Tea before bed can help you sleep better. Science concurs with thousands of years of folk medicine on this advice, but only for the right type of tea — which is why we have to start this article off with a nomenclature lesson (sorry).
There are two types of tea.
There’s “true” tea — that’s black tea, green tea, and exotic varieties like Oolong and Darjeeling. All are made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis aka the tea plant. We’ll circle back to the sleep benefits of “true” teas later.
“Herbal” tea is most often recommended before sleep. “Herbal” covers all other plant matter people soak in hot water. It’s a catch-all term that covers not just herbs, but leaves, roots, peels, flower buds, and so on.
Herbal teas work to improve sleep in different ways. With some plant matter, it’s the aroma activated by hot water that is likely causing the body to relax. With others, substances transmitted from the plant to the water are sending us on that non-stop flight to dreamland.
Herbal Teas Recommended for Sleep
Medical researchers have studied lavender extensively in essential oil form. The aroma of the flower disseminated via patch improves sleep quality. Fewer studies exist on lavender tea, but the smart money says that the smell of the tea has the same effect — a one-way ticket on the Quality Sleep Express.
The passionflower isn’t one plant or flower but a whole family. Our ancestors used them for their sedative effects. A recent study on modern people showed significant improvement in sleep after just one week of drinking passionflower tea. Passionflower contains GABA, an amino acid that calms the mine.
The chamomile flower in chamomile tea is packed with a substance called apigenin. Studies suggest that apigenin may activate GABA receptors. When GABA receptors are activated, neurotransmission slows down. If the science is right, drinking chamomile tea essentially turns down the volume of your brain and helps you sleep.
Peppermint and its active ingredient, menthol, are usually used to invigorate rather than relax. A preliminary study of mice showed that peppermint oil reduced sleepiness in daytime. So drinking peppermint to hold off that daytime nap could help you sleep better at night.
Prescribed for insomnia since Roman times, studies have shown that valerian root extract enhances GABA activity to calm the mind. Valerian has one strong advantage over other sleep aids with no hangover effect the next morning.
A study where mice were treated with banana pulp showed potential antianxiety effects from bananas. So if you eat bananas for breakfast, save that peel for a quick boil at night.
Herbal Teas Not Recommended Quite As Much For Sleep
The same study that found that valerian acts as a sleep aid found the smell of lemon actually shortened sleep, but some folks swear by a lemon herbal tea before bed. You’ll have to make up your own mind.
Linden leaves come from a tree also known as lime or basswood. The leaves are used in preparations for general healing, but some people think it helps to calm them before sleep. Science, as of yet, has no comment.
Before it was the greenery on our burgers, lettuce was a well-known psychoactive. There is a species of lettuce called “opium lettuce” that was used as a painkiller and sedative. The lettuce you buy in the store is a distant cousin, and likely contains the same trace amount chemicals of its powerful relative. Some people boil lettuce, drink the liquid before bed, and find that they sleep better.
Herbal Tea Blends Recommended For Sleep
With all these herbs containing many benefits, there’s no reason to stick to just one. Herbal tea makers combine various herbs and tout their effectiveness and flavor.
Organic India True Wellness Tulsi Sleep Tea
Anti-stress healing herbs from India blended with traditional Western herbs like chamomile, cardamom, and peppermint in this highly-rated organic tea.
Celestial Seasonings Herbal Tea, Sleepytime
Beloved for generations, this popular blend contains chamomile, spearmint, and fresh lemongrass.
Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime Caffeine Free
Productivity guru Tim Ferriss revealed that drinking this blend including chamomile, nutmeg, and ginger is part of his nightly sleep routine.
New Moon Knock Me Out Herbal Tea with Valerian Root
New Moon Tea Company of British Columbia produces small batches of this caffeine-free blend of valerian, lemon, spearmint. lavender, and orange peel.
Birth Song Botanicals Tranquility Tea
Birth Song Botanicals of Fayetteville, Arkansas, offers this blend of chamomile, lemon balm, oat straw, passionflower, and lavender to help you wind down.
Sleep Effects of the “True” Teas
Camellia sinensis is a very basic looking shrub (see below). You wouldn’t think it capable of producing one of history’s most popular beverages.
Yet for at least the last 2,300 years, people have cultivated, clipped, dried, and dumped hot water over Camellia leaves. Tea has been consumed as a status symbol, as a medicine, as a stimulant, and just for fun.
Relatively recently in the story of tea, science learned that Camellia leaves contain an amino acid called theanine. According to researchers, this magical substance “has positive effects on relaxing, cognitive performance, emotional status, sleep quality, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and the common cold.”
However, the positive impact of theanine on sleep is counteracted by another chemical found in tea — caffeine. The magical substance that peps up our mornings does us no favors when it’s bedtime. The solution, scientists found, was simple. Drink decaffeinated tea instead.
Japanese researchers found that drinking decaffeinated green tea reduced stress and improved sleep quality in a double-blind study.
Caffeine is the enemy of sleep, so any tea that’s marketed as a coffee alternative is one to avoid.
Yerba Mate, for instance, is very high in caffeine. Matcha is a green tea made from crushed leaf powder. This process increases the caffeine level of the tea, so keep Matcha for the morning, too.
Some herbs used in herbal tea, specifically lemon and peppermint, are sometimes used as stimulants. If you’ve never tried tea as a sleep aid before, don’t make those herbs your first choice.
Making Tea Part of Your Sleep Routine
TV commercials used to tell us that cereal was “part of a complete breakfast.” The idea was you weren’t supposed to eat only cereal every morning, even if that’s what most of us did.
Likewise, your sleep routine shouldn’t be a tea-only one.
Combine the nightly ritual of tea drinking with other sleep positive activities like listening to calming music, and avoiding the blue light of screens. Tea alone probably won’t solve your sleep problems, but it can be part of the complete solution. And a mattress backed by science can be too.