Energy drinks, as controversial as they are, are growing in popularity. People see them as a way to get a quick burst of energy. But what if you want to relax or “chill out” instead? Of course, it was only a matter of time before drink manufacturers came out with beverages that help you feel mellower.
With names like Bliss, Marley’s Mellow Mood, and Neuro Bliss, these beverages are the antithesis of the energy drink. Instead of revving you up like a high-powered cup of coffee, they help you relax. Some people are sipping these drinks to unwind at the end of a busy day. Others are drinking them at bedtime in hopes of getting a better night’s sleep. Do these beverages really do what they claim to do, help you relax, and, most importantly, are they safe?
What’s in Relaxation Beverages?
Relaxation drinks are part of a growing trend towards “functional beverages,” beverages that do more than satisfy thirst. These beverages contain added ingredients like amino acids, minerals, vitamins or herbs that supposedly offer some health benefit beyond simple hydration. One of the best examples is vitamin water, water with added vitamins.
Vitamin water? Vitamin water is really just synthetically colored and flavored waters sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Although vitamin water does contain vitamins, the amount they contain is usually small and it’s questionable whether the vitamins maintain their viability when they’re exposed to light. Plus, they’re usually packaged in plastic bottles that contain BPA. Not exactly a recipe for health!
Relaxation beverages contain a variety of supplements that have a calming effect. The most common ingredients in relaxation beverages are melatonin, GABA, l-theanine, kava, and valerian. Some research shows these supplements reduce anxiety and help with sleep. Let’s look at each one.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by a tiny gland in your brain called the pineal gland. The main purpose of melatonin is to regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Some studies show melatonin helps with jet lag. It may also help with sleep. Most doctors recommend 1 milligram of melatonin for sleep and for jet lag. Some relaxation drinks have as much as 5 milligrams of melatonin, more than most people need. No one knows what the long-term effects of consuming high levels of melatonin are.
GABA is a chemical made by your brain. It blocks brain signals and has a calming effect. Some research suggests it lowers blood pressure and helps with motion sickness. Sounds promising, but drinking a drink containing GABA may not offer any benefits at all. It doesn’t appear GABA from relaxation beverages crosses the blood-brain barrier to reach the brain.
L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes relaxation. Research shows l-theanine is linked with an increase in alpha brain waves, brain waves associated with relaxation and peaceful feelings but no drowsiness. Massage and meditation both increase alpha brain waves. L-theanine seems to improve sleep quality too, based on small studies. L-theanine also seems to have antioxidant activity. You don’t need to sip a relaxation beverage to get the benefits of l-theanine. High-quality green tea from Japan contains l-theanine and has other health benefits as well.
Kava comes from the Kava plant. It’s used as a ceremonial drink in the Pacific Islands due to its mood-altering effects. Research suggests it may reduce anxiety and promote relaxation – but there are unanswered questions about its long-term safety, in particular, its effects on liver function. Canada and some European countries banned it after some people taking kava developed liver failure.
Valerian root, an herb, has been used medicinally since the time of ancient Greece to ease anxiety, help with sleep and relieve stomach cramps. Valerian appears to ease anxiety and help people feel calmer but it does it so well that it may be TOO sedating. Definitely not something you want to guzzle and then drive. When you drink a relaxation drink, you don’t know how much valerian is in it.
The Problem with Relaxation Drinks
Most relaxation beverages are made with a proprietary blend of ingredients and supplements. In many cases, the manufacturer doesn’t list the quantities of each supplement on the label, so you don’t know how much you’re getting. The supplements in these drinks, depending on how much is in them, can cause sedation. That’s why they aren’t safe to drink during the day when you’re driving or need to stay alert.
Some relaxation beverages seem to have a calming effect, assuming they contain enough of the active ingredients, but they can also cause sedation. Relaxation drinks may be too much of a good thing, especially if you’re drinking them during the day when you need to stay awake.
There’s not a lot of transparency with these drinks – you don’t always know what you’re getting. These beverages are labeled as dietary supplements so they don’t need FDA approval. Some may not contain enough of the active ingredients to do much of anything. Others may contain too much. In addition, some contain added sugar and lots of it. For example, Marley’s Mellow Mood has 44 grams of added sugar.
Plus, the supplements in these drinks may interact with some medications. If you consume one after drinking alcohol, the sedative effects will be magnified.
Alternatives to Relaxation Beverages
Chamomile tea is a good option if you want to relax. Small studies show chamomile extract helps relieve anxiety and promote sleep. It’s not for everyone. If you’re allergic to ragweed pollen, you may have experienced an allergic reaction to chamomile. Chamomile can also interfere with some medications, especially blood thinners.
Drinking high-quality green tea may also help you de-stress as long as you choose high-quality green tea.
Tart cherry juice is relatively high in natural sugar but a study showed tart cherry juice improved sleep quality in people suffering from insomnia. It’s loaded with antioxidants too.
The Bottom Line
Relaxation drinks do contain ingredients that MAY help you unwind but they’re unproven and you don’t know how much of each ingredient you’re getting. Plus, some are high in sugar. They’re probably not the best option when you want to relax.
NYU Langone Medical Center. “L-Theanine”
Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2011 Jan;45(1):27-35. doi: 10.3109/00048674.2010.522554. Epub 2010 Nov 15.
WebMD. “Kava for Anxiety: Is Short-Term Use Safe?
National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine. “Study Shows Chamomile Capsules Ease Anxiety Symptoms”
Trends in Food Science & Technology, Volume 10, Issue 12, December 1999, Page 425.
J Med Food. Jun 2010; 13(3): 579-583.
Related Articles By Cathe: