Tea is widely praised for its vast array of health benefits. It can give you energy, it can delivery a ton of different vitamins and minerals to your system, and it can help boost your immune system to fight off disease and illness. It's packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, to further boost your health.
So what about sleep?
There are a bunch of different reasons why you might have trouble sleeping. You might be under physical stress that leaves you sore and aching. You might be under mental stress, which leaves you tossing and turning or sitting awake with anxiety. You might simply have insomnia, and your body refuses to let you fall asleep for no discernable reason.
Is there a tea that can help with this? You're in luck! There are actually a handful of different teas and tea blends you can use to help fall asleep and sleep more restfully.
First: Avoid the Tea Plant
The first thing you want to do is make sure the tea you're going to drink is either a rooibos or an herbal blend. Pretty much any other kind of tea, be it matcha, green, white, puer, black, purple, or another tea, is based on the same tea plant. This tea plant has caffeine in it, and while the amount of caffeine varies based on the method of tea production, it's still present.
Caffeine can give you energy, sure, but it's going to exacerbate stress and anxiety. Even in small doses, it can be unpleasant to drink something with caffeine in it too close to when you're trying to sleep. You'll end up restless and your sleep will be lighter with less restfulness.
Obviously, you want to avoid other sources of caffeine and other stimulants close to bedtime as well. Chocolate is a primary offender here; it contains some small amount of caffeine, and even if you treat it as an evening snack, it's still going to keep you awake. Sugar is also a big offender, though the energy it gives you doesn't typically last as long.
If you want to sweeten your evening tea, consider honey instead. It's still a sugar, but it's smoother and easier for your body to process. Plus, locally sourced honey can have faint traces of local allergens and other "contaminants" that aren't detrimental. Local honey is often used as a way to help boost your system to resist allergies.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Sleep Tea
If you're taking a tea to get to sleep, you want to get the most out of it, which means you want to take a few certain steps.
First of all, we recommend turning your tea brewing session into something of an evening ritual. There's no evidence to suggest that these teas become more effective the longer you consume them, the way some medications can. On the other hand, the establishment of a regular habit and a calming ritual can help you shrug off some stress and prepare yourself for sleep.
An evening ritual is generally important, so your body starts preparing for sleep before you actually crawl into bed. Your body knows that, an hour after you start preparing this tea, you're falling asleep, so it starts to shift into sleep mode on schedule.
Try to minimize distractions while you brew. Brew slowly and focus on the warmth and aroma of your tea of choice, rather than setting some water to heat and walking away or playing on your phone.
It's also a good idea to try to keep this ritual – and your bedtime – around the same time every day. This helps you build the habit and keep a more consistent sleep schedule.
So what teas or tea ingredients should you be trying if you want to sleep?
Chamomile is the number one sleep tea in popular culture. This has been known for centuries as a sleep remedy, but it was popularized in the 70s by Celestial Seasonings, with their extremely popular sleepytime tea, which is a blend of chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass, tilia, blackberry, orange, hawthorn, and rosebuds. It's a unique blend, but the ingredient we're most concerned about today is the chamomile.
Chamomile itself is a small flower, similar to a daisy. It's going to be one of the core ingredients in any relaxation or sleep blend you find, and it should be the core ingredient in any blend you choose to put together yourself.
This small flower is most often used in blends, but you can drink it on its own. Personally, we prefer to blend it with a few other ingredients to spice up the flavor, which can be a little subtle on its own.
Scientific studies about the efficacy of chamomile are rather limited. Some have indicated that chamomile as a concentrated powder in capsule form can help with sleep and anxiety, but studies about tea on its own are not well researched.
Valerian tea is made from the roots and occasionally leaves of the valerian plant, which is another herb with pretty flowers that has been used for centuries as a remedy. Valerian is a common sleep aid in native cultures where the plant is found naturally, and it's another ingredient in a lot of other commercial herbal blends with an emphasis on sleep.
Valerian is more like some medicines, in that it works best if you take it consistently for several weeks to see its full effects. This can be part of building a healthy evening routine and set of habits, and it can also be part of an escalating effectiveness of the sedative effects of valerian root.
