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Drinks That Help You Sleep Better

Written by Tuck Staff

When sleep doesn’t come easily, there are many things you can try to help you get the rest you need. Although some people turn to sleep aids, including over-the-counter supplements and prescription drugs, it’s possible that simply having a sleep drink before bed can ease your woes.

We’re not talking about alcoholic drinks, though. A cup of tea or warm milk or a glass of tart cherry juice may be just what you need to spur sleep. Research indicates that these drinks contain natural ingredients that can help you relax, reduce anxiety, and spur production of natural brain chemicals that support healthy sleep. They may not work for everyone, but when you can’t sleep, it’s worth trying one of these drinks to help you fall — and stay — asleep.

How Drinks Help You Sleep

Dehydration can affect you while you sleep just as much as it can during the day. Instead of feeling sluggish and irritable, though, dehydration at night can cause snoring, leg cramps, and other sleep disruptions that prevent you from getting enough rest. Although drinking plenty of water throughout the day will prevent bedtime dehydration, other drinks can do double duty, providing much needed fluids and helping you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.

Enjoying a cup of tea or warm milk before bed can help put you in the right frame of mind to fall asleep. However, the ingredients in certain drinks support sleep as well, and drinking can actually affect your body much faster than eating food. That’s because when you ingest liquids, your digestive system absorbs the nutrients rather than digests them. The liquids all go to the same place, but most drinks are primarily water, the molecules are absorbed more quickly by the small intestine. The amino acids, antioxidants, and other chemicals in the liquids you drink (including ethanol, or alcohol) are also absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly.

All this means is that enjoying a drink with ingredients known to support sleep is effective because it affects your body more quickly, especially if it’s been several hours since you last had a meal. The effect also seems to increase the older you get as well, with elderly people generally more susceptible to the effects of certain drinks, in particular warm milk and tart cherry juice. The question, then is why some drinks are better than others when it comes to helping you sleep.

Why Some Teas Can Help You Sleep

Although caffeinated teas, including black, white, and green tea, can disrupt your sleep, certain herbal teas may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. Teas marketed as relaxation or “sleepytime” teas are made with specific herbs that are used to support sleep and reduce anxiety, such as valerian root, chamomile, and lavender. These herbs do not contain caffeine, and are often used in sleep supplements as well as tea. The difference, of course, is that settling in with a hot cup of tea before bed can be relaxing in and of itself, especially when it’s part of your nighttime routine.

Research indicates that teas containing certain ingredients can support sleep, without the side effects that can come from using other sleep aids. Among the most effective include:

  • Chamomile, for reducing anxiety and stress via a natural sedative effect.
  • Valerian, a strong natural sedative that helps reduce symptoms of insomnia as well as melatonin.
  • Decaffeinated green tea, which includes the amino acid theanine, which can help improve sleep efficiency.
  • Lavender, which promotes relaxation via reduced stress and anxiety, which can keep you awake at night.
  • Lemon balm, which can help reduce stress, especially when combined with valerian. Lemon balm may help stimulate GABA receptors in the brain, which helps you fall asleep.
  • Passionflower, which can improve sleep in the short term by reducing anxiety and obsessive thoughts.

Because tea is available in a variety of flavors, and offer different benefits, try several different teas to determine which one works best for you. And again, the simple ritual of making and drinking a cup of tea 15-20 minutes before bed can be beneficial to your sleep as well, by giving you a chance to relax and unwind.

Why Milk Might Help You Sleep

Chances are you have tried a warm glass of warm milk to help you get to sleep. As it turns out, warm milk as a sleep drink isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body produce serotonin, a hormone that allows you to sleep more deeply. Serotonin, in turn, helps increase the production of melatonin, an antioxidant that controls the sleep-wake cycle.

If you think you have heard of tryptophan before, you probably have. Most people blame tryptophan for their uncontrollable need to nap after Thanksgiving dinner, even though that’s usually due to overeating, as turkey only contains trace amounts of the substance. It is, however, found in milk. In addition, milk also contains calcium, which also helps support sleep. This connection between warm milk and sleep is supported by multiple studies. It’s especially effective in elderly people, who often have positive memories of being given warm milk to help them sleep as children, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food, and drinking melatonin-rich milk before bed, especially when combined with physical activity during the day, can help you fall asleep faster and and reduce night time wakening.

