Like liquid chill pills, these beverages promise to make you mellower in just a few sips. Three O staffers drank them for two weeks to see if they lived up to the hype.
The Promise: Offers relaxation without drowsiness.
The Science: The drink's most touted ingredient is L-theanine, an amino acid found in green tea leaves; it may help you calm down by increasing the brain's production of alpha waves, which are associated with relaxation. One small study found that people who took 50 milligrams of L-theanine (one can of Just Chill contains more than three times that amount) exhibited increased alpha activity.
Real-Life Road Test: "I'd reach for a can at 3 P.M., when my occasional state of unfocused frazzledness sets in. I was expecting to feel sleepy, but instead my productivity spiked, and I felt far more attuned to the task at hand. While I was pleasantly surprised by the 40 minutes of sharp concentration that followed, the aftertaste leaves something to be desired."
—Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Senior Editor
The Promise: Leads to a high-quality slumber, so you can perform better the next day.
The Science: In addition to L-theanine, melatonin and magnesium, Neuro Sleep contains 5-HTP, a chemical compound that boosts serotonin production, possibly im- proving sleep. But according to the National Institutes of Health, there's insufficient evi- dence that the chemical is safe or effective for alleviating sleep disorders.
Real-Life Road Test: "With a 6-month-old baby, it's hard for me to fall asleep some nights even if I'm dog tired. But after making this Hi-C–tasting drink my nightcap, I found myself drifting off within 20 minutes. Even though I'm a light sleeper, I wasn't roused by every little sound—I could still hear my son when he woke up, but my sleep was deeper. Plus, I felt extra energized on mornings after I drank one compared with the days when I had skipped it."
—Kristi Stewart, Editorial Projects Coordinator
The Promise: Soothes your worried mind.
The Science: Small studies have shown that the root of the valerian plant, a key ingredient in this beverage, may aid in reducing insomnia—but the effect was found only at doses of 400 milligrams or more. At just 15 milligrams per can, Koma Unwind offers significantly less.
Real-Life Road Test: "At first, I chugged Koma only before bed—the grape taste was not for me, and it made me so sleepy that I was dead set against drinking it at the office. But during a particularly tough day that had me on edge, I downed a can at my desk. I could feel its effects within 30 minutes—I was able to tune out distractions and focus on the work in front of me. It definitely slowed me down a bit, but also kept me from losing the whole afternoon to anxiety and agitation."
—Abbe Wright, Assistant Editor
For our testers, the three drinks seemed to lead to greater serenity, but one question remained on everyone's minds: Are they safe? Compared with anxiety and sleep medications, which go through rigorous clinical trials, these beverages are loosely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. They can pack as much sugar as a can of soda (Koma has a whopping 46.5 grams!) while offering such small amounts of their herbal ingredients that you're unlikely to feel a lasting effect, says Sylvie Stacy, MD, a resident in preventive medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has reviewed the safety and efficacy of these kinds of drinks.
"The placebo effect likely plays a role in making you feel relaxed," she says. "It's instinctive to want to use something that seems to work so quickly and effortlessly, but, while consuming one of these calm-down drinks every once in a while likely won't do you any harm, be careful about relying on them too much." Bottom line: If you're constantly resorting to a quick fix to sleep or relax, you should consult a doctor to pinpoint the root of the problem.
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