Do you find that drinking herbal tea before bed helps you shift down a few mental gears, wash away your stress, and perhaps even fall asleep a little easier?
Or does it just taste nice without actually doing anything?
As an Englishman and an insomniac, drinking tea at night comes very naturally to me; it’s in my DNA to fix emotional problems by putting the kettle on!
Despite the fact that I’ve drunk herbal teas daily for many years, I’m going to explain in this article why the evidence that tea works as a liquid sleep aid can be a little misleading.
I’ll then look at some of the main flowers, leaves and roots used, share some of my favorite brands, and finish with teas that readers have suggested.
Is there evidence that tea can help with sleep?
I don’t want to be overly negative, but here’s the bad news first: the scientific evidence that any tea can help people sleep is very sparse. Almost non-existant.
The good news is that there is some evidence that the ingredients used, such as chamomile, lavender and valerian, might have some sedative properties. But there are some points to bear in mind before getting too excited by that evidence:
- Most clinical trials use concentrated herbal supplements in powder or capsule form, not tea.
- The dosages used in those supplements are usually much higher than you can get from tea.
- The handful of studies that used tea specifically haven’t had overwhelmingly significant results.
There’s a good article on todaysdietician.com that discusses this problem. Mary Bove, ND, summarizes it this way:
Although many herbal teas have been shown to have positive health benefits, this type of herbal preparation generally has milder effects than an herbal extract or concentrated powder or capsule…so, you can’t assume an herbal tea will have the same impact as a more concentrated herbal supplement.
Where does that leave us if we like our herbal teas?
It’s not all doom and gloom – believe me, I want to believe they work as much as you probably do!
My personal opinion is that taking the time out to prepare and enjoy a bedtime tea is in itself rewarding; it’s a great excuse to have some valuable and quiet ‘me time’.
Whether the ingredients are working their magic behind the scenes and the effect just hasn’t been proven by researchers or it’s just the good old placebo effect again is irrelevant to me. If I feel it helps me chill out at the end of a hectic day, I’ll keep on drinking it.
But I do think it’s important to keep this balanced view in mind when researching teas yourself. Remember that it’s easy to cherry-pick some positive research studies of herbal supplements and use them as evidence that the tea version must work too…
Now I’ve let the cat out of the bag where evidence is concerned, let’s take a look at the ingredients that are most commonly used in sleep teas.
Chamomile is one of the global superstars of teas used for sleep and relaxation in general.
It’s found in many brands of herbal tea, either alone or mixed with other plants. And if you enjoy making remedies yourself, it’s easy to make by drying out the flowers and steeping them.
The evidence for its sedative effect is perhaps strongest for anxiety, but it crops up time and time again in bedtime teas and herbal remedies.
Studies involving chamomile in tea form are very limited. One study in 2016 found the tea helped postpartum women sleep better. However, after four weeks, there was no difference with the women who didn’t drink the tea.
2. Valerian root
Valerian tea is made from the root or leaves of the plant, and people have used it for centuries to help with sleep and anxiety. It’s thought that some people may need to take valerian for a couple of weeks before the full sedative effect is felt.
It’s one of the few plants which have been shown by researchers to have sedative properties. However, a detailed review in 2018 of previous clinical trials found that the overall picture was one of inconclusive results.
Other researchers suggest it may work, but the problem is one of the clinical trials not being well designed. And I haven’t found any research studies that used valerian tea specifically.
Although chamomile and valerian reign supreme in the bedtime tea category, they aren’t alone.
Another plant sometimes put into the mix is lavender, which is thought to have relaxing and anti-stress properties.
Again though, the evidence for its usefulness for sleep is limited, and I haven’t seen any for it in tea form. One review of eight studies using aroma inhalation suggested that it may provide a small to moderate benefit, but that more research is needed.
4. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is traditionally believed to help with anxiety, stress and insomnia. And it’s often included in brands of teas created to promote better sleep.
One study had some positive results when using a concentrated extract. But again, it wasn’t in tea form so the same effect can’t be guaranteed if you drink it – especially if it’s just a small contributor to a tea mix using several ingredients.
Peppermint is often associated with providing energy and helping with stomach problems, but it’s also sometimes included in sleep teas.
Despite a lack of research using mint tea, research has shown that peppermint oil can help with indigestion and some other stomach complaints, and work as a muscle relaxant.
Perhaps it’s a good choice if you’ve eaten a little too much and indigestion is keeping you awake. And if it’s a headache that’s stopping you sleeping, trying rubbing a little peppermint oil on your skin instead.
As a lifelong mint lover, any tea containing peppermint will always grab my attention. And it’s an easy one to make yourself – just grab a few fresh leaves from your nearest mint plant (they grow very easily) and steep them in freshly boiled water.
Native to Asia, but now cultivated around the world, you might associate lemongrass more with food than tea – it’s a favorite of mine when making Thai curry!
But researchers have discovered that it’s also used in some countries for a range of medicinal purposes, such as an anti-bacterial, antidiarrheal, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, and as a sedative.
The only research study I could find that used tea specifically was done with mice, not humans. However, they did find that Lemongrass essential oil had a positive effect on overall sleep time.
The passionflower is stunning when in bloom, alien almost with its complex design. But does is its natural beauty contagious, helping you get some beauty sleep?
This is one that does have some research using it in tea form. 41 participants were given either passionflower tea or a placebo tea. And the researchers found that those drinking the real tea had ‘short-term subjective sleep benefits’.
