This time of year, peppermint takes center stage in coffee shops, bakeries, bars, and even the snack aisle at your local grocery or drug store. From coffee, cocoa, and cocktails to candies, cookies, and cakes of all stripes, peppermint is synonymous with the season. But aside from the minty kick it adds to holiday staples, the herb’s breath freshening characteristics make it a go-to flavor for everyday items too, such as mints, chewing gum, and toothpaste.
Brushing your teeth is an essential part of your bedtime routine, but the same properties that give peppermint toothpaste its minty freshness can also cause you to feel more alert and focused — and it could be a culprit for disrupting your sleep. We asked two sleep experts to share the science behind the stimulation and offer alternative toothpaste flavors to try.
How peppermint stimulates the brain and impacts sleep
Not only can peppermint toothpaste be responsible for lengthening the time it takes for you to fall asleep, but it can also impede your body’s ability to stay asleep.
“Peppermint is a plant that gets its distinctive flavor from its high menthol content, among other compounds/chemicals,” says Dr. Chris Winter, advisor to Sleep.com, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine, and author of “The Rested Child.” Citing a 2013 study on the instant effects of peppermint essential oil, which shows peppermint works as a stimulant to improve attention, memory, and response time, Winter says, “This stimulation of cognitive functioning is probably not a positive when it comes to trying to settle the mind and sleep.”
Khaliah Guillory, a certified sleep consultant and founder of the Nap Bar, a pay-by-the-snooze facility in Houston, says that items containing peppermint are best consumed when you’re looking to power up and focus — or enjoy a day of holiday fun — not when you’re preparing to sleep in heavenly peace.
“Peppermint is a stimulant that can have adverse effects on your sleep, as it is known to increase dopamine,” she says. “Dopamine, when released in the brain, promotes wakefulness and alertness. This is the total opposite of your intention before bed and a disruptor of your wind-down routine.”
Alternatives to peppermint-flavored toothpaste for better sleep
Of course, everyone’s body can respond differently to the given properties in a plant. Guillory has some clients who can brush their teeth with peppermint toothpaste right before bed and “sleep like a baby.” But if you’re partial to peppermint toothpaste (or just don’t want to give up the feeling of minty fresh breath), Guillory recommends brushing your teeth two hours before bed to allow the stimulating effects to dissipate.
Switching toothpaste flavors all together can be a helpful step, too. “If you’re someone who really struggles to initiate sleep, choosing a toothpaste without peppermint might be helpful in a small way,” Winter says.
On the flip side, using peppermint toothpaste or mouth wash might be a good option for your morning routine. “Maybe [try] a brush/swish before needing to really pay attention to or concentrate on something!” Winter says.
Looking for peppermint toothpaste alternative for pre-bed brushing? Try one of these flavors instead:
- Ginger: Ginger offers a warming spice sensation minus the stimulating effects. “When sleep is on the line or I'm traveling, I use the Marvis ginger toothpaste,” Winter says.
- Cinnamon: If you’re partial to that tingly sensation, Winters suggests cinnamon as an alternative. He describes Crest Complete Cinnamon Rush as “The Big Red of toothpaste.” While cinnamon can be perceived as a stimulant, too, Winter says that there isn’t scientific data to back that claim up.
- Lavender: Guillory recommends a natural fluoride-free lavender and chamomile toothpaste. “At Nap Bar, we adopt the ideology that scents can transform our mood. Lavender, best used to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and induce sleep, makes it a great treatment for insomnia.” Try making your own essential-oil infused toothpaste with this DIY all-natural toothpaste recipe.
- Jasmine: When inhaled, Guillory says that jasmine “reduces anxiety, supports better cognitive function, improves sleep quality, and is attributed to less movement while sleeping.” So, breathe deeply while you’re scrubbing those pearly whites.
You may not be able to (or want to!) avoid peppermint altogether over the holidays, but it might be a good idea to remove toothpastes with that flavor from kids’ bathrooms and guest bedrooms. Not just for this season, but throughout the year.