A Bedtime Drink by Dutch painter Johannes Rosierse (c. 1860)

A nightcap is a drink taken shortly before bedtime. For example, a small alcoholic drink or glass of warm milk can supposedly promote a good night's sleep.[1][2]

Alcoholic nightcaps and sleep

See also: Alcohol use and sleep

Nightcaps can be neat or mixed. They should not be served chilled or on the rocks, because their point is to induce a feeling of warmth.[3] The hot toddy is usually considered the original nightcap.[4] Other traditional nightcaps include brown liquor like brandy or bourbon,[3] and cream-based liqueurs such as Irish cream. Wine, especially fortified,[5] can also function as a nightcap.[6] Since some nightcaps are made of amaro, a digestif, they are believed to also make settling into bed easier by promoting digestion.[4]

In folk medicine, consuming a nightcap is for the purpose of inducing sleep. Alcohol is not recommended by many doctors as a sleep aid because it interferes with sleep quality.[7] But, in low doses, alcohol has sleep-promoting benefits,[1][better source needed] and some popular sleep medicines include 10% alcohol,[8] although the effects of alcohol upon sleep can wear off somewhat after several nights of consecutive use.[9]


A nightcap was originally alcoholic, since it makes the drinker feel warm and helps them sleep, just like the garment of the same name.[10] However, warm milk is often recommended as a nightcap for inducing sleep. It contains both tryptophan and calcium.[11] The effectiveness of warm milk for inducing sleep is disputed.[12]

In 1930, Ovaltine was advertised as "the world's best 'night-cap' to ensure sound, natural sleep".[10]

See also


  1. ^ a b Stone, Barbara. "Sleep and low doses of alcohol". Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. 1980; 48: 706-709.
  2. ^ Green, Wendy. The Greatest Guide to Slimming & Healthy Living, p. 15 (2010).
  3. ^ a b "5 Great Nightcaps – Ending The Best Night Of Your Life". Kiss Mattress. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Stock, Mark (October 10, 2021). "The 5 Best Nightcap Cocktails To End the Day Right". The Manual. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  5. ^ Newman, Kara. "Five Nightcap Cocktails to End the Day Right". Wine Enthusiast. Retrieved December 1, 2022.
  6. ^ Gaines, Jordan. “A night cap may get you to sleep, but studies show it will also make you sleep less well”, Washington Post (December 2, 2013).
  7. ^ "Alcohol & Sleep: Nix the Nightcap?". Webmd. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  8. ^ “VICKS ZZZQUIL FAQ”, Vicks, accessed November 20, 2017: “ZzzQuil Calming Vanilla Cherry Liquid and ZzzQuil Warming Berry Liquid contain 10 percent alcohol. ZzzQuil LiquiCaps and ZzzQuil Alcohol Free Liquid do not contain alcohol.”
  9. ^ Roehrs, Timothy and Roth, Thomas. “Sleep, Sleepiness, and Alcohol Use”, Alcohol Research and Health, 2001;25(2):101-9.
  10. ^ a b "Overview Nightcap", Oxford Reference, Oxford University Press, accessed November 20, 2017.
  11. ^ Green, Wendy. The Greatest Guide to Slimming & Healthy Living, p. 15 (2010).
  12. ^ Wright, Brierly. “Six sleep myths busted”, Sun-Sentinel (June 13, 2012).