Sleep Teas

Sleep teas are a range of herbs selected for their unique sedative abilities. 

  • Since sleep problems, including insomnia, seem to be on the rise, healthy, organic solutions are more in demand than ever before.
  • Ongoing, chronic insomnia can lead to other, more serious health problems.  

The following is a selection of 11 sleep teas that have proven, potent sedative properties.

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Chamomile

Chamomile Tea for sleep

This is the most well-known and respected herbal sleep aid in the world. It has been used for centuries to treat sleeplessness. In fact, it could be called insomnia-busting royalty. 

Chamomile has a gentle fragrance and a mild flavour with the slightest hint of apple.   

    It contains a flavonoid called apigenin, which is the magic ingredient that relaxes and induces sleepiness. It does this by binding to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, just as the pharmaceutical drug of the same name does, producing a sedative effect. 

    There is also some evidence that the bio-compounds in chamomile have anti-anxiety and anti-depressant properties. Both these conditions are known to have a negative effect on sleep. By drinking chamomile, you are directly and indirectly helping to overcome your insomnia. 

    • The perfect time to drink chamomile tea is around 45 minutes before going to bed. This gives the active ingredients time to start working so you can drift off to sleep easily and quickly.    

    Just note that the effectiveness of chamomile, and a lot of other herbal teas, is in the regular consumption of the tea. Research indicates that the efficiency of chamomile to induce sleep is cumulative, and that within days of stopping chamomile, participants in a study noticed reduced effectiveness. 

    Summary

    Chamomile is the most well-known sleep tea. It works by binding to the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, working in much the same way as the pharmaceutical sedatives of the same name work. Drink chamomile tea 45 minutes before going to bed for the best results.    

    Valerian Root

    • Valerian root tea is up there with chamomile as far as its ability to overcome sleep problems. 

    Without getting too technical, low levels of a substance called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in our brains is linked to anxiety and sleeplessness. The bio-compounds in valerian root tea help increase GABA levels, enabling us to enjoy more restful nights. 

    Furthermore, it contains antioxidants that have scientifically proven sedative and sleep-enhancing properties. 

    In short, research has shown valerian root to be effective in significantly reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, increasing sleep quality and time spent sleeping. Furthermore, there is none of the grogginess experienced the following morning that often occurs with prescription medications. 

    As with many herbal remedies, the longer you drink it, the more effective it is.

    Summary

    Valerian root tea is one of the most potent herbal brews as far as insomnia goes. Many people use it in conjunction with teas such as lemon balm tea and lavender tea for an even stronger sedative effect. Even better, there is no grogginess in the morning, the way there can be with pharmacy-bought medications.

    Lavender

    Lavender for Sleep

    Even the mention of lavender conjures up images of beautiful lavender-coloured flowers and a unique, intoxicating fragrance that calms just by inhaling it.

    • Inhaling lavender fragrance increased slow-wave sleep, which is the part of sleep that is restorative; it consolidates the day’s events and backs up our memories. During this part of sleep, our muscles are relaxed and our heartbeat is slower.

    It is no surprise that lavender tea has a similar effect, calming and relaxing the nerves, and enabling the drinker to effortlessly drift off to sleep. Research suggests that lavender does this by assisting with melatonin production, which the pineal gland produces to regulate the sleep-wake cycle.  

    Lavender tea has hints of mint and rosemary and a mild, soothing lavender-scented aroma. Blends can feature flavours ranging from floral to subtle notes of rose and apple to a slightly smoky taste.

    And remember to take a few moments to inhale the sleep-enhancing floral fragrance before enjoying your herbal tea.

    Summary

    Research supports the fact that both lavender tea and its aroma work to provide a restful night’s sleep. Lavender tea works by stimulating melatonin production - a hormone essential for regulation of the sleep-wake cycle. 

    Lemon Balm

    Lemon Balm for sleep

    Who doesn’t like the aroma of lemon? It’s such a clean, fresh scent that both calms and invigorates at the same time.

    Lemon balm tea has a satisfying lemon flavour with hints of mint, which is not a complete surprise since it is a member of the mint family.   

    • Lemon balm is another herb with a history of being used to encourage a better night's sleep.

    It performs this miracle in rather the same way as valerian root - by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, a brain chemical that encourages sleep. At the same time, it stimulates the production of serotonin, a sleep hormone.

