These days, TikTok is famous for viral dance videos and painfully risky attempts at the box challenge. But since COVID-19, it’s also become a major source of some bonkers health advice and DIY experiments. One such trend is drinking lettuce water in the hopes of getting a better night’s sleep.
Needless to say, there are no peer-reviewed studies to back this up. Still, the popularity of this, err, sleep aid begs the question: What makes wacky sleep trends and quick fixes so seductive? And why do some of us keep falling for them?
To get to the bottom of this, we asked a health researcher and clinical psychologist to explain. Here, they break down the science behind why we’re so into bizarre sleep hacks, plus how to get some much-needed Z’s—no juicer required.
The rise of wacky sleep trends
Strange sleep potions could be spreading online for a couple of reasons. For one, “many people have had worsening sleep during the pandemic and so that likely led to an increase in people seeking solutions,” says Sari Chait, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, LLC, in Newton, Mass.
In fact, one in five people who described themselves as good sleepers before the pandemic has struggled to get quality shuteye since lockdown measures, per a 2020 study published in the journal Sleep Medicine.
In the before times, it was normal to ask for help getting a better night’s sleep from, say, a family doctor. But COVID-19 has made it more difficult to connect with the medical pros we’d usually lean on for help.
So, some of us could be turning to platforms like TikTok for answers instead, says Chait. Often, this is the case for young people who get the majority of their news from social media, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center.
Why we fall for sleep trends—even when they don’t work
Wacky sleep trends might be attractive because they’re low-risk, unlikely to cause harm, and might even help thanks to the placebo effect, says Laura D. Scherer, PhD, assistant research professor at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo. Some might think, why not try them?
“I think people often search for the easiest solution,” adds Chait. “So if someone says all you have to do is drink this drink or do this funny body movement every day, people will try it.”
You also might be more susceptible to magical elixirs if you just don’t trust doctors or the solutions you think they’ll offer you. As Scherer and her colleagues found in a recent study, people who generally seek alternatives to western medicine are more likely to fall for health misinformation (health advice that’s presented as true even though it’s false).
For example, if you believe that medication is the only answer for sleep problems and you’re wary of taking sleep aids, you might miss out on other research-backed solutions like cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, says Chait. Even if you were open to it, though, finding a provider and snagging a coveted appointment takes time and access. Not everyone has that.
But TikTok’s one tap away—and we don’t always consider the source while scrolling. “When people encounter information online, some people just don’t think carefully about whether it’s true or false and just accept the message at face value,” confirms Scherer.
Research also suggests the more you see a message, the more it seems true. The “illusory truth effect” may explain why wacky sleep trends win our attention—even when they make no sense at first glance. (Learn whether mouth taping for sleep is really safe and effective.)
4 tried-and-true sleep tips
If it’s a real insomnia cure you seek, drop the lettuce water and try these expert-approved tips instead.
1. Take deep breaths
“Breathing exercises can help relax you both psychologically and physiologically which is necessary for good sleep,” says Chait. One of her favorites is a 4-7-8 breathing exercise. How to do it: Inhale for the count of 4, hold it for 7, exhale for 8, and repeat a few times while lying quietly in bed.
2. Write out your worries
Struggle to de-stress at bedtime because your mind is reeling over everything you have to do tomorrow or ongoing conflicts? Make it a habit to keep a notebook and pen by your bedside so you can journal it out or create a specific to-do list for the next day. “Sometimes, the simple act of getting thoughts out of your head and onto paper is enough to help you fall asleep,” says Chait.
3. Only use your bed for sleep and sex
“The more things you do in bed that aren’t sleep, including just lying there trying to sleep, the more strongly your brain will start to associate the bed with being away,” says Chait. This could make it harder to fall asleep in the long run. A simple rule: Reserve time in bed for sleep and sex. If it’s been about 20 minutes and you still can’t fall asleep, go do something calm and quiet in another room if possible until you’re ready to drift off, she suggests.
4. Ask a doctor you trust for help
If you’re struggling to get the sleep you need despite your best efforts to research the problem yourself, Scherer’s go-to advice is to find a doctor you can trust and start asking questions. An underlying sleep disorder, anxiety, or stress could be keeping you up—but all of these issues can be treated for better sleep.
Are there any sleep trends that do work? We put together a guide to popular wellness treatments that have science behind them.