These Festive Spices and Herbs May Also Help You Fall Asleep

’Tis the season(ing).

Two chai teas in clear glasses with apples, cinnamon sticks and other spices in them. Evergreen branches are on the surface below them scattered about.
Getty Images

Aside from the crunch of snow and the gust of cool, dry air, perhaps the most alluring aspect of the holiday season is the taste and smell of comforting spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. After all, pumpkin spice — a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves with the addition of ginger and allspice — is enjoyed longer and longer every year.

But beyond their use in sweet treats and siren-clad caffeinated beverages, the cozy vibes they induce may be scientifically proven to help you fall and stay asleep at night.

We chatted with Kaytee Hadley, a registered functional medicine dietitian and founder of Holistic Health & Wellness, to delve into the latest research on these ingredients, as well as when and how to ingest them to help with sleep. We’ve also included a pumpkin spice recipe from my cookbook, Basic Bitchen, so that you can always have homemade pumpkin spice at a moment’s notice.

Seasonal herbs and spices that help with sleep

Though we can’t make sweeping generalizations about seasonal herbs, spices, and their potential sleep benefits for everyone, there are a handful of studies that show promising signs when consumed.

“For most people, enjoying these spices in reasonable amounts on food is totally safe,” says Hadley. “If you’re interested in taking them in supplement form, higher doses, or are pregnant, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to make sure they don’t interfere with any other medications, supplements, or health conditions.”

Here is a list of the most common ingredients you may find in your favorite festive foods and beverages and what they may mean when it comes to catching Zzz’s, as well as Hadley’s expert interpretations of their health properties.


The nutty, fragrant seed is cultivated from a dark-leaf evergreen tree and makes an excellent addition to both desserts and savory dishes. Its subtle sweetness can even enhance the bold flavors found in cheeses, red meat, and cabbage without overpowering them.

Not only does it add a seasonal kick, but according to preliminary research, nutmeg can also reduce depression in mice, which gives us “promise for future studies to investigate the depression-relieving and sleep-promoting effects of this anti-inflammatory spice,” Hadley says.

“The research is very clear: Depression and difficulty sleeping go hand and hand,” she adds. “Many studies have shown that having insomnia is a predictor for developing depression, and experiencing depression usually leads to difficulty sleeping. Thankfully, addressing sleep issues early on may help to reduce the risk of developing depression.”

That said, this is one you should steer clear of taking as a supplement. It should be consumed with caution, due to its potential to cause nausea, vomiting, and even hallucinations in larger doses. “Ingesting high doses (more than 5 grams) of nutmeg can be dangerous,” confirms Hadley. “Use only a moderate amount on food instead of trying to take it in large doses like a supplement.”


Perhaps the most telltale sign that the holidays are upon us is the scent of cinnamon in the air. Spicy cinnamon is the foundation of many desserts, as well as rubs and curries. A recent study on rats also showed promising effects of cinnamon on sleep, due to increased melatonin and serotonin levels, two crucial hormones for sleep.

“After being given cinnamon extract, they had positive changes to their hormones and brain neurotransmitters, including melatonin and serotonin. As a result, they experienced less insomnia,” explains Hadley.

Working cinnamon into your diet around the holidays is easy. But if you’re looking to incorporate it on a more regular basis, especially before bed, there are plenty of cinnamon teas out there for you to test out to find your favorite.


It may be sage advice to incorporate the musky and minty herb into your diet, especially if you have difficulty falling asleep at night.

“If racing thoughts keep you awake, then look no further than sage,” recommends Hadley. “This incredible herb helps to reduce anxiety and improves mood, which could make it easier to fall and stay asleep.

“Sage does this by reducing the normal breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, a signaling molecule in the brain, which allows it to stay active for longer,” she adds. If sage isn’t quite your thing, you can get this same effect from other foods that contain acetylcholine such as eggs, roasted chicken breast, and cooked quinoa.


Cinnamon’s more potent and pungent sister, the bold and mighty clove may also play an important role in helping people drift to sleep by helping you with aches and pains.

One study in mice found that clove essential oil helped them fall asleep faster,” shares Hadley. “We [also] know that the spice is a powerful natural painkiller, so if you find yourself tossing and turning at night because of aches and pains, cloves just might do the trick.”


It’s time to break out those gingerbread men. Peppery ginger root, another natural pain reliever, is an ideal remedy if you find yourself overindulging in holiday treats before bedtime.

Ginger is the perfect solution when you’ve overindulged in the holiday feast and can’t get comfortable in bed because of indigestion,” says Hadley. “It soothes the stomach by speeding up digestion and reducing pressure, which can help with nausea, reflux, bloating, and gas. It’s also a natural anti-inflammatory and pain reliever because gingerol (one of the active compounds in ginger) interacts with heat and pain receptors.

“Many of these benefits can be seen by taking about one gram of ginger throughout the day, split up into several doses,” she adds.


If you’re not a coffee drinker, your preferred holiday go-to may be a toasty chai, which is made with the main ingredient cardamom.

Melatonin, one of the body’s primary sleep hormones, gets a lot of buzz and attention when it comes to combating insomnia, but cardamom contains phytomelatonin. This simply implies that its melatonin is derived from plants, and piney, eucalyptus-forward cardamom contains a considerable trace of it.

While chai may not be the best thing to drink to get to sleep, plenty of other holiday favorites have cardamom in it, such as bread pudding and sweet potato soup.

When and how to take sleep-friendly herbs and spices

A sleep-friendly herb or spice is only as good as the routine in which you consume it. Here are Hadley’s top three tips to keep in mind if you’re hoping to incorporate the aforementioned ingredients into your diet:

  1. More is not always better for health benefits. “Don’t go overboard,” she stresses. “Instead of trying to get large doses at once, try spreading out the spices over the course of the day and in amounts that please your taste buds. You can enjoy them on food, as tea, or in any other way that you like. There is no need to be prescriptive about it.”
  2. Consume them at least once a day at dinner or sip them as tea before bed. But don’t limit yourself to these times. “If you have them earlier in the day, you can also experience the anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and mood-boosting properties they also possess,” says Hadley.
  3. Don’t forget good ol’ chamomile tea. The colder months are peak chamomile season. “So enjoy a cup of this warming tea before bed and experience the robust benefits of a better night’s sleep.”

Spice up your life

While fall and winter invite the use of herbs and spices that make us feel all warm and cozy inside, these ingredients can have a significantly positive impact on your health throughout all seasons.

“Although we have a good amount of research on the medicinal properties of many spices, the research on sleep benefits are incredibly limited,” reiterates Hadley. “But just because we don’t have a lot of research doesn’t mean that these medicinal spices can’t help with sleep, too.

“So instead of relying only on the hard evidence, I always encourage people to listen to their own body and see what works best for them,” she adds.

If your body tells you to sprinkle pumpkin spice on practically everything, here is a quick and easy recipe so that the potent blend can be kept in your cupboard year-round.

Pumpkin Spice


  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground cloves


In a medium bowl, whisk the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves until combined. Transfer to an airtight container, and use as desired.