Garlic is one of the most widely-used flavourings for food, and has a host of other applications as well, from warding off insects to providing protection against vampires. Of course, you won’t really be running into any vampires (don’t tell your tweens), but you can still benefit very much from incorporating garlic into your daily routine.
One of the most surprising uses for garlic is as a sleep aid. But before we get to why it works, let’s look at the overall health benefits of garlic. It is actually relatively high in calories, with 100 per 100 grams. However, garlic is so strong in flavour that no one ever eats that much in a serving. Garlic features complex carbohydrates and proteins, plus vital minerals and vitamins like vitamin B, sodium, potassium, and magnesium.
It also contains quite a bit of allicin, a sulfur compound that gives garlic its notable smell. This is why garlic is so good for treating infections and can kill certain viruses better than antibiotics. Furthermore, garlic contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that improve the function of pretty much all of the body’s systems.
Eating garlic on a regular basis supports cardiovascular health by improving blood flow. It can reduce bad cholesterol levels and regulate blood pressure. It has been recommended for metabolic disorders and respiratory problems. Garlic is even thought to prevent premature aging by inhibiting free radical activity, and thereby holding off the development of wrinkles and fine lines.
With all the benefits of eating garlic, why on earth would you put it under your pillow?
As it turns out, this practice is an old folk remedy for insomnia. Smelling the sulphur compound allicin can have a calming effect that helps you drift off and stay asleep all night. It sounds a bit strange that such a powerful and distinct odor can be calming, but lots of people swear it works.
One of the ways it might help is that the smell can clear blocked nasal passages and therefore improve breathing. Anyone who has tried to fall asleep with a pesky head cold knows how uncomfortable it is when you can’t draw a proper breath. But you may find that you get sick less often when you sleep with garlic under your pillow because allicin is thought to block two groups of enzymes responsible for the ability of infectious microbes to invade and survive in your body.
If just smelling garlic doesn’t do the trick for you, try eating some before bed – only if your spouse agrees! (You can try telling him or her that the odor helps to repel bugs, the last thing anyone wants in their bed.) There hasn’t been a lot of scientific research into the subject of garlic and sleep, but we know that it contains a fair bit of magnesium and potassium, two minerals that play a key role in quality slumber.
Magnesium supports deep, restorative sleep by helping to maintain healthy levels of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that reduces the activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system, which in turn increases relaxation and reduces stress. Potassium is thought to increase sleep efficiency and reduce episodes of waking after you drift off. If you get enough of these nutrients in your daily diet, you might not need to take garlic before bed. However, if you would like to give it a try, there is a folk remedy for that, too.
Basically we are talking about a warm milk and garlic beverage. Boil one crushed clove in about a cup of milk for approximately 3 minutes. Nothing about the recipe is written in stone, so if you want to play with the garlic/milk ratio, have at it. Let the concoction cool, remove the clove, and add a teaspoon of honey. Drink your homemade sleep aid about 30 minutes before laying down for best effect.
Now, if your nose is wrinkled in disgust right now at the thought of drinking that concoction, know that there are garlic supplements you can swallow to avoid the pungent flavor. They don’t work as well as fresh garlic, but are better than nothing if you really don’t care for the taste but still want the benefits. Note that high doses of garlic can interfere with certain medications, and that supplements have varying levels of garlic in them. It’s best to speak to your doctor if you plan to use a supplement.
One word of caution if you have pets that help themselves to your bed and/or your food: garlic is toxic to dogs and cats. You probably don’t want to leave any cloves under your pillow when you’re not in bed, just in case. A small amount of garlic in food swiped off your plate is probably not a big deal, but a whole clove could make your furry friend quite sick. In any case, it is most effective for sleep to use a fresh clove of garlic under your pillow every night.
Garlic offers a ton of health benefits, whether you eat it or sleep with it. Perhaps you’ll want to do both. Whether or not you are a big believer in folk remedies, many people who struggle with sleep have found success using garlic. They say that once you get used to having the smell of garlic in your bedroom, it becomes quite calming. We do recommend wrapping your clove in a bit of paper towel, because garlic releases oil when crushed and can do a number on your bed sheets.