Like drinking tea, drinking warm milk before bed can be a part of your bedtime routine, helping you get into the right state of mind for sleeping. And although cow’s milk is most commonly associated with promoting sleep, if you are allergic or lactose-intolerant, the side effects could have the opposite effect. Researchers have found, though, that drinking lactose-free milk, almond milk, or malted milk products like Ovaltine can help achieve similar results.

How Some Fruit Juices Can Promote Sleep

If the idea of drinking warm milk isn’t appealing, then this might be welcome news: certain fruit juices can also help you sleep.

In 2016, a small study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food revealed that drinking 16 ounces of tart cherry juice each day helped reduce insomnia in elderly people who were otherwise healthy. These results were replicated by other studies, and researchers determined that tart cherry juice is just as effective as taking valerian and melatonin in helping people fall asleep and sleep longer, although it doesn’t have any effect on the quality of sleep. This is likely related to the fact that cherries contain significant levels of melatonin themselves.

It’s not just the melatonin in cherries that can help you sleep, though. Although unlike milk, cherries don’t contain tryptophan, the compounds in the fruit help prevent the breakdown of the amino acid, allowing it to do its job — creating melatonin — more effectively. Cherries also contain high levels of antioxidants, with antiinflammatory properties that can help support better sleep. Finally, cherries also help regulate kynurenine levels in the body, which can help prevent sleeplessness.

Although tart cherry juice may be a tasty way to support sleep, there are some caveats. For starters, an eight-ounce glass of juice can contain upwards of 25g of sugar, which can contribute to weight gain and have a negative impact on blood sugar. Also, only certain types of cherry juice have been evaluated, and tart varieties (such as Richmond or Montmorency) are effective. Sweeter cherry varieties, such as Bing cherries, do not have the same benefits. Jarred maraschino or cocktail cherries are also not effective at inducing sleep.

Tart cherry juice might be the most well known juice drink for supporting sleep, but there is increasing evidence that other varieties of juice can also help, in some cases without the excess sugar. Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach and kale, also support the production of melatonin, for instance, and bananas contain tryptophan and potassium to help you stay asleep. A green smoothie using these ingredients before bed may be able to help you sleep while also giving you a boost of nutrients.

Alcohol is a sedative, which is why many people turn to it when they have trouble sleeping. When it comes to supporting healthy sleep, though, alcohol is probably the least helpful beverage after caffeinated coffee or soda.

Alcohol can reduce the amount of time that it takes for you to fall asleep, at least at first. However, research shows that it only takes as few as two nights for the sedative effect to decrease, meaning that you need to drink more alcohol in order to achieve the same results. And the sleep that you do get after drinking is not good quality sleep. Research indicates that drinking can contribute to snoring and sleep apnea, cause night sweats, lead to vivid dreams and cause you to wake up more often during the night to use the bathroom. That all assumes, of course, that you can actually fall asleep. Despite the sedative effect of alcohol, it can actually worsen insomnia and make it harder to fall asleep.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t enjoy a glass of wine with dinner or a cocktail with friends after work if you want a good night’s sleep? Not necessarily. Although several factors influence how fast your body can metabolize alcohol, including your sex and weight, as a general rule of thumb it takes about an hour for your body to process a single drink. Therefore, a single glass of wine with your meal is unlikely to disrupt your sleep. However, if you have several drinks, it’s best to stop drinking 2-3 hours before you head to bed to avoid having your sleep disrupted.

Some drinks, including teas made from herbal ingredients known to support sleep, warm milk, and tart cherry juice, can potentially help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep. One type of  drink you should avoid, or at least limit, when you’re trying to sleep is alcohol, as well as anything with caffeine.

If you want to try some drinks that help you sleep, keep these tips in mind:

  • Choose herbal teas with ingredients such as chamomile, valerian, and lavender. If you opt for green tea, opt for decaf.
  • Try to drink tea or warm milk about 20-30 minutes before bed. Get comfortable, and focus on the drink and winding down to achieve the maximum benefit.
  • Avoid drinking too much water before bed, as it will only cause you to awaken needing to use the bathroom. Stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • If you drink alcohol, wait several hours before going to bed to allow the alcohol to metabolize.
  • Combine a sleep-inducing drink with other bedtime rituals, such as gentle stretching or a warm bath, to prepare yourself for sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine 3-4 hours before bed.
  • Try to exercise or have some physical activity every day.

Additional Resources

For more information on mental health and sleep and tools to help promote better sleep, check out these resources.

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