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Sipping a cup of tea is one of the most accessible—and effective—tools in our sleep aid arsenal. Below, we’ve rounded up seven of the best evidence-backed herbal teas for sleep, along with tips on what to look for when purchasing tea and how to select between loose leaf and bagged.
Keep in mind that most studies have been conducted on these ingredients in extract and supplement form. However, given the promising results, many turn to tea—which is more accessible and easier to incorporate into a nightly routine—to wind down, unplug, and relax.
Next time you’re brewing yourself a cup of post-dinner, caffeine-free herbal tea, reach for chamomile—the perfect relaxing tea for restful sleep. It’s rich in flavonoids, a group of natural plant chemicals (aka phytonutrients) that, in addition to contributing to the vivid hues of fruits and vegetables, also contribute to its sleep-promoting effects. Clinical trials suggest that it functions as a central nervous system relaxer (similar to valerian root). (1) Chamomile in extract and supplement form has been shown to improve sleep quality and may be effective and safe for supporting relaxation. (2-4)
Valeriana officinalis, commonly known as valerian, is an herb native to Europe and Asia whose roots have been used since ancient Greek and Roman times as a sleep promoter. Research shows (5-9) that valerian root extract (which is used primarily in supplement form) plays a role prior to and during N1 (first sleep stage) when the body needs to feel calm, relaxed, and drowsy in order to move to N2 (second sleep stage). It works synergistically with gamma-aminobutyric acid, commonly referred to as GABA, an amino acid produced naturally in the brain that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, blocking certain brain signals and decreasing activity in your nervous system. Together, the two impact a relaxing, calming effect.
Although valerian is most commonly studied and taken in capsule form, there’s also the option for valerian tea, which usually entails 2-3 grams (~1 teaspoon) of dried root steeped in hot water for 5-10 minutes.
Lemon balm, which is part of the mint family and boasts a subtle citrusy flavor. It has been studied in patients suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. In one study, in which it was administered via standardized extracts, lemon balm was shown to reduce anxiety (a primary barrier to quality sleep) by 18% and lower insomnia by 42%. (10) These benefits to mood and sleep may be regulated by GABA levels in the brain, but further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism of action.
Lavender tea, which is made from the purple buds of the flowering plant, is celebrated for its calming, aromatherapy scents. In one study, (11) 80 Taiwanese postnatal women smelled and sipped lavender tea daily over the course of two weeks. Results indicated that the trial group experienced less fatigue and depression compared to the control group, although it should be noted that the subject population was niche and that further studies with a broader subject basis are needed to confirm these findings. While lavender has not been shown to impact sleep quality, it is thought to facilitate the process of winding down, which in turn facilitates falling asleep.
Passionflower — which also goes by the name maypop, wild apricot, and wild passion vine — is recognizable by its white and purple flowers. It’s native to Central and South America, as well as the southeastern United States, and has been used for centuries as a traditional herbal sedative and sleep aid.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study (12) comparing passionflower to placebo tea, the trial group showed significantly better sleep quality than the control group, suggesting that “the consumption of a low dose of Passiflora incarnata, in the form of tea, yields short-term subjective sleep benefits for healthy adults with mild fluctuations in sleep quality.”
Although the jury’s still out on whether peppermint — which is a cross between watermint and spearmint — has a direct impact on sleep quality and quantity, studies have shown (13) that it may support healthy digestion which, in turn, indirectly supports sleep.
Peppermint often comes as part of a tea blend with spearmint and tarragon.
You’re probably wondering why green tea, which does indeed have caffeine, is on our list...but bear with us. A recent study (14) examined the effect of low-caffeine green tea on stress and sleep in the elderly. The participants drank five cups per day of standard green tea for one week, followed by five cups per day of low-caffeine green tea for two weeks. Results showed that stress levels were significantly lower when the participants drank low-caffeine tea compared to normal caffeinated tea — as one would expect. However, the study also found that lower stress correlated with a higher quality of sleep.
Wondering why lemongrass didn’t make the cut? Some suspect that this tall, perennial grass, which is native to tropical and subtropical climates of South India and Sri Lanka, may have a mild sedative effect; however, it hasn’t extensively been studied in relation to its effects on sleep quality or quantity.
It’s worth noting that loose leaf bedtime teas are not always better quality than “bagged” teas. While the former allows you to have more control over the serving size (i.e. the tea to water ratio) and can also be re-infused several times throughout the day, tea bags are often more convenient (because they’re pre-portioned) and easier to brew. Which delivery you decide to purchase ultimately comes down to personal preference.
What to look for:
- Verified non-GMO
- Organically farmed or organically wild-collected herbs
- Ingredients sourced from ethical trading partnerships
Brands we recommend:
(We’re not paid to feature these brands...we just like them and think you will, too!)
- Art of Tea
- Traditional Medicinals
- Celestial Seasonings (makes one of our go-to nighttime teas...Sleepytime Tea, which comes with a blend of chamomile flowers, spearmint, and lemongrass)
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