Does what you drink really matter?
When it comes to your sleep patterns, what you eat and what you drink in the hours leading up to your bedtime really does matter. If you’re binging on sugary, fatty foods before bedtime it can place pressure on your liver and digestive system and cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate, which I’ve discussed in my blogs, ‘Is sugar preventing you from having sweet dreams?’ and ‘How does your liver affect your sleep?’
However, one thing I’ve not really gone into much detail about is how what and when you drink impacts your sleep patterns. Now you can probably hazard a guess as to which drinks are the main culprits when it comes to disrupting your sleep patterns – caffeinated beverages, alcohol, fizzy drinks.
All of these can rob you of a good night’s sleep for various reasons – caffeine is notorious for stimulating your nervous system and actively works to decrease your levels of sleep-inducing neurotransmitters. Not to mention it can also linger in your system for far longer than you would expect – some estimate for as long as 8 hours!1
Whereas coffee and tea have the caffeine factor, fizzy drinks and alcohol often contain hidden sugars and sweeteners which can upset your blood sugar levels. I go into a bit more detail about alcohol’s effects on your sleep patterns here, ‘Does alcohol really help you sleep?’ but it should go without saying that this particular drink can wreak mayhem on your sleep cycle!
However, sometimes even seemingly healthy drinks, like fresh fruit juice, can cause problems. This is because fresh fruit juice also contains natural sugars, which can still influence your blood sugar levels. Even plain water can sometimes upset your sleep patterns – if you’re drinking large quantities of water before bedtime, you may find yourself being woken up by your bladder in the middle of the night! That’s why I usually recommend spreading your fluid intake during the day and not leaving it to 9pm to get your 1.5l of water!
What drinks help you to sleep better?
Okay, so I’ve highlighted a few drinks you may want to avoid before bedtime and discussed why what you drink matters so much, with that all said and done, are there drinks out there that can help you to sleep better? Well, the answer is a resounding yes, there are definitely drinks out there that can help to support your sleep patterns, encouraging you to relax and making you more susceptible to sleep. Below I’ve taken a look at some of my favourite night-time beverages to help you drift off!
This definitely won’t be the only herbal tea included in this list but, since it’s the most popular, I decided that it definitely deserves the first spot. Chamomile is best known for its calming influence which can be attributed to an antioxidant called apigenin. Apigenin works by binding to certain receptors in your brain, helping to reduce anxiety.2
This makes chamomile the perfect option if you’re feeling restless or a tad stressed before bedtime as it may enable you to relax and promote sleep. Studies have also found that, not only can chamomile help to induce sleep, it may also improve your overall sleep quality. One study examined the effects of chamomile on post-partum women and found that, after drinking chamomile tea for two weeks, they reported better quality of sleep, with fewer interruptions compared to the placebo control group.3
This is a bit of a tricky one. A glass of warm milk is a common bedtime drink but the evidence surrounding its effectiveness is murky. Part of the reason that so many people assume that dairy-derived milk is good for sleep is that it contains an amino acid called tryptophan, which can act as a precursor for melatonin, the sleep hormone.
However, the amount of tryptophan present in milk might not be enough to have an actual impact and science doesn’t seem to support the idea that milk in and of itself can cure insomnia. Rather, it’s possible that the powerful psychological link between warm milk and sleep might be responsible for its sleep boosting properties.4
Leaving dairy milk aside for a moment though, interestingly some evidence has emerged concerning soy milk and sleep. One study conducted by the Universidade Federal de Sao Paolo found that soy may help to ease sleep problems in older, post-menopausal women. Soy does contain tryptophan, like dairy milk, but it also contains isoflavones.
In the study, a group of 38 post-menopausal women with insomnia were required to take 80mg of isoflavones or a placebo for four months.5 After four months, the isoflavones group reported that their sleep efficiency increased from 78% to 84% compared to the placebo group, which only saw a 3% increase.
So, regardless of the evidence, if you find a warm glass of milk helps you to nod off then there’s no real harm in trying it, whether you prefer dairy milk or soy!
A fruit-packed smoothie probably doesn’t sound like the best remedy for a good night of sleep however, it might just be worth a try. Soy milk, as I’ve mentioned, might have some sleep-boosting properties, but if you combine it with almond butter and bananas, two great sources of magnesium, you may find that you have the ideal pre-bedtime drink.
Magnesium, as I’ve mentioned in my blog, ‘Is magnesium a miracle mineral for sleep?’ is an essential mineral that can help to support everything, from your mood to your muscles and joints. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiencies are common and are often linked with symptoms such as sleep deprivation, insomnia and restless leg syndrome.
Topping up your levels of magnesium before bedtime may help to promote a healthier sleep pattern. However, what you put in the smoothie really does matter so always try to avoid sugar and added sweeteners. Opt for organic soy milk and don’t go adding too much fruit – keeping it to bananas might be the best choice! If you do want to add some sweetness to your blend, why not try adding a pinch of cinnamon?
Lemon balm tea
I did say chamomile wouldn’t be the only herbal tea on this list! Lemon balm has similar therapeutic properties when it comes to helping you to get a good night’s rest. Contrary to what its name may suggest, lemon balm actually comes from the same family of plants as mint and is a herb that is frequently involved with aromatherapy.
When it comes to improving your sleep patterns, people often refer to an animal study that involved mice. In this study, lemon balm was capable of increasing GABA levels in mice; however, animal trials can be unreliable. What works on a mouse, might not work quite as efficiently on a human being which is why I prefer to refer to human studies.
Fortunately, there are human studies that indicate lemon balm’s beneficial qualities for sleep. There was a human study that utilised volunteers who had mild anxiety disorders and suffered from sleep disruptions. These participants were then required to take 600mg of lemon balm extract for 15 days, after which they reported a 42% drop in insomnia symptoms.6
Of course, it’s unlikely that lemon balm tea will contain this concentration of the herb, however, sipping on a cup before bedtime may just help to support your sleep and in any case, it certainly won’t hurt your natural sleep cycle!
Tart cherry juice
There’s been a lot of hype circulating recently with regards to tart cherry juice and its impact on your sleep patterns. They’re mentioned in my blog ‘Top 5 foods to help you get a good night’s sleep,’ for a reason. A double blind, placebo controlled study found that participants who drank a glass of sour cherry juice twice a day experienced an increase in sleep quality.7 It’s thought that the melatonin present in sour cherries is responsible for their sleep related benefits.
If you want something that is specifically targeted to help you get a good night’s sleep, you might want to consider a herbal remedy. I usually recommend a mixture of Valerian and hops as this duo can help to gently relax your nervous system, encouraging a deep, natural sleep.
Our Dormeasan drops contain this winning combination and are ideal if you struggle with anxiety or find yourself worrying when bedtime comes round. You also don’t have to worry about any groggy side-effects – you should wake up feeling refreshed and reenergised!