A new TikTok trend promises to help people fall asleep faster with just a few sips of "lettuce water," made when one boils water, pours it over romaine lettuce and then drinks the water once it's cooled a bit.
The trend went viral on TikTok, and the hashtag #lettucewater has garnered over 26 million views on the platform. Videos show users making the drink and reporting back about their sleep that night. Many noted that the drink looked and smelled unappealing, with one creator saying that it "tastes how asparagus pee smells."
While the trend is harmless, experts caution that it likely won't do much.
Registered dietitian Samantha Cassetty told TODAY that there have only been preliminary studies about the effects of romaine on sleep. One study, conducted on mice in South Korea in 2017, did find romaine lettuce to be "an interesting and valuable source of sleep-potentiating material." The study also noted using the extract of green romaine lettuce "significantly reduced sleep latency," or the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and "increased sleep duration" in mice when compared to other lettuces.
However, the study was conducted on mice that had already been sedated with a pentobarbital medication and used romaine extract, which is much more concentrated than lettuce water would be and makes it hard to compare the results of the study to the use of the tea-like lettuce water.
"When you drink a lot of water in this way, that is not the same thing as getting a highly concentrated extract," said Cassetty, who compared it to using turmeric as a spice in food or taking it as a supplement. "We don't know, even if in supplement form, if this type of extract would be helpful because (the study) was very preliminary and did not take place in humans. We cannot just assume that something that happens in the lab animal would then translate to humans."
Multiple TikTok doctors and other health experts also shared videos trying to highlight the gaps in the research surrounding lettuce water. Dr. Richard Brown, a board-certified plastic surgeon, pointed out that several types of lettuces, including romaine, include lactucin and lactucarium, two compounds which can help with sleep. However, they need to be present in large quantities, more than one could get out of a few lettuce leaves.
Cassetty also said that sleep quality and duration can vary based on other lifestyle factors like diet, environment and general well-being.
"We have to think about it over the course of the day," said Cassetty.
If you are trying to improve your sleep, Cassetty recommends making some diet changes like not drinking caffeine any later than 2:00 p.m. and trying to avoid foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
"Those snack foods — white bread, white crackers, sugary cereals, dessert food and cookies — have been tied with less sleep, less restorative sleep, more wake ups during the night (and) that lighter or more disrupted sleep," Cassetty explained. "Your overall diet pattern really does influence how well you sleep."
Cassetty said that foods that are rich in fiber or nutrients like magnesium, a mineral that "helps your body turn the switch off so you can relax at night and fall asleep."
"Many people don't eat enough magnesium and in studies, people who have insomnia tend to have lower magnesium intake," Cassetty said. "Plant foods are going to supply you with all those building blocks that our bodies seem to need."
Other lifestyle changes, like avoiding electronic screens at night and incorporating exercise into your daily routine, can help with sleep.
If you're specifically looking for a solution in your kitchen cabinet, Cassetty said that some fruits like tart cherries and kiwis seem to have a "beneficial effect" on sleep, and chamomile tea has been found to "promote relaxation."
While the lettuce water trend may not really make an impact on your sleep, Cassetty said it's not something that's likely to be harmful so long as basic food safety practices are followed.
"Assuming you're washing the lettuce and it doesn't harbor salmonella or something else, and then you're putting it in boiling water, there would be no real harm from doing that," Cassetty said. "The major thing I can see is you might have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, which would be very disruptive to your sleep and counterproductive."