wellness sleep foods melatonin serotonin levels sproj_00000000.jpg
Foods and drinks to help you sleep
01:04 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

We know to avoid coffee and chocolate before bedtime since both contain caffeine and can keep you awake at night. But what to replace those delicious options with?

There are some drinks that can actually help set you up for a sleepy night of slumber.

Food and drinks that contain certain minerals, therapeutic herbs and tryptophan — an essential amino acid — can aid your body’s production of serotonin and melatonin. Those are “important hormones in regulating your sleep,” Dr. Matthew Schmitt, a doctor of sleep medicine at Piedmont Healthcare in Georgia, told CNN.

Two general rules apply: Stop eating and drinking at least two hours before bed so you can avoid trips to the bathroom and heartburn throughout the night. Avoid caffeine past 2 p.m. and evening alcohol, since the downsides include bathroom runs and interruptions in the deeper stages of sleep, said Dr. Raj Dasgupta, a pulmonary and sleep doctor and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.

And don’t skip out on what the experts call good “sleep hygiene.”

Subscribe to CNN’s Sleep, But Better Newsletter: Want the best sleep of your life? Sign up for our newsletter series for helpful hints to achieve better sleep.

Supporting sleep with different foods and drinks can “really only work if the person obeys the foundation of good sleep,” Dasgupta said.

“The foundation is always going to be having a sleep routine, having a nighttime ritual, transitioning into sleep and many things are involved in doing that.”

If you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure to consult with your physician or sleep medicine doctor. Here are some soothing and fragrant teas and other beverages that may help usher in the rest you need.

Chamomile tea

Is it time for a cup of chamomile? Chamomile tea is a sedative and sleep aid traditionally used in different parts of Iran.

Chamomile tea

Chamomile extract, a 2017 study found, improved the sleep quality of older adults and their daily performance in comparison to those who received a placebo.

“It’s full of antioxidants, promotes calmness and can reduce anxiety,” Schmitt said.

Ashwagandha tea

Ashwagandha, a revered herb of Indian ayurvedic alternative medicine, has traditionally been used to calm the nerves. It might work by mimicking the function of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that inhibits excited responses.

Ashwagandha tea

“When you activate this receptor, it makes you sleepy,” Dasgupta said. “Many sleep aids that we take work on GABA.”

Ashwagandha may help the body wind down and prepare for sleep, as well as improve overall sleep quality.

Valerian root tea

Originally hailing from Europe and Asia, valerian is a plant used to treat insomnia, anxiety, depression and menopause symptoms.

Valerian root tea

Most of the benefits have been in alleviating insomnia and improving sleep quality for menopausal women. Nearly a third of postmenopausal women who took a valerian capsule twice daily for four weeks reported better sleep quality, found one study.

Valerian “does work on the (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptor” that controls excited neural activity, Dasgupta said.

Warm milk and golden milk tea

Thanks to the tryptophan, calcium and magnesium in dairy, drinking warm milk before bed may help you sleep better. The warmth makes the beverage more soothing and easier to digest, Dasgupta said.


“Tryptophan’s the amino acid that goes on to produce things like melatonin,” he said.

“We know that melatonin is a natural hormone in your body produced by the pineal gland. And it’s secreted at night and it really is part of helping you try to get that good night’s sleep.”

Golden milk is a traditional Indian drink with milk, cinnamon, ginger and turmeric — and turmeric is rich in the component curcumin. Curcumin has anti-inflammatory effects and the potential to treat symptoms of anxiety and depression, which can interfere with sleep.

Golden milk tea

“Turmeric has also been associated with good sleep,” but how inflammation affects sleep hasn’t yet been fully defined, Dasgupta said. “But anything that helps with pain, with anxiety or induces some form of muscle relaxation can always be helpful with getting good sleep.”

Lemon balm tea

Lemon balm, a lemon-scented herb that derives from the same family as mint, has been traditionally used for improving mood in addition to flavoring meat, seafood and baked goods.

Lemon balm tea

The herb may help to reduce insomnia symptoms. A 2011 study found a 42% reduction in participants’ insomnia symptoms after they received lemon balm extract daily for 15 days.

Passionflower tea

Passionflower tea, brewed from the dried leaves, flowers and stems of the Passiflora plant, has been used to enhance sleep quality and alleviate anxiety.

Passionflower tea

In a trial where participants drank a cup of passionflower tea, kept a sleep diary and completed an anxiety questionnaire for one week, sleep quality was significantly better for those who drank tea in comparison to the placebo.

Passionflower tea in combination with valerian was as effective as Ambien, a common medication for insomnia, in improving sleep quality in a 2013 study.

Other beverages for beauty sleep

If cow’s milk sends you on too many trips to the bathroom or results in allergic reactions, almond milk is another good source of tryptophan, Dasgupta said.

One 8-ounce glass of almond milk also has around 20 milligrams of magnesium, a mineral that helps to support the sleep by regulating neurotransmitters to calm our nervous systems and working with melatonin to control our bodies’ sleep-wake cycles.

Tart cherry juice may increase your melatonin levels and the time you sleep, stay in bed and feel rested afterward, according to a small study of healthy adults. Tart Montgomery cherries have been reported to contain high levels of melatonin.

Cherry juice

Despite the reported benefits of these beverages, most of the studies haven’t compared if one method of consumption — such as pills, powder or tincture — is more fast-acting than the other, Dasgupta said. Talking with your physician about sleep aids is important, especially if you would be consuming them in combination with alcohol or medications.

And although herbal supplements may help you fall asleep, Dasgupta said, they could interfere with revealing the true underlying cause of poor sleep.

Get CNN Health's weekly newsletter

Sign up here to get The Results Are In with Dr. Sanjay Gupta every Tuesday from the CNN Health team.

“Getting good sleep is like a puzzle,” he added. “It’s so hard to have all the right puzzle pieces for sleep. And when you try to find which one you’re missing, that’s the hard part.”

Make sure to try to put all the puzzle pieces together, including room temperature, light exposure, bedding, sound and routine.

Although he doesn’t buy in to all the existing research, Dasgupta doesn’t discount “a little non-caffeinated chamomile tea before bed as part of your ritual as you turn off the technology and sit down,” he said. “I think those things are really good.”