If you can’t easily fall asleep or stay asleep for several hours, try drinking a half-cup to a cup of an herbal tea that has slightly sedative properties. Here are some herbs that are reputed to at least help you relax, and could also make you drowsy.
There’s relatively little scientific evidence that herbs actually help people sleep. However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence: people self-reporting that a particular herb has helped them get some shut eye. Herbs may have a physiological impact on the body—or perhaps, their effect is psychological. If they get you to sleep, I’m not sure it matters.
Chamomile – This plant, which grows abundantly across the U.S., is a member of the Aster family. You can grow it in your own yard if you have enough sun, then dry the flowers yourself, keep them in an air tight container and brew them the way you would any other loose tea. If you grow your own, use either German chamomile (Matricaris retutica) or Roman chamomile (Chamaemlum nobile). Otherwise, many sleep-focused teas include chamomile, especially Celestial Seasoning’s Sleepy Time and Bigelow’s Sweet Dreams.
Slippery Elm Bark – I first used slippery elm bark to soothe a sore throat and stop a cough. I discovered it also works well to put me to sleep. I get it in Traditional Medicinals’ Throat Coat tea, which combines it with licorice and marshmallow root for a delicious brew. I let the tea bag steep for a good ten minutes before I drink, which seems to intensify the power of the herbs.
Valerian – There is some scientific evidence that valerian root does help reduce insomnia, and WebMD reports that people who are trying to withdraw from using sleeping pills turn to valerian to help them doze off. Though valerian pill supplements are available, it’s also available in tea on its own or as an ingredient in something like Sleepytime tea.
Lemon Balm – This perennial herb hails from the mint family, but it doesn’t taste like mint. Its lemony leaves are used to make the tea, and it’s available either on its own or as an ingredient in other teas. People take it for anxiety relief and as a sleep aid, but it’s also been used as aromatherapy for Alzheimer’s patients and to reduce stomach upset. Lemon balm is included in many tea mixes, or you can get it “straight up” from Alvita.
Lavender – This tea is very floral and fragrant. I will confess that I prefer lavender in shampoo or body lotion, not tea. However, it is reputed to help some people go to sleep, and it’s often included in a mix of other teas packaged together to help promote sleep. Here is a recipe to make your own lavender tea using either fresh or dried lavender flowers, boiling water, and honey and lemon if that suits you.
For more tea options, refer to this excellent “Ingredients Glossary” at YogiTea.com. It lists dozens of herbs and spices the company puts into its teas, and specifies what it uses each one for, including treatment of insomnia. YogiTea also blends chamomile, lavender, nutmeg and valerian root, plus fennel cardamom, lemon balm and peppermint, into its own Bedtime tea.
NOTE: St. John’s Wort and Kava Kava – I’m lumping these two together because they both are reputed to help reduce stress and anxiety and promote relaxation— however taking them may interfere with other medications including antidepressants, Digoxin (a heart medication) and possibly even birth control pills. St. John’s wort may also cause increased sensitivity to sunlight, and may actually increase anxiety, reports the National Institutes of Health. The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that “there is serious concern that Kava kava may cause liver damage.” However, Maryland also said that Kava kava can be effective in treating anxiety. If you drink tea that contains either St. John’s Wort or Kava kava, do so with caution.
With so many herbs available, the key is to find the ones that work for you. I personally find any kind of mint or ginger very invigorating, so I don’t drink it right before I go to bed. On the other hand, a strong brew of slippery elm bark puts me right to sleep. Try several different herbs or herbal blends until you find what’s most effective.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of your tea ritual to help you relax. Just before I turn in for the night, I brew a cup of tea, carry it up to my room and set it down by my bedside. Then I sip it while I’m reading a bit. When I take my final sip and turn off the light, I’m ready to get some shut eye. It’s a simple ritual, but if I miss it, I have a much harder time nodding off.