There are few childhood memories quite as nostalgic as your favourite bedtime drink. Perhaps it was warm milk with a bedtime story before bed? Or maybe a hot cocoa to help you enter a dreamy, relaxed state? As adults, we often forget about the joys of childhood, but there are plenty of drinks to help us sleep that aren’t dictated by age. Here, we explore the best bedtime drinks and dig into the science behind why they’re an ideal beverage for our sleep routines.

image to show bedtime drinks - herbal teas hanging from shelf

The best drinks before bed

While we all no doubt have our favourite drinks to help us sleep, there are plenty of options to consider. What’s more, there are specific reasons why certain drinks are best for bedtime. Here, we explore the best drinks for bed with a little explanation as to why they’re ideal for your trip to the land of nod.

1. Warm milk

A true classic in the bedtime drinks genre, warm milk has been a firm favourite for centuries. But it’s not just about the soothing taste, milk is actually packed with ingredients that make us sleepy. Consider tryptophan, for example. Milk contains this amino acid which has been proven to improve sleep. Here’s what The Journal of Medicinal Food says on the matter:

“Milk has long been known and used to promote sleep. The sleep-promoting effect of milk has been attributed to its psychological associations (i.e., the memory of a mother giving milk at bedtime) and its rich store of sleep-promoting constituents (e.g., tryptophan).”

2. Hot cocoa

image to show hot cocoa as a bedtime drink

Not to be confused with sugar-heavy hot chocolate. Cocoa is one of the by-products used for making chocolate. In powder form, it can be added to hot water to make a chocolate-flavoured drink. It’s not quite as creamy or sweet as your typical hot chocolate but that’s why it’s better for sleep. Less fat and less sugar ensures your body isn’t kicked into action just as your about to nod off. Here’s what Psychology Today had to say about it:

“A drink containing two to three teaspoons of pure (100%) cocoa powder in a mug of hot water or milk is better for you than chocolate powders or drinks with added sugars, fats, or other ingredients.”

3. Chamomile tea

Now, we enter the realm of herbal teas for sleep. Chamomile is considered one of the best drinks before bed. That’s because it contains a therapeutic antioxidant called Apigenin. This antioxidant is widely believed to help reduce anxiety and initiate sleep. And while studies are relatively rare, those which have been completed show real promising results:

“…chamomile preparations such as tea and essential oil aromatherapy have been used to treat insomnia and to induce sedation (calming effects). Chamomile is widely regarded as a mild tranquillizer and sleep-inducer. Sedative effects may be due to the flavonoid, apigenin that binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.”

A little complex perhaps but quite simply, chamomile is widely known to have a big impact on sleep. Read more from the quoted article here.

4. Lavender tea

A godsend in the eyes of the stressed-out and sleep-challenged, lavender has long been known for its sleep-inducing properties. Typically, it’s used in the form of essential oils but the same benefits can be achieved from lavender tea. Flavourful and floral, this herb has a history of use that stems back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. But its status as a drink that helps you sleep is more than just an old wives’ tale. In an academic study for Hindawi.com, this long-favoured herb has been given credence with modern science:

“Lavender has been suggested as an excellent natural remedy to treat insomnia and improve the sleep quality. Single-blind randomized studies investigated the effectiveness of lavender odor on quality of sleep showed that lavender improved the mean scores of sleep quality in fifteen healthy students, in sixty-four ischemic heart disease patients, and in 34 midlife women with insomnia.”

And you don’t just have to stop at lavender tea either. Add a few sprigs of fresh lavender to a cup of warm milk and you could be on your way to the land of nod in no time at all.

5. Decaffeinated green tea

image to show green tea as a bedtime drink

 

Green tea has quickly become a favourite of millennials and Gen Z and is often considered the best bedtime drink. But, there’s a catch. Your typical green tea contains around 22mg of caffeine, compared with coffee and black tea that’s not a huge amount but it’s still not ideal for sleep. Instead, opt for decaffeinated green tea, which has just 2mg of caffeine, and you’ll get all the sleep benefits without any sneaky energy boosters.

“Theanine is believed to be the main sleep-promoting compound in green tea. It works by reducing stress-related hormones and neuron excitement in your brain, which allows your brain to relax. For instance, evidence suggests that drinking 3–4 cups (750–1,000 ml) of low-caffeinated green tea throughout the day may reduce fatigue and levels of stress markers, as well as improve sleep quality.”

Read the above quote and more at Healthline.

6. Cherry juice

Just like green tea, cherry juice contains theanine; an amino acid known for its sleep-inducing properties. Like most herbal and fruit teas, it has been used for centuries, stemming all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. If you fancy getting creative, mix your cherry juice with milk and you will have a bedtime drink that’s been a firm favourite for centuries!

Related: What Food Types Can Cause Nightmares?

