Busting the Nightcap Myth

The nightcap is a staple of the drinking culture. It's often used as an excuse to stay out just a bit longer before heading home or as a reason to have a drink to help unwind before bed. But where did the term nightcap even come from, and does it actually help?

The origin of the nightcap

The term "nightcap" has been in use since at least the 14th century in the English language. Its origin lies in the literal meaning of a cap worn to bed at night to keep one's head warm. Over time, it also came to refer to a final alcoholic drink consumed before going to bed. The association between alcohol and the nightcap likely developed because people would often have a drink before retiring for the night, believing it could help them relax and sleep better. 

Busting the nightcap myth

While a nightcap may help get you to sleep, as alcohol can initially make you feel drowsy, studies show that its effects on the second half of your sleep aren't great. Alcohol can disrupt the later stages of sleep, leading to poorer overall sleep quality. 

The reason alcohol makes you sleepy is due to its effects on the central nervous system. When you consume alcohol, it affects neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps regulate brain activity and promotes relaxation.

When alcohol enhances the effects of GABA, it can lead to feelings of calmness and relaxation. It also inhibits glutamate, another neurotransmitter involved in arousal and excitability. As a result, alcohol can dampen the activity of the brain, making you feel less alert and more inclined to sleep. Alcohol can also affect other neurotransmitters and hormones involved in sleep regulation, such as serotonin and adenosine. These effects contribute to the drowsiness and sedation commonly associated with alcohol consumption.

But even though alcohol initially makes you sleepy, it still interferes with the body's natural sleep cycle by suppressing REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and disrupting the normal progression of sleep stages. This can lead to fragmented sleep and waking up not feeling too fresh even after a full night's sleep. Also, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production, which can result in waking up during the night to use the bathroom.

So, even though a nightcap might sound like a good idea at first, you might want to rethink it if you want to have a refreshing night of sleep. 

Swap out the nightcap

After a long stressful week(or even workday!), you might want to unwind. We don't blame you! While it may be tempting to reach for your glass of white wine to take the edge off, we encourage trying an alternative that can help promote relaxation and better sleep without the negative effects of alcohol. 

Herbal tea: Certain herbal teas like chamomile, valerian root, or lavender are known for their calming properties and can help relax the mind and body before bedtime.

Warm milk: Warm milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters involved in sleep regulation. A warm glass of milk before bed may promote relaxation and sleepiness.

Non-alcoholic drinks: Pour a glass of your favorite NA or create a mocktail with a zero-proof spirit to get the same experience of having a nightcap without the less desirable side effects. Here are some of our favorites

Meditation or deep breathing exercises: Engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation can help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep.

Reading a book: Reading a book before bed can help distract the mind from worries or stressors and signal the body that it's time to wind down and relax.

Light stretching or gentle yoga: Doing some light stretching or gentle yoga poses before bed can help release tension in the body and promote relaxation.

Aromatherapy: Using essential oils like lavender, chamomile, or sandalwood in a diffuser or applying them topically can help create a calming atmosphere and promote relaxation.

Listening to calming music or nature sounds: Listening to soothing music or nature sounds can help quiet the mind and create a peaceful environment conducive to sleep.

The rise of the Sleepy Girl Mocktail

Your social media feed may be filled with a new recipe lately–cue the sleepy girl mocktail, a drink that has everyone on TikTok & Instagram buzzin'. The recipe calls for half a cup of tart cherry juice, a scoop of magnesium powder, and a prebiotic soda or soda water. But does it actually work? In theory, yes! This mocktail is a combination of powerful ingredients known to have numerous health benefits. 

Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep-wake cycles. And several studies have suggested that drinking tart cherry juice may improve sleep duration and quality. Tart cherries also have anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body which may indirectly support better sleep. 

Adding a scoop of magnesium also helps regulate melatonin in addition to GABA, promoting calming effects. Magnesium also acts as a natural muscle relaxant, has anti-stress properties, and helps activate the "rest and digest" system, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system.  

If you're using prebiotic soda as the base of your mocktail, you may be helping support a healthy balance of gut bacteria. As a healthy gut is important for digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function, adding prebiotics or probiotics into your mocktails is not a bad idea! 

So perhaps, the Sleepy Girl Mocktail is a great alternative! However, before incorporating this new drink into your bedtime routine, it's advisable to consult with a healthcare professional. What works for some might not work for others. 

Written by: Elena Rogers

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