Sometimes when I get home after a tough day, I go straight to the coffee machine. Before I even put my bag down, I make myself a nice strong cuppa Joe. Only when I have a big mug of coffee in my hand with the aroma of dark beans wafting through the house do I start to relax. Do you know this feeling? Maybe you drink a glass of wine or a beer instead of coffee, or maybe it’s a scotch.

There is nothing wrong with drinking a cup of coffee or having a whiskey. But the timing of when you have your drink might be a problem. Especially if you struggle to sleep at night. Without knowing it, you might be setting yourself up for a bad night’s sleep by drinking the wrong thing at the wrong time.

I know it is difficult to believe, but what you drink and when you drink it has an effect on the quality of your sleep. If you are a coffee-holic like me, read on to find out which drinks can actually help you sleep!

Here’s what not to drink before bedtime

And when we talk about “close to bedtime” or “before bedtime” we are talking about anything up to five hours before you go to bed. So you will definitely have to watch those after work drinking habits!

But enough about that, what should you avoid from after work?

As you’ve already guessed (and probably heard millions of times), Coffee is a big no-no.

Why not Coffee?

For those of you that do not know, coffee contains caffeine and caffeine keeps you awake. That is the long and short of it. But let’s take a closer look at how caffeine can affect your body and how it can keep you awake.

Before we can really understand the working of caffeine, we first need to know sleep basics. There is this chemical called adenosine that plays a big part in regulating your sleep. When it gets created in the brain, it goes to sit on the adenosine receptors in the brain. This binding slows down brain activity through dilating blood vessels in the brain and slowing down nerve cell activity. Once this process starts you will become drowsy and feel sleepy.

So what does coffee have to do with adenosine?

When you take in caffeine, whether through coffee or through an energy drink, that caffeine goes and sits on the adenosine receptors. This means that adenosine can’t bind with the receptors, because there is already something else taking its place. On top of that, caffeine does not have the same effect on the receptor as adenosine would have had. Instead of slowing down cell activity, caffeine does the exact opposite. Thus cell activity speeds up and the blood vessels in the brain constrict. All of this makes you feel alert and takes away signs of drowsiness.

So as you can see, having coffee close to bedtime isn’t the best way to prepare your body for sleep. Coffee isn’t the only culprit though, caffeinated soft drinks and energy drinks can also have the above mentioned effect on your brain. Ceylon tea also contains caffeine, so don’t try to replace your coffee with that.

Try to avoid alcohol close to bedtime

Macro view of a Campanas wine bottle and a wine glass in Fornells

This doesn’t sound right, does it? I mean, having a nightcap makes you feel drowsy and has you drifting off to dreamland in no time! Isn’t that right? True, alcohol does make you feel drowsy, but once that drowsiness wears off, it can be disruptive to sleep.

There are two main problems with taking alcohol close to bedtime:

Number one, when you grab that beer from the fridge after work and go relax on the couch, how often do you find yourself drowsing off? I know it sometimes happens to me… But okay, so what if you drowse off? No big deal, right? It’s not like you’ve slept for hours on end. Why would that have a negative influence on your sleep?

Unfortunately, if you fall asleep at times when you do not normally sleep, you confuse your bodies internal clock. Especially if you fall asleep so close to the actual time when you normally go to bed! Once you get up off the couch, your body will think that you’ve rested and are ready to go for another round. So when you get in bed an hour or two later, your body is super confused! It will still want to be out and about, definitely not back in bed already! Therefore, try to avoid those late afternoon naps in front of the TV…

The other problem comes after lights-out…

Sure, after a beer or two sleep comes easy. The problem comes in when that beer stars clearing out of your bloodstream…

Normally after a nightcap, falling asleep is easy and staying in that state for a while comes naturally. But after a while, you might wake up because the alcohol is no longer in your bloodstream. You might also wake up because you need the loo. Once you woke up, it might be quite difficult to fall back asleep. Have you ever experienced that? It normally happens four to five hours after falling asleep. After that wake-up call, sleep becomes elusive and if you manage to fall back asleep, you can’t really rest properly because you have all of these vivid dreams. And when you eventually wake up, you still feel tired and drained. Sound familiar?

