Why Chamomile Tea Can Calm You for Sleep
When you think of sipping a soothing cup of herbal tea at night, trying to wind down and get ready for bed, it’s likely that the leaves steeping in your imagined cup are chamomile. And no wonder–chamomile has been used since ancient times to promote relaxation and ease other ailments.
What Is Chamomile?
Part of the Asteraceae family, chamomile are delicate yellow and white flowers that resemble daisies. There are several species, but most teas are made from German or Roman chamomile. And while that may sound far-flung, these blooms are not too inaccessible. In fact, if you enjoy gardening, you can even grow your own.
What Is Chamomile Used For?
Chamomile is probably best known for its benefits of relaxation, soothing anxiety and promoting sleep. But chamomile goes far beyond that. Traditionally, it’s also been used to calm muscle spasms, as an anti-inflammatory and to soothe stomach ailments such as gas and bloating, says nurse-herbalist Karen Bond. Small studies also indicate it may help with blood sugar regulation and PMS symptoms. Since many of those symptoms can go together, chamomile can be especially useful for treating several ailments at once.
“I recommend chamomile both for sleep and anxiety,” says naturopath Lauren Geyman. “It’s a great herb for children as well as adults who tend to get cranky, or who get stomach aches or discomfort when they’re stressed.”
Though results in formal research around chamomile’s efficacy are somewhat mixed, Bond notes that the herb has long maintained popularity around the world. “Chamomile has been used successfully by a multitude of cultures,” Bond says. “Whether you look at Ayurvedic medicine, traditional Chinese medicine or European herbal medicine, chamomile has been successfully used for thousands of years.”
What Does Chamomile Taste Like?
Chamomile is mild and floral in flavor, with muted fruit. You may pick up notes of apple in chamomile’s scent and flavor; the word “chamomile” is derived from the Greek word for apple.
How Does It Work?
There are a few ways chamomile may help you wind down and drift off. “Its use as a sleep aid is attributed to its flavonoid content—specifically, a compound called apigenin, which binds to certain GABA receptors in the brain that make us feel calm and relaxed,” Geyman says. This is because chamomile contains apigenin, an antioxidant, that binds to the GABA receptors in your brain, which in turn helps us nod off and reduces insomnia. Apigenin is part of why the flower is starting to be linked to better sleep quality. Studies have shown that people who drink chamomile tea twice a day are less likely to wake up during the night and fall asleep 15 minutes faster.
Chamomile’s distinctive aroma also may play a role, notes Dr. Chris Winter, neurologist, Sleep.com sleep advisor and author of The Sleep Solution. If you drink chamomile tea every night as part of a wind-down ritual, your brain will start to associate the scent and flavor with relaxation and sleep. “We call those things zeitgebers, little time cues where, when your body smells the chamomile and tastes the chamomile, it’s like a trigger for your brain to know that sleep’s coming,” he says.
In addition to chamomile’s distinctive characteristics, having a cup of any warm herbal tea as part of a nighttime wind-down routine also can help you feel sleepy by causing your body to cool itself, Winter adds. “When you heat your body up and then cool it down, either with something like a hot beverage or a hot bath, that act of cooling after it is sleep-promoting,” he says.
How to Use Chamomile for Good Sleep
Along with tea, chamomile is available as a supplement in capsules and in tincture form. If you choose tea, be sure to not drink too much or too close to sleep, as you may disrupt your nighttime slumber to get up to pee in the middle of the night. Instead, try sipping a few ounces at least an hour before bed.
Even if it isn’t part of your regular routine, chamomile is still a useful tool. “As for everyday use as a tea for anxiety, insomnia or digestive woes, you should be able to feel the benefit immediately,” Geyman says.
Chamomile is gentle and generally safe, Bond says. But if you’re allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds or daisies, you may want to check with your health care provider before using it, as chamomile related to those flowers.
“Something I love about chamomile is that its genus is called Matricaria. I love to think about chamomile as a matriarch, balancing strength and gentleness with the simple goal of providing relaxation and ease,” Geyman adds.