Do these viral TikTok sleep hacks actually work?
I had to find out if chugging lettuce water before bed actually makes you sleepy.
People’s lack of sleep is one of the main causes of undue stress, and the chaos has to stop (it’s me, I’m people). To alleviate this problem, many of us with sleep issues have gone online in the hopes of discovering some potion or tincture that scores us some deeply needed shut eye, but sometimes using those come with their own risks.
This is where TikTok makes its entrance. While the social media platform can be known for spreading terrible recipes and even dangerous tips like suggesting you block a kind of important airway before hitting the sack for the night, there are some viral sleep hacks on the platform that may have real world validity. And just like me, you may be surprised to learn which ones actually have science (and actual sleep experts) confirming just that.
The two-minute military sleeping hack
Our first hack comes from the efficient and regimented minds of our service members: the two-minute military sleeping hack. The technique, developed by the army office triad, first printed in the early 80s by author Lloyd Bud Winter in his book Relax and Win: Championship Performance, and later made available on the Internet by the military themselves, recently found new life four decades later in vertical video form.
Its first mention on TikTok with 10.5 million views was by fitness coach and TikTok user @justin_agustin. He describes the process, which starts with systematically relaxing each part of your body from your head down to your feet, then clearing the head of any thoughts by visualizing calm open spaces, and by fighting intrusive thoughts by repeating the words “don’t think.” Augustin says, in the clip, this technique was developed for fighter pilots who need mental acuity on a set schedule and have to fall asleep on short notice “even on the battlefield when the environment is extremely uncomfortable.”
The idea is undeniably popular off and online, with others, like TikTok user @seandreww, trying their hand at the hack with apparent success, garnering up to 11 million views on each video. So, does it work? And if so, why?
“I've used this military technique before in college, and it works great,” says Daniel DeLucchi, a Seattle-based chiropractor who has a TikTok focused on getting his over 600,000 followers to work on their posture, tend to their joints, and get them to sleep comfortably. DeLucchi tells Mic that the technique utilizes a combination of progressive muscle relaxation, and self-hypnosis, both proven techniques for helping folks with trouble sleeping, even those suffering from COVID. “It helps you lower your heart rate and blood pressure and it slows your breathing down, which helps the body relax, and fall asleep faster.”
Drinking lettuce water
There are several videos on TikTok going viral of people trying the “lettuce water” hack, and if you just recoiled in disgust, well, same. In one video with over 3.5 million views, users @thecoreyb and @callmebelly each place romaine lettuce in a jar, add boiling hot water to it, and then drink the resulting chartreuse-colored liquid, both claiming it makes them sleepy within minutes.
Honestly, this tip seemed completely made up, kind of like a suggestion somebody heard on a GOOP-ish Instagram live somewhere. But to my astonishment, and according to both sleep experts and I spoke to for this story, there is some scientific evidence to support the idea of drinking lettuce tea.
“When you look at ancient times in terms of herbology, plants were used as medicine,” says Valerie Cacho, an Oahu-based internal and sleep medicine physician, and co-editor of the book Integrative Sleep Medicine. Thousands of years ago, people relied on the knowledge of great Romans like Pliny the Elder to suggest herbal remedies that could treat any ailments a person might have. While the former’s suggestion that you place the gallbladder of a female goat under your pillow to go to bed probably won’t work too well, his neighbors, the Greeks, used lettuce as a treatment for insomnia. “It also has anti-pain and anti-inflammatory properties as well,” she adds.
“I thought it was a little fishy too, but then I discovered there’s research based on lettuce seed extract showing there is some evidence it helps with sleep latency over a period of time,” says DeLucchi. The 2018 study, published in Food Science and Biotechnology used a distilled version of dried lettuce and lettuce seed, noting that these items contain lactucin and lactucopicrin, known to be sleep-inducing compounds. Both doctors I spoke to caution that this study was not conducted on humans but rodents, so a grain of salt must be taken as to their effectiveness on all of us bipeds. There was also a pilot experiment that showed lettuce supplements improved sleep based on subjective questionnaires, but no in-lab studies on humans as of yet.
“Especially for kids and pregnant women who shouldn’t really take sleeping pills, this actually may be a reasonable alternative, although not necessarily how it's shown in these videos,” Cacho says. She notes that while TikTokers are boiling the lettuce in all of these videos, essential oils, like the lettuce oil used in these studies, are distilled down into a concentrate, so lettuce water likely has much less of that active ingredient.
So are we to do as the Romans do? Bottom line: You could give it a try. It certainly can’t hurt.
The 90-minute sleep cycle
Visualize this: You activate your grown-up nighttime routine before an important day at work or school, go to sleep with extra time to spare, and set your alarm for the usual time you wake up, drifting into your own personal well-prepared dreamland. When you get up, however, you’re as groggy as if you’ve been pulling an all nighter. What gives?
It turns out that you just might have failed sleep science 101, according to a TikTok by user @addison.jarman, who mentions in her clip with over 9.3 million views the fact that our sleep cycles have a set amount of time, and if we’re getting up in the middle of one of our cycles, bad things happen.
“We cycle between four different sleep stages, about every 90 minutes,” says Cacho, adding that the stages include three stages of NREM, or non-rapid eye movement, and the final stage, REM. When you wake up extra tired in the morning, even with plenty of time to sleep, it’s likely because you’ve experienced sleep inertia, or the feeling of sluggishness one feels after waking, usually caused by waking up from an unfinished cycle of sleep.
“I always recommend to patients that they find out how much they actually need that serves them the next day,” Cacho says. Comparing sleep to exercise, if you're going to run a marathon, you can probably afford to eat some more carbs the night before, because your body would need that energy. “Sleep is the same way: If you're going to have a pretty chill Sunday brunching with friends, you're probably going to survive with less than the recommended 7 to 9 hours to make it through your day, versus if you have a big presentation or have to study for a test or exam,” she says. Cacho also notes your personal cycles of sleep vary, and it may not be exactly 90 minutes for everyone.
Both experts say that for this method, there's two processes at play here that affect a person’s sleep: our circadian rhythm, and the homeostatic sleep drive, also known as our internal clock. Thinking to myself about my own sleeping habits, on weekdays I usually go to bed around 12:30 AM (I work from home, what do you want from me) and get up around 8:30 AM for a 9 AM start to the workday in my abominable snowman pajamas that I fully plan on rocking well into the summer season.
Unknowingly, I have been doing this exact technique without knowing why — I just made sure to get the amount of sleep that would allow me to gently wake with the sunrise, snooze, and then fully awake fresh for the day.
“We all want to make sure that we're getting the amount of sleep that we need,” Cacho says of my sleep habits. “It sounds like you've adapted your life around that, and not everybody is so lucky.”