Good sleep is crucial to your overall health.

Unfortunately, about 30% of people suffer from insomnia, or the chronic inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or achieve restorative, high-quality sleep (1, 2).

Herbal teas are popular beverage choices when it comes time to relax and unwind.

For centuries, they have been used around the world as natural sleep remedies.

Modern research also backs herbal teas’ ability to aid sleep.

This article explores 6 of the best bedtime teas for catching some z’s.

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1. Chamomile

For years, chamomile tea has been used as a natural remedy to reduce inflammation and anxiety and treat insomnia.

In fact, chamomile is commonly regarded as a mild tranquilizer or sleep inducer.

Its calming effects may be attributed to an antioxidant called apigenin, which is found in abundance in chamomile tea. Apigenin binds to specific receptors in your brain that may decrease anxiety and initiate sleep (3).

A study in 60 nursing home residents found that those who received 400 mg of chamomile extract daily had significantly better sleep quality than those who did not receive any (4).

Another study involving postpartum women who had poor sleep quality found that those who drank chamomile tea for a 2-week period reported overall better sleep quality than those who did not drink chamomile tea (5).

However, a study involving people with chronic insomnia found that those who received 270 mg of chamomile extract twice daily for 28 days experienced no significant benefits (6).

While evidence to support the benefits of chamomile is inconsistent and weak, a few studies have provided encouraging results. Further studies are needed to confirm chamomile tea's effects on sleep.

Summary Chamomile tea contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which may help initiate sleep. However, evidence to support the benefits of chamomile is inconsistent.

2. Valerian root

Valerian is an herb that has been used for centuries to treat problems like insomnia, nervousness, and headaches.

Historically, it was used in England during World War II to relieve stress and anxiety caused by air raids (7).

Today, valerian is one of the most popular herbal sleep aids in Europe and the United States (8).

It’s available as a dietary supplement in capsule or liquid form. Valerian root is also commonly dried and sold as tea.

Researchers are not entirely sure how valerian root works to improve sleep.

However, one theory is that it increases levels of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

When GABA is present in abundant levels, it can increase sleepiness. In fact, this the way in which certain anti-anxiety medications like Xanax function (7).

Some small studies support valerian root as an effective sleep aid.

For example, one study in 27 people with sleep difficulties found that 89% of participants reported improved sleep when taking valerian root extract.

Additionally, no adverse side effects, such as morning drowsiness, were observed after taking the extract (9).

Comparatively, a study in 128 people found those who received 400 mg of liquified valerian root reported a decrease in the time it took them to fall asleep, as well as overall improved sleep quality, compared to those who did not receive the extract (10).

A third study evaluated its long-term effects. In this study, supplementing with 600 mg of dried valerian root daily for 28 days exerted effects similar to those of taking 10 mg of oxazepam – a medication prescribed to treat insomnia (7).

It’s important to note that these findings were based on participant reporting, which is subjective. The studies did not evaluate objective data that is associated with sleep quality, such as heart rate or brain activity.

Drinking valerian root tea may help improve sleep quality without adverse side effects, but many health professionals consider the evidence inconclusive.

Summary Valerian root may increase sleepiness by increasing levels of a neurotransmitter called GABA. Smaller studies suggest that valerian root may improve overall sleep quality by shortening the time it takes to fall asleep and decreasing nighttime awakenings.

3. Lavender

Lavender is an herb often touted for its aromatic and soothing scent.

In ancient times, Greeks and Romans would often add lavender to their drawn baths and breathe in the calming fragrance.

Lavender tea is made from the small purple buds of the flowering plant.

Originally native to the Mediterranean region, it’s now grown worldwide (11).

Many people drink lavender tea to relax, settle their nerves, and aid sleep.

In fact, there is research to support these purported benefits.

A study in 80 Taiwanese postnatal women showed that those who took time to smell the aroma of lavender tea and drink it daily for 2 weeks reported less fatigue, compared to those who did not drink lavender tea. However, it didn’t have any effects on sleep quality (12).

Another study in 67 women with insomnia found reductions in heart rate and heart rate variability, as well as improvements in sleep after 20 minutes of lavender inhalation twice weekly for 12 weeks (13).

