If you have trouble falling asleep at night or suffer from insomnia, you may have started looking for natural solutions for getting the sleep you need.  

Of the natural solutions, herbal teas are a great place to start experimenting to learn what works for you.

Often just the routine of stopping what you are doing and making a tea prior to bed creates a break from an activity mindset and acts a simple first step for your new sleep routine

One of the wonderful things about caffeine-free tea is that it’s not figuratively, but literally steeped in tradition... That tradition can add a meaningful cue to your body and mind to shift modes.

But tradition aside, many bedtime teas have been proven to promote restful, quality sleep. The herbs in sleep teas can vary so it’s important to learn about what they are and how they can promote restful slumber so that you can choose the right tea for your needs.  

Teas can be served hot or iced, so that you can adapt your sleep tea to the weather and the season. Importantly, tea that helps you sleep must be free of caffeine, which is a known central nervous system stimulant. Therefore, make sure that any tea you choose as a sleep aid does not contain caffeine. Common teas that contain caffeine include green tea, black tea, white tea, and yerba mate.

Ashwagandha Root Tea

Ashwagandha root tea is made from the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).  Scientific research studies support the idea espoused by traditional practitioners of Ayurvedic medicine in India — that ashwagandha promotes anxiety relief and protection against the negative effects of stress in particular.[1]  

Ashwagandha is known as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are compound that enhances resistance to stress by exhibiting neuroprotective effects that help regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which secretes the stress hormone cortisol, and the regulation of key players in the stress response.[2

As stress and anxiety can contribute to sleep problems, ashwagandha’s stress-fighting effects can help you sleep more soundly.  Research shows that active components of ashwaganda may be responsible for sleep induction in humans.[3]  Ashwagandha tea may be a good choice for people who have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Banana Tea

Banana tea is a banana-infused beverage made with whole bananas steeped in hot water.  Sometimes, cinnamon and/or honey is added. Banana tea can be made with or without banana peel.[4]

Bananas are high in potassium, a mineral which has been linked to slow-wave sleep, the deepest phase of non-REM sleep in the sleep cycle.[5]  Bananas are also high in other minerals including vitamin B6, magnesium, manganese, and copper.  As such, banana tea may be a good choice for people who have sleep problems.

Chamomile Tea (Camomile Tea)

Chamomile tea, also called camomile tea, is a popular tea in the U.S. and worldwide. Made from chamomile flowers, chamomile tea has been used for centuries to treat upset stomach, indigestion, and quiet the symptoms of anxiety.[6

Does chamomile tea make you sleepy? According to a scientific research study conducted in Taiwan, chamomile tea improved sleep quality, reduced fatigue, and alleviated depression in postpartum women with poor sleep quality.[7]  

While most people can drink one to four cups daily with no ill effects, chamomile may interact with certain medications, and is not recommended for pregnant women.  

Lavender Tea

Lavender tea is made from the flowers of the lavender plant (Lavandula angustifolia). Lavender is commonly used in aromatherapy as a relaxing scent to elicit calming effects. Research indicates that lavender aromatherapy improves both slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.[8]  Prepared hot, lavender tea can also be used as a source of aromatherapy due to the pleasant, calming lavender scent emanating from the cup of tea. 

Like chamomile, lavender has been studied in the laboratory and is known for its mild sedative effects, although more research is needed to determine their exact functions on the central nervous system.[9]  A research study conducted in Taiwan suggests that lavender tea can improve sleep quality and reduce fatigue and depression during the early postpartum period for new mothers.[10]

Passionflower Tea

Passionflower tea is made from the vine of the Passiflora incarnata plant, which grows in and has been used since 3500 BCE in the southeastern region of North America as well as Central and South America.[11]  In the late 1800s, passionflower liquid extracts were used to treat “sleeplessness from overwork, worry, or from febrile excitement, and in the young and aged.” [11

Today, passionflower continues to be used as a mild sedative and sleep aid, specifically the Maypop variety of passionflower.  The dried maypop passionflower plant — the portion that grows above ground — can be dehydrated and added to hot water to be enjoyed as a tea.  Indeed, a recent study conducted by Australian researchers showed that the consumption of passionflower tea yielded short-term sleep benefits, especially in terms of sleep quality, for healthy adults.[12]

Peppermint Tea 

Peppermint tea is made from steeping dried or fresh mint leaves in hot water.  Mint has been used medicinally for thousands of years: the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all used mint for health purposes.[13]  

While there is not much scientific evidence for the benefits of peppermint tea for sleep specifically, drinking peppermint tea before bed is a good choice as its natural oils contain anti-inflammatory compounds that can help fight the negative effects of stress and anxiety.[14]  It is for this reason that peppermint is a common component of popular “sleepytime” teas.