 The science behind the best drinks for bedtime

As mentioned, most bedtime drinks contain ingredients or chemicals that help the body’s sleep process. Often, the reason certain drinks help you feel sleepy is because they contain antioxidants or amino acids. Below, we explore some of the most common in bedtime drinks and why they help you reach the land of nod.

laboratory and microscope to show science behind bedtime drinks

Tryptophan for sleep

Tryptophan is an amino acid that plays a key role in your body’s sleep-wake cycle. It increases both serotonin and melatonin in the body, key players in helping you nod off and get a restful sleep. Here’s what Insomnia.net said about it:

“Tryptophan increases serotonin, which also increases melatonin, both neuro-transmitters in your brain’s pineal gland. These neural “gateways” regulate sleep and mood chemicals that affect sleep and mood balance. When either serotonin or melatonin is disrupted you can suffer insomnia and depression symptoms.”

Drinks which contain tryptophan:

  • Dairy milk
  • Soy milk
  • Spinach and kale-based smoothies
  • Chamomile tea

Theanine for sleep

Theanine, also known as L-theanine, is a non-protein amino acid. It’s believed that it increases serotonin levels in the body. This is why it helps you sleep, as Serotonin helps our bodies produce and regulate melatonin which plays a fundamental role in the body. Here’s a quote from Total Health Magazine:

“A recent clinical trial conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health in Japan has proven L-theanine’s ability to promote quality sleep. When L-theanine was taken before bedtime, it enhanced the quality of actual sleep of all the test subjects. In fact, all the participants reported a significant absence of “feeling exhausted” and a reduced need for sleep when using Suntheanine. In addition, the study showed that L-theanine produced a notable improvement in what is known as sleep efficiency, an index of actual sleep time enjoyed between the time of falling asleep and the final morning awakening. To add icing to the cake, test subjects using Suntheanine reported a superior mental state prior to falling asleep and a decreased occurrence of nightmares. The study confirmed that Suntheanine does not promote sleep or increase the duration of sleep, but rather improves the quality of sleep by allowing the mind, while in a sleep state, to fully relax and recuperate. This is why the subjects did not report feeling groggy but instead felt refreshed and alert upon wakening. L-theanine is a much needed solution to the two major problems currently compromising so many American’s health and overall well-being—stress and sleep deprivation.”

Drinks which contain theanine:

  • Cherry juice
  • Milk
  • Almond milk
  • Banana smoothie or milkshake

Antioxidants and sleep

Many antioxidants are considered therapeutic. Apigenin, which we mentioned earlier in relation to Chamomile is one of these. Antioxidants are often found in fruits and plant-based foods. Most herbal and fruit teas contain them.

In studies on sleep, it was found that a big part of why we sleep is so our bodies can combat oxidative stress. As antioxidants combat the same, research was undertaken to see if, by way of association, antioxidants would help kick in our sleep process. But don’t just take our word for it, here’s a quote from Total Health.

“Taking natural antioxidant supplements as a sleep aid is promising, according to recent research. Scientists have discovered that healthy sleep is one of the extra benefits from eating fruit or taking concentrated fruit extract supplements. Antioxidants have already been proven to help with those pesky free radicals that age you and weaken your immune system.”

To back up the relation between antioxidants and sleep, a full-scale study was published by the Mediators of Inflammation journal. This study identified that despite only a few studies having been completed, the results are promising:

“To date, relatively few studies have investigated the interrelationship between inflammation, oxidative stress, and antioxidants with sleep quality. In one such study, adherence to a kiwi diet (2 kiwi/night for 4 weeks), a fruit rich in vitamins C and E and serotonin, improved sleep onset and duration. Another similar study found that tart cherry juice, rich in vitamins A and C, improved sleep quality, suggesting increased melatonin levels as a possible mechanism for this effect.”

Drinks which contain antioxidants:

  • Decaf green tea
  • Herbal tea
  • Pomegranate juice
  • Matcha

What to avoid when choosing drinks that help us sleep

When considering the best drinks for bed, you need to consider every ingredient. For example, coffee contains antioxidants yet clearly is not one we’d recommend for sleep! To ensure you get a blissful sleep, you must consider everything that is in your bedtime drink. If you’re not using one of the identified drinks in our list, do research the ingredients and how they impact sleep. For a quick guide, here’s a list of what you should avoid before bed:

  • Sugar
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Niacin

Related: Why Alcohol Is Bad Before Bed

So, there’s plenty of science behind the best drinks to help you sleep. At the most simple level, opt for sugar-free drinks which contain sleep-inducing amino acids and antioxidants. Make sure to stay away from energizing ingredients. If you’re a little unsure, do some research. Or, stick to our list and you’ll likely be off to sleep in no time at all! And don’t forget, bedtime drinks make a perfect sleep gift for a Christmas hamper.

Do you have a favourite bedtime drink? Let us know in the comments!