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The use of nightcap for a ‘drink taken on going to bed’ dates from the early eighteenth century—the notion being that, like a literal nightcap, it warms you up and helps you to sleep. Originally it was strictly alcoholic: ‘A pint of table beer (or Ale, if you make it for a “Night-Cap”)’ (The Cook's Oracle 1818). Non-alcoholic nightcaps do not appear on the scene until the 1930s; the first known reference to this abstemious version is in a 1930 advertisement for Ovaltine: ‘Ovaltine … the world's best “night-cap” to ensure sound, natural sleep.’

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