Nightcap (drink)

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“A Bedtime Drink” by Dutch painter Johannes Rosierse (circa 1860)

A nightcap is a drink taken shortly before bedtime. For example, a small alcoholic drink or glass of warm milk can supposedly promote a good night's sleep.[1][2]

Alcoholic nightcaps and sleep[edit]

Traditional nightcaps include brandy, bourbon, and cream-based liqueurs such as Irish cream. Wine and beer can also function as nightcaps.[3]

In folk medicine, consuming a nightcap is for the purpose of inducing sleep. Alcohol is not recommended by many doctors as a sleep aid because it may interfere with sleep quality.[4] But, in low doses, alcohol has sleep-promoting benefits,[1] and some popular sleep medicines include 10% alcohol,[5] although the effects of alcohol upon sleep can wear off somewhat after several nights of consecutive use.[6]


Milk being warmed on a stove

Originally, a "nightcap" was understood to be alcoholic, the idea being that it warms the drinker up and helps him or her sleep, just like the garment of the same name.[7] That changed in 1930, when the non-alcoholic drink Ovaltine was advertised as "the world's best 'night-cap' to ensure sound, natural sleep".[7] An ingredient of Ovaltine is magnesium which helps to induce relaxation.[8]

Likewise, warm milk is often recommended as a nightcap for inducing sleep, because it contains both tryptophan and calcium.[2] The flavor of the warm milk can be improved by adding a small amount of liqueur which may promote sleep as well; alternatively, honey and/or vanilla can improve the flavor.[2] The effectiveness of warm milk for inducing sleep is disputed.[9]

Other drinks touted for inducing sleep are hops tea, cherry juice (contains melatonin), coconut water (contains magnesium), banana smoothie, lemon balm tea, decaffeinated green tea (contains theanine), valerian tea, and chamomile tea.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Stone, Barbara. "Sleep and low doses of alcohol". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 1980; 48: 706-709.
  2. ^ a b c Green, Wendy. The Greatest Guide to Slimming & Healthy Living, p. 15 (2010).
  3. ^ Gaines, Jordan. “A night cap may get you to sleep, but studies show it will also make you sleep less well”, Washington Post (December 2, 2013).
  4. ^ "Alcohol & Sleep: Nix the Nightcap?". Webmd. Retrieved 2015-11-01.
  5. ^ “VICKS ZZZQUIL FAQ”, Vicks, accessed November 20, 2017: “ZzzQuil Calming Vanilla Cherry Liquid and ZzzQuil Warming Berry Liquid contain 10 percent alcohol. ZzzQuil LiquiCaps and ZzzQuil Alcohol Free Liquid do not contain alcohol.”
  6. ^ Roehrs, Timothy and Roth, Thomas. “Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use”, Alcohol Research and Health, 2001;25(2):101-9.
  7. ^ a b "Overview Nightcap", Oxford Reference, Oxford University Press, accessed November 20, 2017.
  8. ^ a b "10 drinks to help you sleep like a baby", MSN, accessed November 20, 2017.
  9. ^ Wright, Brierly. “Six sleep myths busted”, Sun-Sentinel (June 13, 2012).

External links[edit]