Americans drink an average of 3.8 billion1 gallons of tea a year. Herbal teas have long been used for relaxation and sleep, and there is scientific evidence to support herbal teas as a holistic way to reduce fatigue2 and improve sleep quality. Herbal teas can be a great option both day and night, especially if you’re trying to kick a caffeine habit before bed.
Herbal teas can be made from any edible herb or plant, but there are six specific herbs that have been shown to improve sleep and promote relaxation. If you want to improve your sleep, look for these herbal teas next time you’re at the grocery store.
Valerian root has a long history of being used as a sleep and stress aid. It is used to treat issues that impact sleep3, such as stress, nervousness, headaches, and heart palpitations. Research demonstrates that a valerian root extract can improve sleep4 without the side effects of traditional sleep aids.
Valerian root is effective as a sleep aid due to the two naturally occurring sedatives within it called valepotriates and sesquiterpenes5. In one study, nearly 90% of people reported improvements in sleep after drinking valerian tea. In another study, people fell asleep faster after drinking a valerian extract, and their sleep quality improved6.
Valerian root is reported to have an odor and earthy taste that some find unpleasant. Adding a dash of honey or maple syrup to your tea may help improve the taste.
Flowers of the chamomile plant have been used for many years to treat a variety of issues, including poor sleep. Chamomile contains multiple active chemical compounds, including one called apigenin that has a mild tranquilizing effect7 once it binds to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain.
While research is limited, chamomile has been demonstrated to improve sleep quality8. A study of postpartum women found that participants who drank chamomile tea reported a reduction9 in sleep barriers and depressive symptoms. In another study of older adults, the group who received chamomile reported better quality sleep10 than the group who did not.
More commonly used as aromatherapy11, lavender is a purple-flowering herb that has been used since the Roman empire. Not many people know that they can actually drink lavender as tea, which can be added to a relaxing nighttime routine.
As with most herbal supplements, research on the efficacy of lavender as a sleep aid is limited. Lavender oil taken as an oral supplement has been shown to improve quality12 and duration of sleep. There is emerging evidence that lavender oil taken orally helps reduce nighttime wakings13 and improves mood.
However, there is some evidence to suggest that lavender aromatherapy may only have a short-term impact14 on sleep quality. The same might be true of drinking lavender tea. In one study, those drinking lavender tea reportedly felt less fatigued15 than the control group. However, after four weeks there were no significant changes, reinforcing the evidence that lavender is a short-term intervention for sleep problems.
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is a member of the mint family and smells slightly sweet and citrusy. The most common forms of lemon balm are tea and essential oil. Historically, lemon balm has been used as an antiviral and antibacterial medicine to treat infections and viruses. It also shows potential in helping restless sleepers16 at night.
Drinking a cup of lemon balm tea at night may reduce symptoms associated with insomnia17. Lemon balm might also help reduce anxiety18 and depression19. In a study comparing lemon balm to a traditional antidepressant, the participants who took 500 milligrams of lemon balm reported improved quality of life20 scores compared to those that did not take it.
A cup of lemon balm tea a night may be a good option for you if you’re struggling with restlessness and anxiety before bed. Adding it to your evening routine as a way to help you reduce stress before bedtime may help you get more shut-eye.
Like chamomile, passionflower contains certain flavonoids that bind to the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines and may help reduce symptoms of anxiety21. There is evidence that drinking a single cup22 of passionflower tea can help you sleep better.
Additionally, researchers found that when combined with other sleep-enhancing herbs such as valerian, passionflower is just as effective in providing short-term insomnia relief23 as traditional sleeping medications. It should be noted that this study used capsules, which are able to hold a more concentrated amount of the herb than would be found in a cup of tea.
Magnolia bark (Houpu) is a traditional Chinese herb that has been used to aid sleep for thousands of years24. Its primary compound, honokiol, has been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by binding to GABA receptors25 in the brain, which helps prompt sleep. Some studies report that wakefulness during the night might be increased if you’re taking magnolia bark but the time it takes to fall back asleep26 is less.
While you can drink magnolia bark as a tea, it’s also available as a supplement. Since the tea is made from the bark of the magnolia tree, it may have an unpleasant taste to some. If you dislike the taste, capsulated magnolia bark might be a better option for you.
Shift Into Sleep
These top six teas have been used throughout history to encourage people into slumber and are being further backed up by science as viable options for sleeping aids. While more research is needed, it’s clear that many of these teas have calming or sedative effects that keep them popular among people struggling to get some shut-eye. If you have concerns about any possible drug interactions or allergies, talk to your doctor before starting a nightly herbal tea time routine.
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