    Pairing valerian root with lemon balm for a more potent sleeping tea is very common.

    Long-term use isn’t recommended, so every few months it might be a good idea to rely on another of our sleep teas for a few weeks before going back to lemon balm.   

    Summary

    Lemon balm is a deliciously lemony way to soothe yourself to sleep. It works by stimulating the production of GABA. Low levels of GABA cause anxiety and sleeplessness. It is often paired with valerian root tea for maximum effect.

    Passionflower

    Passionflower is the perfect anecdote for insomnia – especially if you are ‘passionate’ about getting a full night’s quality sleep.

    • This vine, native to the Americas, has a beautifully complex blossom. However, it is the ability of passionflower tea to reduce anxiety and insomnia that makes it a truly remarkable plant.     

    Research has discovered the bio-compounds in passionflower work in the same way as those in valerian root and lemon balm to induce sleep, i.e., by increasing the amount of GABA in the brain. It also enhances slow-wave sleep, which is the most beneficial, restorative part of the sleep cycle, and prolongs the amount time spent in this state.

    By reducing anxiety, another benefit of increasing levels of GABA, passionflower indirectly promotes better sleep, and researchers have recommended passionflower tea as a great add-on to prescribed anxiety medicine. 

    Participants in a study on the effects of passionflower reported they felt the sleep-enhancing benefits after just seven days of drinking passionflower tea. A separate study found that passionflower not helped with anxiety and sleep, and in doing so, also improved memory function.  

    Summary

    Like many other herbal teas, the bio-compounds in passionflower work by increasing levels of GABA. It further helps support a great night’s sleep by reducing anxiety. One positive side-effect is passionflower also improves memory.

    Ashwagandha

    This is another heavyweight in the herbal tea world. There isn’t much this powerful root tea can’t achieve.

    • Just two cups of ashwagandha tea a day can have you sleeping like a baby on a regular basis. Ashwagandha has been proven to improve both the quality of sleep and the speed at which we fall asleep.

    Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which means it can reduce stress by bringing high cortisol levels (a stress hormone) back to normal levels. Since stress is a common reason for insomnia and ashwagandha is exceptionally effective at reducing stress, this is one tea that has a super-relaxing effect, enabling us to fall asleep and stay asleep.

    Research also confirms that with less stress and better sleep, ashwagandha root tea improves overall well-being and enjoyment of life. 

    Summary

    Ashwagandha root is an adaptogen, which means it has the ability to restore high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, to normal levels. This reduces stress and anxiety, thereby promoting sleep. Two cups a day is more than enough to drink your insomnia away.   

    St. John’s Wort

    St John’s Wort is famous for its anti-depressant properties, but it also boasts quite an impressive ability to help reduce insomnia.

    • This perennial, flowering plant native to both Europe and North America helps induce sleep in two ways (which haven't yet been fully researched). First of all, like other herbs we've mentioned, it may stimulate levels of GABA and/or levels of serotonin, an important sleep hormone that curiously can both send us to sleep and wake us up.    

    Additionally, two chemicals, hyperforin and adhyperforin work in our nervous system to moderate the that regulate mood. This is how it combats depression, and similar conditions, and encourages a more stable night’s sleep.

    It has a slightly earthy flavour with hints of bitterness and a sweet aftertaste. 

    If you are on prescribed medication, be sure to consult your doctor before taking St. John’s wort. It is well-known for having serious interactions with many medications – especially anti-depressant medications.  

    Summary

    Often used to treat depression, this herbal tea not only increases levels of GABA, but also works on the nervous system to regulate mood. Together, this ensures a better night’s sleep. This herbal tea shouldn’t be taken with anti-depressants.      

    Holy Basil

    Holy basil, or Tulsi, is considered ‘the Queen of Herbs’ in India, where it has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

    • One reason for waking up during the night is stress. Feelings of stress are caused by higher-than-normal levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

    Holy basil is an adaptogen, as ashwagandha is, and can therefore restore this increased level of cortisol back to normal levels. This has the effect of calming your nerves and relaxing you enough to be able to drift off to sleep.

    In addition, holy basil herbal tea can help indirectly by settling any digestive issues. As mentioned previously, indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux and bloating make falling asleep nearly impossible. By eliminating these uncomfortable conditions, holy basil can make falling asleep easier, as well as helping you stay asleep.   

