Much in the same way as what we eat can either help or hinder sleep, what we drink can also play a direct role in determining the quality of our slumber. Unlike food however, there are a number of commonly-held misconceptions about the effects that certain drinks have on the way we sleep – along with a number of hidden gems that might have the power to send us into the land of nod.
Lots of drinks have sleep-promoting properties. Cherry juice was identified in a recent scientific study to be one of the most effective of these drinks, as it aids production of the sleep-hormone melatonin. Herbal teas have long been used as bedtime drinks, and there are some that are particularly fast-acting. Valerian tea, which uses the root of the valerian plant as a main ingredient, is a rather potent sedative. Chamomile is well-known for its relaxing properties. Other herbal teas, such as lavender, have aromatherapeutic qualities. Warm milk is perhaps the most famous of all bedtime drinks, and while its tryptophan content perhaps doesn’t have an immediate effect on tiredness, the idea of sitting down with a comforting drink can be calming in itself.
Naturally there are a number of drinks that can actively disrupt sleep, and these should be avoided where possible. Coffee is certainly the most well-known, due to its high caffeine content, but tea also contains a notable level of caffeine. Perhaps unusually, certain types of hot chocolate and cocoa – despite being popular night-time drinks – also have enough caffeine to provide an unwanted energy boost.
Energy drinks, as would be reasonably expected, contain extremely high amounts of caffeine and stimulants that can instantly invigorate the body – the very last thing that you would want to be doing before bed. These drinks are sometimes combined with alcoholic spirits, typically vodka, which creates a powerful double effect of fighting off sleep.
Alcohol itself has a complex relationship with sleep that has lead to some long-held misconceptions being formed. Many people become overwhelmingly tired when the effects of alcohol take hold, which suggests that it is good for sleep. The popular concept of a ‘night-cap’ came from this idea. The reality however is rather different. Alcohol is an immediate stimulant, which results in a short burst of energetic potential followed by a dip. Drinking over the course of an evening creates a rollercoaster of peaks and slumps that the body is forced to deal with. Alcohol is also a strong diuretic, which means it makes you need to go to the toilet. This effect doesn’t stop when you go to sleep, and you might find yourself waking up several times during the night with an urgent need to urinate. Even without the effects on the body, this disruption would be enough to interrupt natural sleep phases and damage sleep quality over the course of a night. Perhaps the most conclusive demonstration of the sleep-harming nature of alcohol comes in the form of the morning hangover, when the body is utterly worn out and depleted – hardly the result of rejuvenating night of quality sleep. Facing the day in such a sleep-deprived state can be an arduous task.
Try and be aware of the particular effects of any drink that you take in the evening, and this will help you to avoid an unwanted energy boost at the wrong time. A well-chosen pre-bedtime drink, perhaps a herbal tea, might be just what you need to relax and drift off to sleep quickly and easily.