Best bedtime drinks
Fancy a nice hot drink to help you unwind? Unless you want to spend the night tossing and turning, choose carefully...
Good old-fashioned tea accounts for 66% of all hot drinks consumed in Britain, but a refreshing cuppa won't help you get to sleep. So what will?
Cosy, comforting cocoa or hot chocolate
This could actually stop you sleeping - mainly due to its high caffeine content, which increases the heart rate. Effects vary from person to person: some are relatively unaffected, while others still show signs after 14 hours. Either way, it'll take your body several hours to process the caffeine, reducing the time you spend getting your Zs.
Cocoa also contains theobromine, a heart stimulant with diuretic properties, which may make you need the loo in the middle of the night, too. Meanwhile, the sugar can cause an energy rush, which could make you less drowsy. But if the feelgood factor outweighs everything, try Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate (£3.95, 300g, from selected supermarkets and health-food shops, and www.goodnessdirect.co.uk).
A nightcap? Cheers!
Don't do it! A small amount of alcohol can help you relax, but drinking excessive amounts will stop you from entering a deep sleep. As alcohol is processed by the body, it stimulates the nervous system, causing increased wakefulness, raised heart rate, sweating, intense dreams and headaches. Even when you have no alcohol left in your system, the effects can continue for two to three hours.
Mmm, hot milk...
Calcium helps calm the central nervous system, and lactose (the natural sugar found in milk) may affect the release of endorphins, the natural morphine-like substances that ease stress. Milk also contains the amino acid tryptophan, which is used by the brain to make serotonin to slow down nerve activity, thus aiding sleep.
Hit the herbal tea?
Camomile was used to cure insomnia as far back in time as ancient Egypt. Other calming infusions that help to reduce stress levels and aid sleep include ginger, orange, peppermint and honey. Keep an eye open (ha-ha) for those containing valerian: it has a soothing influence and is the best known herbal sedative. Try Whittard Dreamtime Instant Tea Drink (£5.50, 475g, www.whittard.co.uk), a blend of camomile, apricot and vanilla; Whittard Organic Camomile teabags (£3.25, 25 bags, www.whittard.co.uk); Dr Stuart's Valerian Plus tea bags, a blend including lime flowers, valerian and hops (£1.85, 15 bags, from www.goodnessdirect.co.uk); and Heath & Heather Night Time Tea with camomile and passionflower (£1.39, 20 bags, from www.goodnessdirect.co.uk).
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