Research has also shown that Silexan, a proprietary lavender oil preparation, may decrease anxiety and improve sleep quality in people with anxiety or anxiety-related disorders (14, 15).

Although there is limited evidence that lavender improves sleep quality, its relaxing aroma might help you unwind, making it easier for you to fall asleep.

Summary Lavender is best known for its relaxing aroma. However, evidence supporting the beneficial effects of lavender tea on sleep quality is weak.

4. Lemon balm

Lemon balm belongs to the mint family and is found all over the world.

While frequently sold in extract form for use in aromatherapy, lemon balm leaves are also dried to make tea.

This citrus-scented, aromatic herb has been used for reducing stress and improving sleep since the Middle Ages.

Evidence shows that lemon balm increases GABA levels in mice, indicating that lemon balm may act as a sedative (16).

Furthermore, one, small human study showed a 42% reduction in insomnia symptoms after participants received 600 mg of lemon balm extract per day for 15 days. However, the study didn’t include a control group, calling the results into question (17).

If you chronically experience sleep problems, sipping lemon balm tea before bed may help.

Summary Lemon balm is an aromatic herb that increases GABA levels in the brains of mice, thus initiating sedation. Drinking lemon balm tea may decrease insomnia-related symptoms.

5. Passionflower

Passionflower tea is made from the dried leaves, flowers, and stems of the Passiflora plant.

Traditionally, it has been used to alleviate anxiety and improve sleep.

More recently, studies have examined the ability of passionflower tea to improve insomnia and sleep quality.

For example, one study in 40 healthy adults found that those who drank passionflower tea daily for 1 week reported significantly better sleep quality, compared to participants who did not drink the tea (18).

Another study compared a combination of passionflower and valerian root and hops with Ambien, a medication commonly prescribed to treat insomnia.

Results showed that the passionflower combination was as effective as Ambien at improving sleep quality (19).

Summary Drinking passionflower tea may improve overall sleep quality. Also, passionflower in conjunction with valerian root and hops may reduce symptoms of insomnia.

6. Magnolia bark

Magnolia is a flowering plant that has been around for over 100 million years.

Magnolia tea is made mostly from the bark of the plant but also consists of some dried buds and stems.

Traditionally, magnolia was used in Chinese medicine to alleviate various symptoms, including abdominal discomfort, nasal congestion, and stress.

It’s now regarded worldwide for its anti-anxiety and sedative effects.

Its sedative effect is likely attributed to the compound honokiol, which is found in abundance in the stems, flowers, and bark of the magnolia plant.

Honokiol is said to work by modifying GABA receptors in your brain, which may increase sleepiness.

In several studies in mice, magnolia or honokiol extracted from the magnolia plant decreased the time it took to fall asleep and increased the length of sleep (20, 21, 22).

While further research is needed to confirm these effects in humans, preliminary research suggests that drinking magnolia bark tea may help improve sleep.

Summary In mouse studies, magnolia bark tea has been shown to decrease the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the amount of overall sleep by modifying GABA receptors in the brain. However, further research is needed to confirm these effects in humans.

The bottom line

Many herbal teas, including chamomile, valerian root, and lavender, are marketed as sleep aids.

Many of the herbs they contain work by increasing or modifying specific neurotransmitters that are involved in initiating sleep.

Some of them may help you fall asleep faster, decrease nighttime awakenings, and improve your overall sleep quality. However, the evidence for their benefits in people is often weak and inconsistent.

Also, most of the current research used these herbs in extract or supplement form — not the herbal tea itself.

Given that herbal supplements and extracts are very concentrated versions of the herb, a diluted source like tea is likely to be less effective.

Further research involving larger sample sizes is needed to fully understand the ability of herbal teas to improve sleep in the long run.

Additionally, since many herbs and supplements have the potential to interact with both prescription and over-the-counter medications, always consult your healthcare provider before adding an herbal tea to your nightly routine.

While results can vary by individual, these herbal teas may be worth trying for those who are looking to get a better night’s sleep naturally.