We have all had one of those nights when even counting sheep fails to put us to sleep. Whether its anxiety or a general bout of insomnia, getting a good night’s sleep can seem impossible. It can also have a cascading effect, the more we become anxious, the less likely we are to go to sleep. The best way to tackle the difficulty in sleeping is to address those frayed nerves. Tea has long been seen as a panacea for anxiousness, restlessness, difficulty in sleeping and insomnia. Many herbal teas have a sedative effect that helps in relaxing the body and calming the mind.
Teas For Sleep
One of the most popular traditional remedies for fractured sleep is tea. In particular, herbal teas are considered very beneficial in promoting a good night’s sleep. Drinking tea is often prescribed by herbal practitioners as a way of calming the mind and easing anxiety. A review article published in the Sleep Medicine Review backed up this popular theory, finding merit in the efficacy and safety of herbal stimulants and sedatives in sleep disorders.
In the book Sleep and Relaxation: A Natural and Herbal Approach, the authors have highlighted herbs that are known for their sleep-inducing and relaxing qualities. These herbs are used in the form of tinctures, medicinal teas, and even sleep pillows. Some herbs have a strong sedative effect, while some are moderate or mild.
It is called the ‘nature’s valium’ for good reason. Its use in traditional medicine dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. It was recommended by Hippocrates, the Father of Western Medicine, for its therapeutic benefits. It was used for treating insomnia, nervousness, headaches, trembling, and anxiousness. However, the 19th century saw some dip in its popularity. The herb has made a comeback with many traditional practitioners. In the US it is available as a dietary supplement. Valerian a common ingredient in most herbal formulations for improving sleep.
Valerian dietary supplements are prepared from the roots and underground stems of the herb. According to the National Institute of Health, valerian has shown sedative effects in animal trials. However, clinical trials on its efficacy in treating insomnia are largely inconclusive. The NIH website cautions against combining it with alcohol, sedatives, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines. It should be avoided in case of children below 3-year-old, pregnant and nursing women.
How to make: The book Healing Teas, recommends a cold infusion. Since valerian is sensitive to heat, boiling or brewing the tea in hot water can result in a loss of its healing properties. Instead, let a spoonful of dried valerian roots soak overnight in 8 ounces of water. Strain and take this tea about 30-45 minutes before going to bed. You can simmer the strained tea and drink it warm.
Where to buy: Most specialist stores keep valerian tea. It is also available at well-stocked supermarts like Walmart. Alternatively, you can order it online.
The sudden mushrooming of kava bars in some cities in the US is a testament to the growing popularity of the herb. Predictably, it was the more experimental cities of Florida, California, and New York that took to it with gusto. But this is no new age discovery. Kava has been around for centuries in the South Pacific Islands where it was used in ceremonies to induce a state of calmness among participants.
However, the FDA has warned against the risk of liver damage associated with kava intake. Combining it with alcohol can increase the risk. As per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it is also associated with heart problems, eye irritation, and dry or scaly skin. The key lies in drinking the tea in moderation and not overdoing it.
How to make: Kava tea is made from its dried roots and underground stems. Traditionally this tea is made by immersing a muslin bag of the dried roots in warm or hot water. Kava tea requires slightly higher proportions, 2-4 tablespoons per person. Some people prefer double the amount. After the tea is steeped for 5-10 minutes, the bag is kneaded to squeeze out all the liquid. The tea looks deceptively like chocolate milk. But it is slightly bitter. You can add natural sweeteners like honey to balance the bitterness. It is usually taken cold. For best results, take the tea on an empty stomach.
Where to buy: Kava is available as a dietary supplement in the US. A number of specialist stores and supermarkets stock the tea. You can also order it online.
Because of its distinctive flavor, hops are not everybody’s cup of tea. It is the hops that give your beer its distinct slightly bitter flavor. But if you have a favorite hop blend, chances are that you may like the same flavor in your tea. Hops tea was traditionally used as a sedative. Many herbal practitioners still prescribe it as a mild sleeping aid. It can be combined with valerian for stronger results. Hops are also used to make herb pillows for improving sleep.
How to make: The best hop tea is made with whole-cone hops. If you cannot get hold of any, pellets or tea bags can also work. To make the tea, use one part tea to eight parts water. You can make the tea by steeping the pellets or the tea bags in hot water for 5 minutes. Since it is bitter in taste, many people prefer to take it with sugar, honey, maple or agave syrup.
Where to buy: With the revival in the homebrewing movement, we are also seeing more and more hops varieties available with many manufacturers now also offering teas. For a more pleasant bitter profile, pick a tea with low alpha acid levels, but high beta acid levels. Many manufacturers also add spices or floral aromas, like citrus, lavender, chamomile or cloves to enhance the flavor. You can pick a flavor profile that sounds most appealing. You can buy hops teas at many organic stores or well-stocked supermarkets. Stores that specialize in homebrewing products also stock hops tea.
