Warm milk, a hot toddy and a cuppa of chamomile are all believed to be good bedtime companions, but which will get you to dreamland faster? With the exception of the hot toddy, which isn’t good for anyone (sorry nightcap fans, but alcohol is a well-established sleep disruptor), the soporific effects of bedtime preparations vary from person to person. Nevertheless, experts agree that the following drinks can work.
“Valerian, passionflower, skullcap, avena (oat straw) and chamomile are all safe and effective herbs that can be taken in teas to promote sleepiness,” says Leslie Solomonian, a Toronto naturopathic doctor and professor of naturopathic medicine. Hops also work for some people, she says, but should be avoided if there is depression. Because efficacy varies among individuals, Solomonian recommends consulting a naturopath for a personalized brew.
Whatever the herbal melange, steep about two teaspoons (or two teabags) per cup of boiling water until cool enough to drink. Solomonian suggests enjoying your tea an hour before bed, since that gives you enough time to urinate. It also pairs well with other good sleep routines, like dimming the lights, turning off all screens, and just relaxing.
If tea’s not your bag, Counting Sheep, a decaf coffee that’s been spiked with valerian root, offers the unique opportunity to doze off with a cup of joe.
Warm milk is a classic nightcap, and it works at any temperature, says Dr. Sat Sharma, medical director at Toronto’s Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology. It’s because it contains tryptophan, which promotes serotonin production and feelings of well-being.
Tart Montmorency cherry juice is the latest evening “it” drink and has been shown to increase melatonin in the body and contribute to longer, more peaceful sleeps. Dr. Sharma says he has seen good results with some of his patients.
At the end of the day, studies on the above drinks are as mixed as their effects from person to person. Dr. Sharma believes that when they work, it’s mainly because sitting down to a nighttime infusion means consciously initiating relaxation, the undisputed precursor to restful sleep. No matter what you drink before bed, Dr. Sharma and Dr. Solomonian both emphasize the importance of good sleep hygiene and a soothing screen-free ritual before you turn in.