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Having a relaxing bedtime ritual is an important part of getting better sleep. In fact, many people choose to have a warm, soothing cup of caffeine-free tea to unwind before bed.
Specifically, drinking chamomile tea can induce feelings of sleepiness and may help you fall asleep faster. Here’s the science behind chamomile tea’s sleep effects.
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Why drinking chamomile tea can help you sleep
“Chamomile formulations such as tea and essential oil aromatherapy have been used to treat insomnia and to induce sedation,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a psychologist and board-certified sleep specialist. “They are commonly used as a mild tranquillizer and sleep-inducer.”
Chamomile is particularly effective at making you feel sleepy because of its chemical structure. The plant extract contains apigenin, a chemical compound that induces sleepiness when it binds to the GABA receptors in the brain.
GABA receptors are the same receptors that bind to benzodiazepines, which are commonly used as anti-anxiety drugs because they have a calming effect. Similarly, when the apigenin in chamomile binds to GABA receptors, it has a sedative and relaxing effect — that’s why chamomile tea can make you feel sleepy.
Some research has indicated that drinking chamomile tea may be a helpful natural treatment for sleeping troubles. For example, a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2015 examined 80 women with poor sleep quality who had recently given birth, and found that those who drank chamomile tea had fewer symptoms of inadequate sleep.
According to Breus, you should drink one cup of chamomile tea about 45 minutes before bed if you’re hoping to induce sleepiness. That will give your body enough time to metabolize the tea, and the chemical compounds that cause those sedative feelings to kick in.
However, even though chamomile may make you feel sleepy and help you nod off, research has not found conclusive evidence that it can actually improve the quality of your sleep through the night.
“I am unaware of any research showing demonstrable effects on sleep quality,” Breus says.
3 other natural sleep aids to try
If you are having trouble falling asleep, a relaxing routine at the end of the day is helpful. This is part of the reason why a warm cup of chamomile tea before bed is recommended, especially in place of unhealthy sleep habits like drinking alcohol or scrolling through your phone.
“Take the hour before going to bed to take a hot bath or drink a cup of chamomile tea, which can be helpful in slowing your mind and body down,” says Nate Favini, MD, Medical Lead of Forward, an online primary care practice focused on preventative medicine.
In addition to drinking chamomile tea, there are other natural sleep aids that might help induce sleepiness before bed. These include:
1. Chamomile supplements
Chamomile supplements contain higher concentrations of chamomile than tea does. They’re also a good option for people who don’t want to drink tea before bed and worry about waking up to use the bathroom.
A 2018 study of post-menopausal women found that those who took high-quality chamomile extract drops twice a day fell asleep more quickly than women in the control group who did not receive chamomile drops after four weeks of treatment.
2. Melatonin supplements
Melatonin is a hormone that is produced in the brain and peaks around bedtime, helping to induce the feeling of sleepiness in your body.
A 2017 scientific review found that melatonin supplements improve sleep quality and reduce the time needed to fall asleep with significantly less side effects when compared to sleeping pills.
According to Favini, taking a small dose of melatonin about an hour before bed can help promote sleepiness. You should start with 0.5 mg and see how it affects your sleep, and increase up to 3 mg of melatonin each night, if needed.
3. Lavender aromatherapy
Like chamomile, lavender is a natural herb that acts on the GABA receptors in the brain, producing a calming effect, Breus says.
A 2020 double-blind study of post-menopausal women with insomnia found that those who had lavender aromatherapy before bed fell asleep quicker and had a higher quality of sleep than their counterparts who had a placebo. Aromatherapy can be done by putting essential oils in body oil or on aroma sticks, which sends the scent into the air to be inhaled.
“Inhalation of lavender essential oil is a safe, low-cost practice that should be considered as a complementary option to conventional treatments, whether medical, psychological or other integrative and complementary practices,” the study authors concluded.
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