Dorma, Dorma, Dorma…

The Italian fascination with sleep and relaxation did not end with Guido. It continues today at the University of Milan, where a group of professors recently found a strong link between sleep and another Italian passion: red wine!

In addition to reducing risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, pre-mature aging and several forms of cancer, red wine also helps the body obtain the rest it needs to recover from the daily grind. The benefits of wine on sleep are not only from the alcohol, which, despite helping people fall asleep may actually worsen the quality of the sleep itself. The sleep benefits of wine come from a chemical called melatonin, found in high levels in the skins of red grapes. Often used by busy travelers to recover from jetlag, melatonin has been shown to regulate sleep and circadian rhythms. Essentially, melatonin makes us active during the day and sleepy in the dark of night. In our bodies, melatonin levels peak in the evenings and decrease around dawn. With an extra glass of wine at night, we enhance our body’s melatonin peak, thereby ushering in a restful night.

Why Red Wines?

Among all alcoholic beverages, red wines have the highest concentration of melatonin. According to research currently underway at the University of Milan, the melatonin found in grapes is modified in the fermentation process to a melatonin similar to that produced in our bodies. For this reason, grape juice and grapes themselves will not give you the same sleep benefits as red wine.

Which Wine When?

Several international studies have found varying amounts of melatonin within each grape family. The highest levels of melatonin are found in the skins of the red grapes such as Nebbiolo, Croatina, Sangiovese, Merlot, Marzemino, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Barbera grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon has 75 times more melatonin than Cabernet Franc, while Nebbiolo has the highest melatonin content of them all. Ever wonder why you are always sleepy after having a glass of Cabernet or Nebbiolo?

If you are going out for a nice dinner followed by an evening on the town, do you drink a Cab or a Merlot? (See Chart Below)

Next time you are choosing between a Merlot and a Cabernet and your purpose is to rest and relax, try a wine made with Croatia or Nebbiolo grapes. If you are going out on the town, stick to the Barbera or Merlot. Either way, please make sure you drink responsibly. Wine is like love, to sip is relaxing but to empty the bottle invites a headache.

Additional information on grapes, melatonin and sleep may be found online:

Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture

Wine Spectator

John Storino is an avid winemaker and a Director at Huron Consulting Group. He is a second generation Italian-American and wine-lover. Yana Golbin is John’s business associate and has traveled the globe in her quest for the perfect wine.