Research is generally inconclusive with valerian, much like with chamomile. Some studies show promise, while others show inconclusive results. This is likely due to the fact that there are relatively small sample sizes and, more importantly, different people react to different herbs in different ways. What works for one person might not work for you.
Lavender is another very common ingredient in sleep teas, but it's also used as a scent to help with sleep. Using lavender in a tea helps in both ways; you consume it, but the act of brewing it also releases some of the helpful and relaxing odor.
Lavender has been found in some limited studies to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate (safely, no dangerous levels here), and even slow down breathing.
You can couple a lavender tea with some lavender essential oils in an aromatherapy diffuser to go along with your evening routine. This infusion can help you relax well before you crawl into bed for the evening, and can make falling asleep a more relaxing experience.
Lemon balm does not actually have anything to do with lemons. It's actually an herb in the extended mint family. The name comes from the fact that the leaves have a slight lemony scent and flavor.
The lemon balm plant has been used for a variety of different herbal remedies over the years. Most commonly, it is used to treat digestion issues and anxiety, as well as stress and insomnia. It works because some of the chemicals in the plant have sedative effects. There's also some small evidence to suggest that lemon balm has an antiviral effect.
A beverage of pure lemon balm tea isn't likely to put you to sleep, or even have much of an effect beyond the first few times you use it. It's best when used as an additive alongside the other ingredients on this list, as part of an overall sleep-focused herbal blend. It's a great flavor to mix with lavender and chamomile as well.
Peppermint isn't always considered a good tea for sleep; in fact, some people swear it gives them energy. Sometimes, though, that energetic feeling actually comes from the relaxation and stress release you get from peppermint tea.
Peppermint is well known for its benefits in aiding digestion and reducing indigestion. Peppermint oil is a common digestive supplement, and it can also be used as a muscle relaxant when applied topically.
Depending on the reason you're unable to sleep, peppermint can be a good option to try. Use a little bit of peppermint in your tea blend to give you a more easily settled stomach before you lay down.
One of the best benefits of peppermint is that, in addition to dried leaves as part of tea, you can also just use it fresh. Peppermint is extremely easy to grow, so picking a couple of leaves and using them when you need the remedy is easy and convenient.
Not to be mixed up with either lemon or lemon balm, lemongrass is an entirely different plant. It's normally native to Asia, but can be found all around the world in stores everywhere and as part of a wide variety of tea blends.
Lemongrass has many of those wide-ranging beneficial properties that tea is loved for, such as antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. It's also used as a sedative amongst native Asian cultures.
There aren't many studies to show the effects of lemongrass as a sedative, but it's a great flavor, and if it does have any benefits, it would pair well with a blend of the other herbs on this list. You can also try the same essential oil trick as with lavender to create a nice blend to help you sleep more peacefully.
Passionflower is a cool looking little flower with a complex design, like something you would see on an alien planet. It's not generally one of the most recognized sleep aids on the list, but it's one with some of the best studies. A double-blind study performed in 2011 showed that people taking a passionflower tea had a better subjective sleep experience than people with a placebo.
Alright, well, it only studied 41 participants, so that's hardly a wide-ranging statistical sample. It's probably another herb that works well for some people and does virtually nothing for others, just like everything else on this list, and many medications besides. Still, it's worth giving a shot if you like the scent, taste, or effects it gives you.
Bringing It Together
Nothing stops you from buying one of the many commercial blends of sleep teas available, or using their list of ingredients as inspiration. Personally, we prefer to blend our own teas. Getting dried herbs and flowers in bulk can allow you to cheaply mix up a blend with the exact flavor profile you want, to give you the strength necessary to relax you without making it difficult to function.
Peppermint is one of the better options to add because it's a strong flavor, by the way. Any blend with peppermint, particularly fresh peppermint, is going to have a vibrant minty flavor with undertones of whatever else you add. For those who don't like the more licorice-like or grassy flavors of many of the other common ingredients, this can be a great base.
There are also a range of other herbs that may have some minor sedative effect, but aren't worth mentioning as the core of a blend on their own. These include herbs like mugwort, catnip, and rose. They're pleasant, and they don't have the energy-boosting effects of caffeine, but they're not going to knock you out.
What about you? What's your favorite herbs and herbal teas for helping you go to sleep? We'd love to know.