Try not to drink anything for at least an hour before you go to bed.

Even though the drinks we discussed above are the number one culprits when it comes to drinks that disrupt your sleep, try to avoid drinking anything to close to bed time. This is simply to save yourself a late night/early morning trip to the bathroom. Let’s be honest, those cold tile floors and cold seats are enough to wake up anyone!

What should you drink close to bedtime?

Try to take your last drink at least an hour before bedtime. Ideally, have it 90 minutes before you shut your eyes. This is just to give your kidneys enough time to process the last fluids you had before you drift off.

We now know that we shouldn’t have a glass of wine as a nightcap, but what should we have? Read on to find out.

Cherry Juice

It can taste more bitter than sweet sometimes, but according to recent research, cherry juice is a great natural sleeping aid. Cherry juice contains melatonin (sleep hormone), so it makes sense that having a glass of this juice would help you to relax and get ready for bed.

Magnesium-rich drinks

It seems that drinking magnesium rich drinks before bedtime is a good idea. The high magnesium content helps your muscles to relax, which makes it easier to fall asleep. Some people recommend having a glass of warm Ovaltine, while others prefer coconut water (yes, coconut water contains a lot of magnesium and can really help you to relax). .

You can also try a banana smoothie if the previous two options didn’t tickle your fancy. As you might know, bananas pack a lot of magnesium and are used by a lot of sportsmen to reduce cramping. So if you are stressed out and have a sore back, make yourself a nice banana smoothie after dinner and feel the stress oozing out as the smoothie slides down your throat.

And then there is water

You shouldn’t necessarily drink a lot of water close to bedtime. The idea is more to pace yourself with the water. Try to drink a lot of water throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated. A hydrated body sleeps better than a dehydrated one (obviously).

There are a myriad of teas that you can drink

Indigenous to South Africa, Rooibos tea is an amazing drink to have before bedtime. It contains almost no caffeine, meaning your adenosine receptors will be ready to bind with sleep inducing adenosine. Apart from not containing caffeine, it contains a lot of natural antioxidants and it tastes great too!

If Rooibos is too everyday for you, try Chamomile tea

Chamomile tea has been around for a very long time! It has been widely used to induce calm and in some circles, people say that it has anti inflammatory properties. It has been used to calm nerves and to reduce stress levels. Some swear that it cures a stomach ache while others use it to combat insomnia.

And according to them scientists, there is truth in all of this. Researchers have found that chamomile acts as a natural sedative by relaxing muscles and nerves alike.

Passionflower Tea

This tea has also been shown to have relaxing properties that work specifically on the nervous system. It has many calming properties and helps the anxious heart to come to rest. On top of this, the brew really smells wonderful! Go ahead and give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Lavender Tea

Lavender is used in essential oils that are meant to help people relax. Smelling lavender before going to bed helps the body to relax and the brain to calm down. This plant is well known for all of its medicinal properties. So what better to drink before going to bed than a super plant that heals wounds, breaks fevers and acts as anti inflammatory agent!?

Valerian Tea

No, this is not quite the same as Valerian Steel from Game of Thrones. Although it does fight insomnia almost as well as a Valerian Steel blade fights a White Walker…

Valerian has been used for many years to fight sleeplessness. Full of antioxidant goodness, this tea is a string natural sedative. It might not taste as good as Rooibos, but it works like a charm! Just be careful not to drink too much of this brew, as it might be a bit addictive.

Chaga Tea

Chaga tastes something like coffee, so if you are a coffee lover, maybe try this one? It overflows with antioxidants and is known to cure an upset stomach. Definitely a brew to try out!

You should go to bed now. I’m pretty sure that I told you not to stay up so late reading stuff on your laptop or tablet. The blue light so late at night might keep your brain awake. So here is what you should do: Switch off your laptop, tablet or phone, go empty your bladder, do not drink a lot of water, get in bed, shut your eyes and sleep.

You can try cutting the coffee tomorrow and  start trying these teas out. I am going on a coffee fast myself, so wish me luck! If anyone of you feel strong enough to join me, please let me know in the comments so that we can encourage each other!

Sleep well and prosper!