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Food: Does Lettuce Water Really Help You Sleep? We Checked the Science

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  Does Lettuce Water Really Help You Sleep? We Checked the Science © Claudia Totir

Have you ever sipped fresh mint leaves in steaming water while staring over the Mediterranean at sunset? I have. It is not similar to drinking lettuce water, the bilgelike concoction of boiling water and romaine lettuce that TikTok users insist helps with sleep.

For months TikTok users have passed around the lettuce-water trend—millions of people have watched videos of wide-eyed creators drinking hot lettuce tea. “I slept for 12 hours,” announced one intrepid leafy greens drinker in a TikTok watched 3.7 million times. “I thought for sure it was not gonna work because nothing works for me, melatonin doesn’t do anything for me anymore,” said another creator. “But that knocked me out.”

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What we want, more than anything, is for the key to wellness to be a sip, a pill, a meditation app, or anything except the bland trifecta of rest, movement, and nutrition. Could lettuce be the key to a miraculous, all-natural sleep water, an accessible dream-drip à la the enchanted water of the ancient Greek sleep god Hypnos? Lettuce water isn’t evidence-based, but it also isn’t totally baseless. Lettuce contains lactucin and lactucpicrin, which are “known as sleep enhancement substances,” according to a study published in 2019 in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin. You shouldn’t eye-roll the idea of using plants on the body, anyway. The practice of using lettuce for medicinal purposes goes back hundreds of years, The New York Times reports. And many commenters on TikTok noted that using hot lettuce water as a sleep remedy is a tradition in Mexican culture, among others.

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Okay, but does lettuce water help you sleep? There is no scientific evidence that says it has any impact. That doesn’t mean lettuce water won’t make you doze off—it just means there aren’t studies on its effect on humans. The scant studies that focus on latucin and lactucpircrin test on mice and use lettuce extract or lettuce seeds, not whole lettuce, boiled or otherwise, let alone the water it was boiled in. But think of it this way—we all understand that a lavender or rose essential oil is much more concentrated than a few crushed petals. We know there is a difference in vitamin C between a capsule and the equivalent-sized spoonful of orange juice. Lettuce has sleep-enhancing properties, but is it really possible to get them from boiling a few leaves? Maybe the better question is: How much sleep do you need?

The American Sleep Association reports that 10% of adults report chronic insomnia. It’s cruel and awful. There is a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, and why lists of the best sleep apps exist. It’s understandable that a person struggling to sleep would try anything—let alone the very low-risk intervention of lettuce water—to fall asleep. Besides, when many of us were teenagers, it was common to read a recommendation to put lemon on your face or hair, or yogurt! Raw eggs! Lettuce-water tea is nothing—nothing!—compared to those dark days. And as someone who agreed to a job of testing things from the internet, I know this: Sometimes you just have to swill around your steamy lettuce water and toast, “At least it’s not a Tide pod.”

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Having hyped myself up to drink unseasoned green soup, I obtained a bag of romaine lettuce. The lettuce was old and I dreaded making it into a homespun Cup O’ Noodles situation, sans noodles. I washed a large leaf and mashed it into a commemorative souvenir mug, moving at the pace of an indie rocker walking down the street in a music video. I simply did not want to drink hot, wet lettuce. Some people in the videos I’d watched added a mint tea bag to cover up the lettuce flavor. Watching, I had scoffed: Why not lean into the lettuce and swirl in some salad dressing? But faced with actually drinking lettuce-infused water, I threw in a mint teabag and let it steep for the length of about 24 TikTok videos.

I drank my lettuce water. It did not taste like garbage. It tasted like drinking tea in a field. The lettuce was more of a subtle smell than a flavor. Committed to controlling every aspect of my experiment, I went ahead with my normal plan of sitting centimeters from a screen for the following hour. One hour, two hours, three hours later, I could have operated heavy machinery and used my leftover energy to take a brisk walk. I drank some more lettuce water, fell asleep at a normal time for me, and woke up at 4 a.m. to pee, probably as a result of drinking lettuce water. I had a hard time falling back asleep.

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The question remains: Can lettuce help you sleep? In a TikTok viewed 7.7 million times, a new convert to lettuce water for sleep declares, “Lettuce has crack, because your sis is gone!” But in the video, you can see that she’s using the wrong kind of lettuce: iceberg instead of romaine, which means the greens didn’t really have enough lactucin and lactucpicrin to make sense as part of the experiment. Maybe that’s the best way to get a good night’s rest: Take one of the many purported remedies for sleep. Film yourself doing it. Put it on the internet. That way you’re really invested. That has to be it, otherwise we’d have to admit that what we most fear might be true: One of the greatest factors causing our poor sleep is scrolling on brightly lit phones, on apps like TikTok.

Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.

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