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Does Chamomile Help You Sleep?

by Jimmy Leonard | Updated 31 Aug 2023

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Chamomile is consistently recommended as one of the best natural sleep aids — but does it really work?

This cheery-looking member of the daisy family has been used medicinally for thousands of years across Europe and Asia. The Latin name, Matricaria recutita, comes from the word for “womb” because of the herb’s historical use in women’s reproductive health. That has nothing to do with sleep, but chamomile was traditionally one of those catch-all plants that you could ingest any time you felt bad, whether that was due to tummy troubles, fever, or the common cold.

So how did it become a modern sleep aid, and is it effective? Here’s what you need to know.

Does Chamomile Help You Sleep?

The History of Chamomile as a Sleep Aid

You can eat raw chamomile, but it’s more pleasant to make it into a tea or essential oil for aromatherapy. It’s unclear how often ancient people prescribed chamomile specifically as a sleep aid, perhaps due to the fact that most cultures didn’t contend with widespread chronic insomnia the way we do today. Ancient writings usually described chamomile’s curative properties or its use as a sedative, and it’s this calming effect that led to its popularity as a sleep remedy.

The global chamomile tea market is expected to top $500 million by 2029, nearly double what it is in 2023, and that’s just tea — not including pills or essential oils. Certainly nowadays you can find it all over the place in tea form, oil form, pill form, as loose dried leaves, or swirled into a lotion. While some products say they’re for stress relief, “sleep time” or “bedtime” are popular labels too. Although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness, there hasn’t been much scientific research into chamomile’s sleep-enhancing abilities. So, looking at the studies that have happened, what’s the verdict?

Scientific Studies on Chamomile for Sleep

A 2015 study in Taiwan looked at 80 women who had just given birth and were struggling to sleep at night. 40 drank chamomile tea while the other 40 were a control group. The experimental group had better sleep and lower postpartum depression at first, but by four weeks into the trial, there wasn’t a significant difference between the two groups. It’s unclear if any of the researchers took a turn bouncing a baby or feeding them a bottle, which the mothers may have appreciated more than a cup of tea.

Way back in 1973, a study on patients with cardiac disease found that chamomile tea helped them fall into a deep sleep, but there were only 12 patients in the trial. The researchers were trying to test the herb’s effect on artery pressure, and the good night’s rest was just a nice side effect they happened to stumble upon.

Others have tried to study chamomile’s impact on sleep, but it’s been difficult to prove anything. The National Institutes of Health reports that a 2019 review of six studies “concluded that chamomile might help improve the individual component of sleep quality over a 4-week period in people without insomnia.”

In other words, if you don’t actively suffer from insomnia, a pinch of chamomile might help you sleep. If do have insomnia, chamomile tea is not going to cure it.

How Does Chamomile Affect the Body?

So is this all just an old wives’ tale? Not so fast. Clinical trials on animals have shown that chamomile can reduce inflammation and act as a mild sedative. Like many herbs, chamomile contains compounds with antioxidant properties that essentially block certain reactions in the body. If you think of your body as sometimes being at war with itself, chamomile tea can function like a peacekeeper — whether that’s calming an upset stomach or easing an inflammatory response.

If your body is anxious and buzzing, chamomile may help calm everything down so you can rest.

As with most sleep aids, though, your overall sleep hygiene is far more important than what you take right before bed. If you’re up late staring at a computer screen while stressing out about work and drinking coffee as you rush to finish a presentation due tomorrow morning, chamomile is not going to help. If you’re already winding down and relaxing before bed, chamomile may be part of that process.

How Much Chamomile Tea Should You Drink To Fall Asleep?

A normal-sized cup about 30 minutes before bedtime is recommended for most people. That’s about how long it takes for the body to digest and absorb liquids, so you want to give it enough time to take effect before you hit the hay.

Remember, chamomile may help you relax, but it’s not directly telling your brain to go to sleep. If you’re suffering from severe insomnia, it’s best to see a doctor to identify the underlying cause and outline a treatment plan.

Try It: Easy Chamomile Tea

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Personally, I’m pretty basic when it comes to my teas. I like tea that’s affordable, good tasting, and comes in a bag so I don’t have to mess with loose leaf. I will say the real cheap store-brand stuff has been pretty useless. I want tea, not just brown water.

I’m a fan of the Celestial Seasonings brand. Again, I’m pretty basic, but I prefer the regular chamomile over some of the more “flavored” ones. They sell a honey vanilla variety that has too much going on for me. I take the regular tea with a spoonful of local honey stirred in.

They actually make a Sleepytime tea that has chamomile in it along with other things like spearmint and lemongrass. I’ve tried it, and I honestly don’t think it made any difference in terms of sleepiness compared with the regular chamomile. It depends on how complex of a flavor you want — or if you happen to be running an experiment with new moms and you want to isolate the variable. Cheers!

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Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy Leonard

Jimmy is a marketing content strategist and copywriter who moonlights as the editor of Sueño Labs. He pronounces it cam-eh-meel, but he wants UK readers to know they're still welcome here with their cam-eh-mile.

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