Drinking a cup of peppermint tea as a sleep tea before bed may be a particularly good option for people whose stomach issues keep them awake.  However, pregnant women should avoid peppermint tea, as it can increase miscarriage risk.

Valerian Root Tea

Valerian root refers to the root of the valerian flower, which has been used since ancient times to promote restful sleep and a calm mind. Valerian has long been considered to be an alternative to pharmaceutical sleep aids. It has a sedative effect on the central nervous system, which is why it is also commonly used for anxiety and psychological stress in addition to sleep disorders.[15]

Valerian root is an herb that is available as a dietary supplement in the United States.[16]  The herb can also be combined with hot water to create a tea.  

Used as a sleeping tea, valerian root has been shown to improve sleep quality without side effects.[17]  In particular, it can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by as much as 15 to 20 minutes.[15]  

Warm Milk 

While not a nighttime tea, warmed milk can be a relaxing way to end the day and help promote sleep. While milk contains the sleep-promoting amino acid tryptophan, warm milk’s soporific effects may be solely due to the placebo effect. Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that a warm glass of milk (and a couple of cookies) can be good for the soul.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of caffeine-free tea options available that can help you get a good night’s sleep. Next time you are having sleeping problems, you may wish to consider relaxing with a cup of one of the above mentioned beverages before bedtime. 

In particular, valerian root, lavender, passionflower, ashwagandha, and chamomile teas have the most scientific evidence supporting their utility for better-quality sleep.

Many commercial tea brands offer a “sleepytime” or “sleepy” tea, either in tea bags or loose leaf form, which is a mix of various herbs including chamomile, mint, lemongrass, lavender, valerian, lemon balm, and other herbs. Make sure to read the labels of such teas carefully to ensure that you know what ingredients are included in the herbal tea.

Keep in mind, however, that herbal teas may also not be the right answer for your sleep problems, and just as with pharmaceutical sleep aids, side effects and drug interactions may be possible. 

Glossary

Adaptogen: A compound that enhances resistance to stress by exhibiting neuroprotective effects that help regulate the hypothalamic-pituitary-axis and the regulation of key players in the stress response.

Cortisol: A stress hormone secreted by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis that is responsible for regulating a wide range of bodily processes such as metabolism and the immune response to help mobilize energy resources to defeat stressors, e.g., environmental threats.

Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal Axis (HPA Axis): A neuroendocrine system responsible for the hormonal component of the stress response.  When the HPA axis is stimulated, the body releases cortisol, a hormonal marker associated with the body’s stress or ‘fight or flight’ response.

References

  1. Pratte, M, et al.  2014. “An Alternative Treatment for Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Human Trial Results Reported for the Ayurvedic Herb Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera).”  Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4270108/.
  2. Panossian A and Wikman G. 2010.  “Effects of Adaptogens on the Central Nervous System and the Molecular Mechanisms Associated with Their Stress—Protective Activity.”  Pharmaceuticals (Basel). Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3991026/.
  3. Kaushik M et al. 2017.  “Triethylene glycol, an active component of Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) leaves, is responsible for sleep induction.”  PLoS One. Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313221/.
  4. “What is banana tea, and should you try it?” Healthline.  Accessible at https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/banana-tea.
  5. Schildhouse J. “10 Best Vitamins for Sleep.”  Reader’s Digest. Accessible at https://www.rd.com/health/conditions/best-vitamins-for-sleep/.
  6. “What Is Chamomile?” WebMD.  Accessible at https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-chamomile#1.
  7. Chang S and Chen C.  2016. “Effects of an intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial.”  Journal of Advanced Nursing. Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26483209.
  8. Goel et al.  2005. “An Olfactory Stimulus Modifies Nighttime Sleep in Young Men and Women.”  The Journal of Biological and Medical Rhythm Research. Accessible at https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07420520500263276.
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  10. Chen S and Chen C.  2015. “Effects of Lavender Tea on Fatigue, Depression, and Maternal-Infant Attachment in Sleep-Disturbed Postnatal Women.”  Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing. Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26523950.
  11. Engels G and Brinckmann J. 2016. “HerbalGram: Passionflower Passiflora incarnata L. Family: Passifloraceae.”  American Botanical Council. Accessible at http://cms.herbalgram.org/herbalgram/issue112/hg112-herbpro-passionflower.html.
  12. Ngan A and Conduit R.  2011. “A Double‐blind, Placebo‐controlled Investigation of the Effects of Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) Herbal Tea on Subjective Sleep Quality.”  Phytotherapy Research. Accessible at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.3400.
  13. “Peppermint Oil.”  National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.  Accessible at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/peppermintoil.
  14. Riachi L and De Maria C. 2015.  “Peppermint antioxidants revisited.”  Food Chemistry. Accessible at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25624208.
  15. “VALERIAN.”  WebMD. Accessible at https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-870/valerian.
  16. “Valerian Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessible at https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Valerian-HealthProfessional/.
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