i was having an experiment of 1 meal a day, i was drinking just water until dinner. Then started to drink coffee until dinner and, man!, no sleep to me. Clenched jaw, adrenaline and cortisol bothering me. BUT, what i discovered: along i had carbs AT LEAST at lunch time, the coffee didnt bothered me! Carbs are key for me to almost anything i’m doing nutrition-wise.

    My coffe consumption varies, but when i drink, its 50% coffee and 50% full fat milk (dont know if on your country you do it). Its a brazilian staple on breakfast and evening snack.

  27. @Marcelo – That was very helpful. I have issues with coffee myself. I love the taste of black coffee though, but I know adding cream would be helpful.

  28. Great discussion and I’ve shared many of these experiences. Its good to see some interesting hacks being suggested. I don’t think waking up at night in and of itself is a bad thing – it is commonly observed in HG societies and was a well recognised phenomena prior to the development of electric lighting.

    However, if you are not awakening refreshed of are doing the clenched teeth thing you’ve got an issue to address. For me I :

    1. Have cut back to one coffee a day and avoid coffee after midday.
    2. Limit black tea to a couple of cups a day and none after 1800hrs.
    3. Head to bed shortly after 2100hrs and either read under a bedside lamp for 30-60 mins thus avoiding blue and bright lights (phones, tablet, PC & TV), or,
    4. Listen to a podcast (in the dark), or,
    5. Meditate.

    In addition, I avoid fluids after 2000hrs, open the windows to keep things cool, and, make sure I expose myself to bright light early on in the day snd get out at midday.

    Gonna try the sugar & salt hack though. I’m curious about it. AFAIK chocolate contains significant salt, so might be an alternative option.

    Cheers, A.

  29. bigtex

    So far I am really impressed with a tablespoon or so of honey…gives me weird dreams…but hey…its like going to the
    movies for free…

  30. bigtex

    Here’s another thing…the nights where I do a few sprints after I get off work at 5…I appear to sleep really good…

  31. @Lynne – No opinion. Learning good sleep hygiene and how to destress is likely far more important that what you eat prior to bedtime.

  32. ing

    I usually wake up around 2-4 am and it takes few hours to get back to sleep. I have discovered that raisins before bed help with this greatly. Lemon juice and apple cider vinegar and helpful too.

    I have tried the honey with no success. Since salt water during the day combined with adequate hydration (before 5pm) also helps my sleep greatly Im interested in the sugar/salt hack.( I suspect blood sugar and adrenals are involved because I also have issues with hypoglycemia).

    Exactly how much is a pinch of salt and sugar? 1/8th tsp? 1/16th? how much of each? Do you mix this in water and then drink during the night?

  33. @ing – A pinch is between 1/8 and 1/16 of a teaspoon. I place the pinch under the tongue, let is dissolve for a second or two and then have a sip of water. Both the water and the salt/sugar mix are already by the bed.

  34. ing

    to clarify…you mix five parts sugar to one part salt and then take “pinch” of this mixture during the night? Sorry for the confusion..

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  36. MikeTO

    Try moving your cell phone to another room or better yet try turning it off when you try to sleep. It also wouldn’t turn to turn off the wifi on your router if still have problems sleeping. Cordless phone can also cause issues that’s why I use corded phone. I have tired everything, once I quit drinking coffee and turn off the wifi on my router I no longer have sleeping problems.

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