    Holy Basil tea has a slightly sweet, slightly spicy taste that invigorates and delights.    

    Summary

    Holy basil is an adaptogen, which means it has the ability to restore levels of cortisone, the stress hormone, to normal levels. It has the added bonus of effectively dealing with indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux – conditions that make sleep almost impossible.  

    Hops

    Beer lovers might recognise the word "hops", but unlike beer, hops herbal tea promotes a quality sleep. The alcohol in beer, on the other hand, may help you to fall asleep, but it will probably be a restless sleep.

    • Hops herbal tea can have an immensely calming effect on us. It can alleviate restlessness, tension, nervousness, irritability, and, as you may have already guessed, insomnia.    

    Hops works chiefly by moderating GABA activity in our brains. It is able to do this due to a component of its bitter resins known as 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol. But hops has more sedation powers with its ability to regulate levels of the sleep hormones, serotonin and melatonin.

    Further, hops has the ability to lower body temperature. For anyone who has ever lain awake on a hot summer’s night, or kicked the blankets off because they’re too hot, you will know that the body can’t sleep when it is hot. Hops takes care of that problem by lowering body temperature enabling sleep.   

    The already strong sedative ability of hops is magnified when it is paired with valerian root. They seem to compliment each other to provide sedation that is better than anything you can get over a counter. 

    Hops herbal tea tastes rather like strong beer, without the alcohol. In fact, some people drink it in place of beer. Great for the beer-loving designated driver. 

    Summary

    Hops is a master at treating insomnia. It works on GABA levels, as other herbal teas do, but it also regulates levels of the sleep hormones melatonin and serotonin. On top of that, it lowers body temperature to a level that makes sleep possible. It is another herbal tea that is often paired with valerian root tea.  

    Peppermint

    girl drink peppermint tea

    Peppermint tea helps us sleep in a more indirect way than the other teas mentioned in this article. However, that is not to say it isn’t perfectly tailored for people who have a particular complaint that needs fixing in order for them to be able to sleep soundly.

    • Peppermint does have bio-compounds that reduce stress and relax muscles, so in this way it directly affects our ability to sleep. Nobody can sleep if they are stressed out. And one major symptom of stress is tense muscles. Therefore, by reducing stress and relaxing muscles, we are better able to get a great night’s sleep.

    Plus, who doesn't like the fragrance of mint, which, like lavender, is calming just on its own.

    Now, it is the other health benefits derived from drinking peppermint tea that have enabled us to add to this list. Conditions such as gas and bloating, acid reflux and heartburn all due to digestive issues can be fixed with a cup of peppermint tea. In fact, peppermint tea is brilliant for treating those annoying digestive issues that can have you tossing and turning for most of the night.

    Just a word of warning. People who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or a hiatal hernia should avoid peppermint tea.

    The tea has a mild minty taste with a hint of sweetness that leaves a cooling sensation in its wake.

    Summary

    Peppermint tea treats insomnia in a more indirect way than most of the other teas, though it is no less effective. It reduces stress and relaxes muscles, calming the body to a state whereby it is more likely to be able to go to sleep. In addition, it helps with digestive problems like acid reflux and heartburn, which can cause so much discomfort that sleep is impossible.  

    Magnolia bark

    First of all, the magnolia tree has been around for over 100 million years. That has nothing to do with insomnia, but pretty impressive, hey?

    Magnolia bark tea is made from magnolia tree bark and from dried buds and stems.

    The sedative effects are due to the presence of honokiol, which has been discovered in large amounts in both the bark and buds of the magnolia tree.

    • Honokiol works rather like the bio-compounds in other herbal teas already mentioned - by increasing levels of GABA. This effect leads to a reduced amount of time taken to fall asleep and increased time spent sleeping.

    It has a slightly bitter taste that can be weakened by either using less loose-leaf tea or shortening the steeping time. Adding a little organic honey – added after the water has cooled a little – is also a great option. 

    Summary

    Again, the bio-compounds in magnolia bark tea work on increasing GABA levels, increasing them so that sleep can occur. It has the effect of speeding up the time it takes to fall asleep as well as increasing the time spent asleep.

    Conclusion

    Which of these beneficial sleep teas will you choose? With scientific research supporting each tea, and centuries of use in traditional medicine, all that remains is for you to choose one and wait for the results.

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