Have you ever noticed that certain liquids make you feel energized while others cause you to feel sleepy? Well, that's because the drinks you consume really do affect your level of alertness and the quality of your sleep.
As a Ph.D. diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine, I've devoted 35 years to the study of human sleep and clinical sleep disorders. Here are the drinks I recommend avoiding for better shut-eye—and the beverages that will help boost your sleep:
The best drinks to boost your sleep:
Cherry juice in the evening may help you fall asleep faster. Night workers may also benefit from drinking tart cherry juice in the morning to help them sleep.
Chamomile tea and passionfruit tea with a little honey, 90 minutes before bedtime, may make your sleep more restful.
Milk, 90 minutes before sleep, may also help you fall asleep (if you're not lactose intolerant). Whether you warm it up or not is a personal preference—it has no effect on milk's sleep-inducing properties, which are tied to the essential amino acid L-tryptophan.
Water is important to drink throughout the day for optimal health. However, drinking water right up until bedtime will stimulate your kidneys and you're likely to wake up multiple times in the first few hours of sleep.
The drinks that will rob your sleep:
Of course, the initial effect of alcohol is typically a more relaxed and sleepy state. But alcohol near bedtime is actually disruptive to sleep. Many people will drink alcohol in the evening to relax after a stressful day at work and find themselves drifting off to sleep in a chair while watching TV. Depending on how long they sleep in the early evening, they can experience a lot of difficulty returning to sleep when they finally decide to go to bed for the night. Evening napping disrupts your internal clock's timing of the main sleep period later in the night.
Some people specifically use alcohol as a sedative. And yes, they fall asleep fast. But once the alcohol has been metabolized—maybe three to four hours into sleep—they abruptly awaken and find it difficult to return to sleep. If they do manage to get back to sleep, the remainder of the night is typically characterized by fitful sleep with frequent awakenings and intense dreaming. The sleeper wakes up groggy, tired, and unrefreshed despite having been in bed for a full seven to eight hours.
Nighttime alcohol can also induce snoring in a sleeper who does not normally snore and increases the risk of obstructive sleep apnea.
Caffeinated coffee and soda are widely used for their ability to promote alertness and energy level. Unfortunately, the stimulant drug effect of caffeine is short-lived, and when it wears off in four hours, most people experience a fatigue or sleepiness rebound, which encourages only more caffeine to re-energize.
And so the cycle goes: larger and larger amounts of caffeinated coffee at three- to four-hour intervals throughout the day. The problem is that the stimulant effect of caffeine also increases your heart and respiratory rates, making you feel anxious and jittery right up to bedtime.
Heavy daily caffeine consumption and caffeinated drinks close to bedtime are very disruptive to falling and staying asleep in most people. Afternoon and nighttime caffeine will also aggravate any restless-leg symptoms you may have. Restless legs are uncomfortable creeping, crawling sensations in your calf muscles when you are sitting or lying still that force you to keep moving your legs. These are the folks who are constantly moving their legs and shifting their positions around during meetings, movies, or plays. Restless-leg symptoms tend to increase over the day and are particularly severe during the evening and at bedtime. If you have restless legs, consider eliminating caffeinated beverages altogether or at least after lunchtime.
How to cut down on caffeine: Switch to beverages that are half-caffeinated and half-decaffeinated. Confine your caffeine consumption to mornings up through lunchtime, with only decaffeinated beverages later in the day. Aim for a daily target of 10 to 12 ounces of caffeinated coffee or tea by the end of two weeks.
The bottom line:
When it comes to getting your best sleep, keep in mind that what you drink is just as important as when you drink it. Stop all caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m., and avoid alcohol before bedtime. Drinking tart cherry juice or chamomile or passionfruit tea with a little honey or milk 90 minutes ahead of bedtime may help you relax and fall asleep faster. Finally, stop drinking fluids one hour ahead of your bedtime—you'll minimize sleep disruptions in the first few hours, when your sleep is typically deepest and most restorative.