TikTok Users Swear Lettuce Water Helps Them Sleep
In the world of armchair experts on social media, it's always best to do your homework before trying a hack or trend — no matter how viral. The latest: With 41.2 million views and counting on TikTok, #lettucewater posts share a sleep hack that involves, obviously, drinking water infused with lettuce (usually romaine or iceberg). While the origin of the trend is unclear, TikTok user Shapla Hoque, or @shapla_11, was one of the first to post about lettuce water, also called lettuce tea, in May last year. Since then, the post has garnered 1.5 million likes, which isn't surprising given how many people struggle with sleep on the reg. (FWIW, about 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)
After steeping a clump of, what looks like, iceberg lettuce — along with a peppermint tea bag for taste — in hot water, Hoque, drinks the beverage. And by the end of the clip, you see Hoque recline comfortably, implying that the veggie drink did leave her drowsy.
Watch enough TikTok users sip on lettuce water in the name of Zzz's and you'll begin to notice a few things. For one, there doesn't seem to be a universal recipe to answer the question, "how do you make lettuce water?"; TikTok users have been adding varying amounts of H2O and leaving the leaves
So, does lettuce water actually help you sleep?
Unlike many other TikTok trends (looking at you, mucus fishing), there's is a little science behind lettuce water.
Lettuce contains a compound called lactucarium, which has the potential to make you feel sleepy, according to Christopher Winter, M.D., of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution: Why Your Sleep Is Broken and How to Fix It. Note the word "potential" there, as it has yet to be determined whether lactucarium — which, BTW, is the milky substance you might've seen seeping from the base of a head of lettuce — crosses the blood-brain barrier (which would be needed to actually make you sleepy), says Dr. Winter. "The pharmaceutical industry looked into it [if there's any real sedative level to lactucarium] years ago with animal studies and gave up on it, which should tell you a lot."
That being said, there's at least one study that looked at the impact of lettuce seed extract on mice who were also injected with the prescription sedative pentobarbital and found that the extract from green and red romaine lettuce "showed a tendency to increase the sleep duration" in the mice at higher concentrations. Meaning, the mice who had higher levels of lettuce extract (and, thus, potentially lactucarium) slept longer. But the study has a lot of caveats, including the fact that it was done on mice (not humans), the mice were given pentobarbital to make them initially drowsy, it looked at lettuce seed extract (not lettuce water), and it didn't compare the effect to mice that didn't get lettuce. "So they really can't say anything at all," says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., PharmD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. "I don't think there is any science yet to back up this claim." (Related: Should You Be Taping Your Mouth Shut for Better Sleep?)
Another rodent study published in 2019 also found that romaine lettuce extract helped rats sleep longer than usual. But, again, this is research on animals, not people, and included pretty high doses of lettuce extract, not lettuce water.
There are a few other potential issues with the claim that lettuce water will make you sleepy. "The biggest thing is volume — as in, how much you would need to give somebody to feel sedated," says Dr. Winter. "How would you ever get enough out of a few pieces of lettuce steeped in water? The process of extracting lactucarium is much more complicated."
"If this was something that was actually sedating, you wouldn't be able to leave a restaurant after having a chef salad," continues Dr. Winter. "You'll get way more lettuce — and potentially sedating lactucarium — if you're eating a salad than if you're just steeping a few leaves."
So why are all these TikTok users dozing off after drinking lettuce water? There are a few potential reasons: One is that it could simply be the placebo effect at play, says Alan. Meaning, if you think lettuce water will make you tired, it can actually make you feel tired on some level.
Another has to do with the fact that you're sipping on a warm beverage. "The warmth of a beverage can feel relaxing and sedating for some people," adds Dr. Winter. In fact, research has linked a slew of warm drinks, including milk and various teas, to sleepiness. But, beyond that, "there's really no science to support" drinking lettuce water to help you sleep, says Dr. Winter. (See also: The 10 Best Natural Sleep Aids, According to Customer Reviews)
Not to mention the concoction may taste pretty gross. After all, you're literally soaking lettuce in water — a process that allows the liquid to take on the flavor of the dry ingredients, which in this case are lettuce leaves. Other than potentially having to chug nasty-tasting beverage, drinking lettuce water is pretty safe, says Alan. "Unless you have some sort of lettuce allergy, this is completely harmless."
What are some other hacks to help you sleep?
If you like the idea of a natural sleep aid, try just having a warm beverage before bed instead, suggests Dr. Winter. His personal recommendations include chamomile or passionflower tea — both of which have been linked to better sleep. "Drinking that warm tea could be a natural trigger for sleepiness," he says. And, if you're doing this — or any other healthy sleep hygiene habit, such as taking a hot bath, journaling, or spritzing your pillow with a lavender spray — nightly, it can create a routine that signals to your body that you're preparing to rest. "All of that can help signal to your body that when you smell, feel, and taste these things, it's time for sleep," he explains. (BTW, doing some breathing exercises for sleep before hitting the hay can also help with those Zzz's.)
Still, if you really want to add lettuce water to your p.m. routine, go for it: "It's not hurting anything," he notes. And hey, you can always take another tip from TikTok (specifically, Hoque) and steep the leaves alongside a bag of peppermint tea for a tastier bedtime beverage.