When you drink a hot beverage before bed it will very slightly and briefly raise your body temperature. Then, thanks to homeostasis, your body temperature will return to normal. It just so happens that a slight drop in core temperature is one of your body’s sleep cues. This may be one of the reasons that warming drinks help us transition into a relaxed mode before bed. But which hot drink is the best choice for you?
If you read our blog post this month on 7 natural sleep aids, you may have learned that there is a significant amount of science to support the “sleepytime” magic of chamomile tea. A quick synopsis is that the chamomile plant, from which the tea is made, is full of antioxidants that bind the same receptors as GABA and benzodiazepine drugs; both are chemical messengers of relaxation .
If you’re looking for a creamy alternative to chamomile tea, it might be time to jump on the golden milk bandwagon. The “Golden Milk” recipe below is adapted from traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and gets its gold color from turmeric. Turmeric is a spice (that comes from the root of the turmeric plant) with a long list of beneficial properties. The “milk” is not usually dairy. In this recipe, we will use almond milk, as almonds are a rich source of magnesium, a powerful mineral for rest and relaxation.
Many of turmeric’s benefits are elicited by a compound it contains called curcumin. Among the many systems curcumin can support in the human body, there is significant evidence to show that curcumin can increase production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin . Dopamine is typically linked to feelings of pleasure and emotion . Serotonin, also commonly thought of as a neurotransmitter of pleasure, is involved in neurovegetative functions of the body such as appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, mood, behavior (including sexual and hallucinogenic behavior), cardiovascular functions, muscle contraction, and endocrine regulation . Moreover, serotonin is a precursor for the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Low serotonin production can present as both a low, depressed mood and poor sleep, due to this connection.
One drawback to curcumin from turmeric is that it is not highly bioavailable. However, absorption increases slightly in the presence of the chemical piperine, found in black pepper . This is why a pinch of black pepper is found in this recipe. If you are looking for a more readily absorbable form and a more significant dose of curcumin, try Metabolic Maintenance’s Curcumin + C supplement (linked here).
Curcumin is not the only functional nutrient to be found in golden milk. As mentioned, this drink is also a good source of magnesium. Magnesium is involved in over 600 different enzymatic reactions in the body, which makes the demand for this mineral very high. Unfortunately, magnesium deficiency is very common, and deficiency rates increase with age as absorption decreases and bone density declines . As magnesium plays a role in relaxation, both physically (through the relaxation of nerves and muscles) and mentally (by binding GABA receptors and regulating the action of melatonin), it is no wonder that magnesium deficiency often results in insomnia [5,6].
Again, magnesium is also available in supplement form for a more impactful dose. Metabolic Maintenance offers magnesium in a number of formulas, or as a stand-alone nutrient.
A close relative of turmeric, ginger too has a history of therapeutic use. Its main bioactive compound, gingerol, has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties . Among its many applications, clinical studies have reported ginger to be beneficial for weight management, joint pain, and nausea [7,8,9]. Perhaps even more closely related to its benefits as a bedtime drink, ginger can help with indigestion that may otherwise keep you up and appears to have an active, restorative, anti-inflammatory role in the brain [11,12,13].
While sweet to the tooth, honey is actually a great bedtime treat. While it does contain natural sugar, the slight lift to your blood glucose levels triggers an insulin release that allows tryptophan into the brain . Tryptophan is the amino acid precursor for serotonin production, and serotonin is the precursor for melatonin, the sleep hormone. The brain runs on glucose, and honey can restore your glycogen (stored glucose) levels to make sure your brain has plenty of energy to repair and restore its function while you sleep. Honey is more tolerable than other sugars to most diabetics and prediabetics and has a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome .
Golden Milk Recipe (Serves 2)
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Ground Turmeric
1/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 pinch black pepper
Honey to taste (about 1 tablespoon per mug)
Note: Ayurvedic medicine dictates that honey should never be heated much beyond 104℉, as heat changes its chemical composition and its effect on the body. Some studies have shown that indeed, heated honey produces more hydroxymethyl furfuraldehyde (HMF) which is potentially toxic . More modern science has shown that these HMF levels are present in most sugar-containing foods we eat and the jury is still out on whether HMF is really that bad for you . Nevertheless, with respect to the ayurvedic origins of this drink, we will add honey after we have removed the drink from the heat and it is in the process of cooling.
Warm almond milk in a small saucepan and whisk consistently as you add each of the ingredients (except the honey). Warm until steamy, but do not boil. Pour into mugs and add honey to taste. Add a small sprinkle of cinnamon to the top of each drink before serving.
This recipe packs a punch. If this mix is too spice-heavy for you, feel free to adjust the suggested proportions. It should still have warming and calming effects, even with a slightly milder flavor.
- Srivastava, Janmejai K., Eswar Shankar, and Sanjay Gupta. “Chamomile: a herbal medicine of the past with a bright future.” Molecular medicine reports 3.6 (2010): 895-901.
- Kulkarni, S. K., Ashish Dhir, and Kiran Kumar Akula. “Potentials of curcumin as an antidepressant.” The Scientific World Journal 9 (2009): 1233-1241.
- Shoba, Guido, et al. “Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers.” Planta medica 64 (1998): 353-356.
- De Baaij, Jeroen HF, Joost GJ Hoenderop, and René JM Bindels. “Magnesium in man: implications for health and disease.” Physiological reviews (2015).
- Musso CG Magnesium metabolism in health and disease. Int Urol Nephrol 2009;41:357-62.
- Boomsma, Diane. “The magic of magnesium.” International journal of pharmaceutical compounding 12.4 (2008): 306-309.
- Wang, Shaopeng, et al. “Biological properties of 6-gingerol: a brief review.” Natural product communications 9.7 (2014): 1934578X1400900736.
- Sayed, Samy, et al. “Ginger water reduces body weight gain and improves energy expenditure in rats.” Foods 9.1 (2020): 38.
- Bartels, E. M., et al. “Efficacy and safety of ginger in osteoarthritis patients: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials.” Osteoarthritis and cartilage 23.1 (2015): 13-21.
- Anh, Nguyen Hoang, et al. “Ginger on human health: a comprehensive systematic review of 109 randomized controlled trials.” Nutrients 12.1 (2020): 157.
- Nikkhah Bodagh, Mehrnaz, Iradj Maleki, and Azita Hekmatdoost. “Ginger in gastrointestinal disorders: A systematic review of clinical trials.” Food science & nutrition 7.1 (2019): 96-108.
- Wattanathorn, Jintanaporn, et al. “Zingiber officinale mitigates brain damage and improves memory impairment in focal cerebral ischemic rat.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011 (2010).
- Oboh, Ganiyu, Adedayo O. Ademiluyi, and Ayodele J. Akinyemi. “Inhibition of acetylcholinesterase activities and some pro-oxidant induced lipid peroxidation in rat brain by two varieties of ginger (Zingiber officinale).” Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology 64.4 (2012): 315-319.
- Erejuwa, Omotayo O., Siti A. Sulaiman, and Mohd S. Ab Wahab. “Honey-a novel antidiabetic agent.” International journal of biological sciences 8.6 (2012): 913.
- Antal Jr, Michael Jerry, William SL Mok, and Geoffrey N. Richards. “Mechanism of formation of 5-(hydroxymethyl)-2-furaldehyde from D-fructose and sucrose.” Carbohydrate research 199.1 (1990): 91-109.
- Shapla, Ummay Mahfuza, et al. “5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) levels in honey and other food products: effects on bees and human health.” Chemistry Central Journal 12.1 (2018): 1-18.