What’s your go-to beverage before bed? Is it chamomile tea? A glass of wine? Warm milk? If those stress-reducing drinks still leave you tossing and turning, let us introduce you to kava, the ultimate snooze-inducing sip.
Kava is a small shrub that grows in the Pacific islands, where the inhabitants have a long history of using it in social and religious ceremonies, as well as for medicinal purposes. In the states, kava is starting to grow in popularity as an all-natural anxiety reliever, muscle relaxer, and tension tamer. It’s also used as a treatment for sleep problems like insomnia, per a July 2015 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
If you’re already familiar with kava, chances are you’ve heard of the purported risks of liver damage due to kava consumption. In January 2002, a German study reported that kava was linked to liver damage, resulting in a kava ban in the country. However, that ban has since been reversed and many subsequent studies have disputed that 2002 research. Kava is legal in the US as a dietary supplement.
The way kava is typically consumed is by grinding the roots and stump into a fine powder and mixing it with water. However, kava has a muddy, bitter taste, and it's popular to follow kava with something sweet to mask the flavor or mix the powder into a smoothie or tea.
To ease seamlessly into dreamland, sip your kava an hour before bed. You can take it in tea form by either adding kava root powder to warm water or buying premade kava tea ($23.88 for 96 tea bags, Amazon), as well as in a capsule ($12.99 for 60, Amazon) or tincture versions ($12.45 for one ounce, Amazon). You should try to stay between 70 and 250 milligrams of kavalactones (the active ingredient in kava), so check the product label to see how much you can have.
The first time you have kava, you may be surprised to feel your lips go numb. This is totally normal and should wear off. It takes about 20 minutes to really start feeling kava’s effects, which will last about three hours — just enough time to get through your nighttime routine and curl up in bed.
In addition to being a nighttime drink, kava is a popular alternative to alcohol, as it provides the same relaxing effects as a good cocktail but none of the mental fog and inevitable next-day hangover. Kava also comes in a paste form for topical application ($54.99, Amazon). The same pain relievers in kava that numb your mouth also treat muscle pain and spasms.
Be sure to look for “noble” kava as opposed to “non-noble” kava, which can cause a kava hangover of sorts. “Noble” kava is said to produce more enjoyable feelings and carries a lower risk of negative side effects.