NBC News – Coffee is our morning obsession. Some of us love it so much, we drink it all day. But an afternoon or evening cup– even when it’s decaf –can interfere with sleep. A Vancouver coffee company claims it has a solution for java lovers: coffee that makes people sleepy.
Counting Sheep Coffee is mixed with valerian, an over-the-counter supplement made from the root of a flowering plant which has mild sedative effects. The coffee comes in two strengths — 40 Winks, which contains 176 mg of valerian powder per cup and Lights Out with 235 mg, the most amount a product can contain and still be considered food, says Counting Sheep founder Deland Jessop. In comparison, valerian pills can contain from 450 mg to 1,200 mg per dose.
The company roasts its coffee like ordinary coffee and uses the Swiss Water Process, which claims to remove 99.9 percent of the caffeine without using chemicals. The company blends the organic valerian root with the coffee using a proprietary method. Most drinkers cannot smell or taste the valerian, says Jessop.
“Valerian is almost like a naturally occurring benzodiazepine, like valium or klonopin,” says W. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia.
Jessop says the first time his wife Marnie Gilbin tested the coffee, she slept for 11 hours.
The coffee has been available since 2013 in Canada and in premium markets in the United States. But it may get a big boost soon: according to a recent story in the Boston Globe, the company is meeting with Wal-Mart next month.
Jessop says customers love it, but is drinking valerian-lace coffee safe?
Because valerian is a supplement, the Food and Drug Adminstration hasn’t issued recommended guidelines on its use, he says. Studies have shown that people can take up between 400 to 900 mg of valerian without problems, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.
“[There's] probably more folklore than a lot of science with [valerian],” she says. “There have not been a lot of studies. Some have shown some efficacy and others have shown that there is none at all.”
While Bonci believes that valerian is probably harmless for most, it might react with some medications.
“Now that we have added something to that coffee that can indeed potentially have an effect on other medications, just be aware that it might be a little bit problematic,” she says.
While the amount of valerian in Counting Sheep Coffee exists at low levels, which would be safe enough for children, the two advise against giving a product like this to children.
“If as a parent you are giving your child coffee with valerian in it, you should talk to your doctor,” says Winter. Even children can have sleep disorders and parents shouldn’t first rely on sleep aids without proper testing.
Decaf coffee possesses the same healthy polyphones as caffeinated coffee, but Bonci says that naturally decaffeinated products, such as herbal teas, might be better. Both believe if people find Counting Sheep Coffee to be beneficial, there’s probably no harm in having a cup at night.
But, like with any sleep aid, “if .. you are requiring it to sleep at night, there is probably a better solution out there,” says Winter.
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