Ahh, it’s nice to end this section on a positive note!
Here are some of my favorite teas that you can easily find in many stores and online. The manufacturers do sometimes change the ingredients, so double-check if you like the sound of one I’ve listed below.
Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Tea
Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime tea is one of the most popular brands of tea for sleep in the United States. It’s also growing in popularity in the United Kingdom, and many other countries.
It’s been my personal favorite for some time now. I find it has a delicious taste – soft and rounded even though it’s quite earthy. And with a little honey, it’s a lovely tea that helps me unwind at the end of a busy day.
It also has the added benefit of being soothing on the tummy. So when you’ve overindulged, this is the tea to calm both your body and mind.
- Tilia flowers
- Blackberry leaves
- Orange blossoms
Yogi produces several teas for stress relief and relaxation, but Yogi Bedtime is my favorite.
I find it’s a very relaxing tea, and enjoy the deep, earthy flavor it has. You can really taste the rich combination of different ingredients, especially if you let it brew a little longer. It’s made with certified non-GMO organic ingredients.
- Passionflower extract
- Valerian root extract
- Licorice root
- Chamomile flower
- Spearmint leaf
- Skullcap leaf
- Cardamon pod
- Cinnamon bark
- Rose hip
- Lavender flower
- Stevia leaf
Clipper Sleep Easy Infusion
Clipper Sleep Easy is a tea that’s close to my heart, being blended in the UK, not far from where I grew up. I like how they point out that it’s made with ‘organic ingredients and a clear conscience’.
Clipper says they strive to improve the welfare of the workers in the countries the ingredients come from.
The tea has quite a mellow flavor, with just a hint of cinnamon and the rooibos coming through the standard flavor of chamomile.
It’s a wonderful tea to drink before bed, with a unique taste, and one of my favorites in the colder winter months.
- Lemon balm
- Valerian root
- Natural orange flavoring & other natural flavorings
Pukka Night Time
Pukka Night Time has a flavor that appears similar to the Celestial Seasonings at first. But there are some subtle differences – it’s a little stronger tasting, and sweeter even.
It’s a lovely flavor in fact, and I can happily drink more than one cup in an evening.
The ingredients are 100% organic and ethically sourced. Interestingly, it’s the only commercial tea I’ve seen with green rama tulsi leaf. This is thought to have anti-stress properties and is widely used in India.
- Oat flowering tops
- Lavender flower
- Lime flower
- Chamomile flower
- Licorice root
- valerian root
- Green Rama tulsi leaf
Bigelow Sweet Dreams
Bigelow Sweet Dreams has some extra minty pizzazz to accompany the usual chamomile that you’ll find in most nighttime teas. It’s another of my favorites as I adore the taste and smell of mint.
Two different mint plants fuse together to create a special aroma, with a rich taste that’s great to drink on an evening when you feel like a stronger tasting bedtime tea.
Made in the US from non-GMO ingredients, the box, teabag, and string are all biodegradable. But if you live in a place with high humidity or damp, each teabag has its own foil pouch to protect it from moisture and air.
- Peppermint leaves
- Rose blossom
- Spearmint leaves
- Orange blossoms
Is normal caffeinated black tea a good bedtime drink?
Until recently, I would have said it’s probably best to avoid any caffeinated drink in the lead up to bedtime; it’s standard vanilla sleep advice that caffeine keeps you awake. However, in August 2019, some new research suggested that caffeine might not be such a fearsome sleep-slayer after all.
Looking at the sleep patterns of 785 African Americans, the researchers found that alcohol and nicotine within 4 hours of going to bed both negatively affected sleep. In contrast, caffeine had no significant effect on sleep duration, sleep efficiency or time of first waking after falling asleep.
The researchers point out that they didn’t look closely at dosage, tolerance, and sensitivity to caffeine. So this research doesn’t let all black tea and coffee addicts off the hook; you’ll still need to experiment and self-reflect to see if black or green tea, or even coffee, is a feasible bedtime drink for you personally.
Readers’ favorite bedtime teas
In the six years since I first wrote this article, many readers have shared their favorite night time teas in the comments.
With so many great suggestions, I’ve compiled the list below:
- Pukka sleepy time
- Yogi soothing bedtime caramel
- Lemon balm and skullcap combination
- Chamomile Nights by Stash, with chamomile, spearmint and lotus
- Chamomile mixed with Chinese tea
- Lavender sun tea
- Sleepytime tea mixed with chai white tea and Rooibos red tea
- Chamomile steeped in hot water along with lemon verbena, with some lemon and sugar added
- Snore and Peace tea by Clipper
- Brewing 10 sweet mint leaves in boiling or very hot water
- Sleepytime tea with vanilla
- Triple Leaf Relaxing Tea (Chinese herbal tea)
- Linden leaves tea
- Peppermint and chamomile tea combined
- Tension Tamer
- Tazo tea
- Happy Nights tea by Carmencita
- Nettle tea and Chamomile with a teaspoon of raw honey
- Teavana’s Winterberry
- Decaffeinated Earl Grey
- Nighty Night
- A concoction of the leaves of guava, taro and mulberry
- Triple Leaf Relaxing
- Ahmad Verbena (Verveiene)
- Hibiscus tea
- Dr. Stuart’s relaxation tea
- David’s tea – Mother’s Little Helper
- Morpheus from Tin Roof Teas
- Teepee dreams from the Native American Tea Company
Your favorite tea
Which tea do you drink to help you relax? Do you buy it or make it yourself? let me know in the comments below!