Lemon balm tea
The lemon balm tea is a mild sedative that can help you relax at bedtime. It has a pleasant lemony-minty taste, which is slightly sweet. Its usage as a sedative dates back to ancient times when it was also used in wine to alleviate anxiety and help one relax. It is often combined with stronger herbs like valerian to enhance its effect. The Penn State Hershey medical center quotes several studies which found that lemon balm, when combined with other sedative herbs, can help in relieving anxiety and improving sleep.
However, it is not recommended for people taking thyroid medication, or pregnant and breastfeeding women.
How to make: Lemon balm tea is made with fresh leaves. To make the tea, chop up a quarter of a cup of the leaves and let it steep in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Strain and drink it up. If you don’t have access to the fresh leaves, use 1/4 to 1 tsp dried leaves for a cup of hot water to make the tea. The Penn State Hershey website recommends taking the tea four times a day.
Where to buy: Lemon balm tea is also sold as Melissa tea. You can get it at specialist stores or order it online.
The passionflower tea is no stranger to the American continents. Even before it became popular in Europe and the rest of the Western world, it was used by the Native American tribes for its medicinal properties. The Spanish and other European colonialists took the herb to other parts of the world where it became popular with the Western herbalists. The tea acts as a moderate sedative and is often combined with other herbs like valerian for a stronger dose. However, as per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it should be avoided by pregnant women as it can cause contractions.
How to make: The book Overcoming Sleep Disorders Naturally, offers a passionflower tea recipe that involves steeping 1 teaspoon of dried passionflower leaves in a cup of water for 15 minutes. For improved sleep, the author recommends taking the tea about 30 minutes before going to bed. For restlessness or general anxiety, 3 cups throughout a day can be more effective.
Where to buy: You can find passionflower tea in specialist organic tea stores or the bigger supermarkets. The easiest way to buy this tea is online.
If there is a tea that has become synonymous with relaxation, it is chamomile tea. Traditionally chamomile was used for inflammations, hay fever, wounds, menstrual problems, and insomnia. Given its popularity, it is also one of the most researched herbal teas. A Taiwanese study on the effectiveness of chamomile tea on postpartum women showed positive results. In another Iranian study, elderly participants who received chamomile capsules reported improved sleep. However, there are also studies that show no significant difference after the use of chamomile.
How to make: Chamomile tea is prepared from the flowers of the plant. The beneficial properties of tea come from the flavonoids present in the flowers. The book Chamomile: Medicinal, Biochemical, and Agricultural Aspects recommends using 1 heaped teaspoon for a cup of tea. Steep the flowers in hot water for 5 minutes and drink it warm.
Where to buy: Unless you have access to fresh chamomile flowers, it is best to buy the tea leaves or tea bags. These are widely available at most supermarkets or specialist stores. You can also order it online.
The pleasant aroma of the lavender, not surprisingly, also makes a very flavorful tea. This strikingly purple-pink colored tea has the sweet flowery taste that you can expect. But given that it belongs to the mint family, there is also an underlying mildly sweet minty taste. The tea is made from dried flowers. Fresh flowers can have an underlying herbal flavor that can be jarring to some people.
How to make: When making lavender tea, you have to remember that a little goes a long way. Lavender has a strong aroma and unless you want your tea to taste like a room freshener, go easy with the quantity. To make the tea, just add a spare 1 teaspoon of the dried flowers to a cup of hot water. Let it steep for a few minutes and strain. If you are using a teabag, avoid keeping it in the water for too long.
Where to buy: Lavender tea bags are available at many well-stocked supermarkets and e-retail stores. You can also get dried lavender flowers in specialist stores, which you can use to make tea. However, do make sure that it is suitable to be consumed in this manner.
What You Must Keep in Mind
It is important to remember that herbal does not always mean safe. When using sedatives, even mild herbal ones, there are some precautions that one must take. The book Sleep and Relaxation also tells us what we should avoid when taking tea for sleep.
- Do not take herbal teas with barbiturates, alcohol, sedatives, or other medications for sleep.
- Do not take sedatives without your doctor’s go-ahead if you are pregnant.
- Do not take sedatives if you suffer from depression.
- Do not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking herbal sedatives.
- Beware of developing a dependency because of daily or frequent use.
- If you are taking medication for a sleep disorder, do not stop abruptly. Talk to your doctor or a healthcare provider about the transition to herbal teas.
- Always follow the recommended dose. Just because it is natural, it does not mean that herbal sedatives have no side-effects.
- Simply taking herbal tea is not a long-term solution. So, be prepared to make lifestyle changes.
- Start with milder herbs like chamomile. Move to stronger herbs like valerian only if the mild herbs don’t seem to work for you.
So, the next time you find yourself tossing and turning, try our recommended teas for sleep.