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Calm in a Can: Do Relaxation Drinks Work?

Stressed out and looking to unwind? Liquid relaxation has made its way to grocery store shelves. But is this trend too good to be true?
Calm in a Can: Do Relaxation Drinks Work?

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In a world full of liquid habits that energize, a new type of beverage promising the exact opposite is hitting the scene. Instead of a boost in a bottle, these new drinks offer calm in a can. The claim? These soothing beverages are designed to reduce stress and relieve tension [1]. But the evidence isn't nearly as convincing (or appealing) as the marketing campaign.

Drinking to Doze — Why It Matters

Photo By Kelli Kerkman

What makes relaxation drinks super-chill are a handful of ingredients that research (or folklore…) suggest can help treat anxiety, stress, and sleep disorders. So what are the big names on the ingredient list? Melatonin, a hormone that helps regular sleep cycles and induce drowsiness, is a popular addition to drinks marketed to aid sleep, while amino acids (including theanine, HTP, and green-tea based GABA) are used as both sleep aids and anti-depressants [2] [3] [4]. Kava, a root that can produce a calming effect similar to Valium — without the prescription — is also a popular addition to help treat anxiety [5]. And when faced with the double threat of stressful problems (anxiety and sleep issues), the herb valerian root may be the solution, as studies suggest it can be used as a sedative, pain reliever, and treatment for sleep disorders [6]. But it's not all relaxing rainbows and sleepy smiles…

Sipping Serenity — The Answer/Debate

If Enya tracks and a warm glass of milk aren’t doing the trick, as nice as it sounds to have a quick fix for relaxation, many of the ingredients in relaxation drinks are not FDA tested or approved for effectiveness. And because the products are not regulated by the FDA, consumers can't really be sure what's in that can or bottle. So the devil is in the details — and the ingredients. There might not be enough of the sleepy time ingredients to have any effect at all, or there could be too much of an ingredient leading to possible side effects and even negative interactions with other medications. In fact, because the beverages aren't regulated by the FDA, they aren't even required to list how much of each ingredient the cans contain, so it's all up to the consumer to risk.

Along with their tranquil traits, many ingredients have a dark side, too. The FDA has even issued a warning letter to one relaxation beverage manufacturer slapping its wrist for adding melatonin (which is not approved as a food additive) to their beverage. And the amino acid 5-HTP, found in several relaxation beverages, may cause side-effects including nausea and vomiting [7]. Not so relaxing now, is it? And studies suggest herbal ingredients like kava can be damaging to the liver, while some think valerian root can be addictive [8]. Both also cause dizziness and reduce alertness and dexterity, so driving after drinking a relaxation beverage is not recommended [5] [9].

Relaxation beverages sound like the ticket to liquid leisure, but with a cost of two to three dollars per serving, the jury is still out on whether these somewhat costly beverages actually help people relax and unwind. Plus, their effectiveness may differ from person to person [1].

Still stressed? To really relax (and keep the wallet worries at bay, too), the best quick fix may not come in a bottle or can, but by using simple relaxation techniques like deep breathing or visualization (yes, go to that happy place). And to get the most benefit, use relaxation techniques along with exercising, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep.  It does a body (and a mind) good.

This article was approved by Greatist Experts Jessica Redmond and Dr. John Mandrola

  • Relaxation beverages are a new trend marketed as a way to help people relax and unwind without the use of alcohol.
  • They have ingredients that are known for promoting relaxation and calm, along with drowsiness and reduced alertness.
  • The amount of these ingredients is unknown, so there may be too much or too little to have the desired calming effect. The jury is still out.
  • At $2 or more a can (and questionable ingredients), a better alternative for relaxation is to try more traditional techniques like deep breathing and getting enough sleep.


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Works Cited +

  1. Relaxation drinks and their use in adolescents. Stacy, S. University of Massachusetts Medical School, Uxbridge, Massachusetts, USA. Journal of Child and Adolescence Psychopharmacology, 2011 Dec;21(6):605-10.
  2. Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: Relarian. Weeks, B.S. Department of Biology, Adelphi University, Garden City, USA. Medical Science Monitor, 2009 Nov;15(11):RA256-62.
  3. Melatonin for primary insomnia? Drug and Therapeutics Bulletin, 2009 Jul;47(7):74-7.
  4. L-theanine partially counteracts caffeine-induced sleep disturbances in rats.  Jang, H.S., Jung, J.Y., Jang, I.S., et al. Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Kyungpook National University, Republic of Korea. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 2012 Apr;101(2):217-21.
  5. Kava: a comprehensive review of efficacy, safety, and psychopharmacology. Sarris, J., LaPorte, E., Schweitzer, I.  Department of Psychiatry, The Melbourne Clinic, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2011 Jan;45(1):27-35.
  6. Effectiveness of Valerian on insomnia: a meta-analysis of randomized placebo-controlled trials. Fernández-San-Martín, M.I., Masa-Font, R., Palacios-Soler, L., et al. Servicio de Atención Primaria Litoral, Institut Català de Salut, Barcelona, Spain. Sleep Medicine, 2010 Jun;11(6):505-11.
  7. Enhanced tolerability of the 5-hydroxytryptophane challenge test combined with granisetron.  Jacobs, G.E., Kamerling, I.M., de Kam, M.L., et al.Centre for Human Drug Research, Leiden, The Netherlands, Department of Psychiatry, Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2010 Jan;24(1):65-72.
  8. Kava extract, an herbal alternative for anxiety relief, potentiates acitomenophen-induced cytotoxicity in rat hepatic cells. Yang, X., Saiminen, W.F. Division of Systems Biology, National Center for Toxicological Research, Food and Drug Administration, Jefferson, Arizona. Phytomedicine, 2011 May 15;18(7):592-600.
  9. Tradition and toxicity: evidential cultures in the kava safety debate. Baker, J.D. Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai'i at Mānoa, Honolulu, HI, USA. Social Studies of Science, 2011 Jun;41(3):361-84.