Bedtime tea: Does it really help you fall asleep?

Can herbal teas really help you get some shut-eye? Or are they simply a placebo? Food Unwrapped's Kate Quilton explores the science around sleep teas to determine if they actually help you catch some Z's.

If you have trouble unwinding at the end of a busy day, you could try having a cup of herbal tea.

Some teas are specifically encouraged to be consumed right before bedtime and claim to help you in your quest for some shut-eye.

But, is there a solid link between some types of herbal teas and sleep?

Key ingredients 

Herbalist, Katie Pandy is an adviser to one of the world's leading tea companies and uses her knowledge to help them achieve the best kind of blends. Here, she explains some of the most common 'sleep tea' ingredients.

"What you find in chamomile is the essential oil, chamazulene, and that actually has a relaxing effect on the nervous system.

"There's also another constituent in there called apigenin, known to be a mild sedative, which is also relaxing to the nervous system," explains Katie.

"The combination of the two is not necessarily affecting sleep specifically, but its secondary action is making you feel really nice and relaxed," she says.

So, while chamomile has been used as a relaxant from the ancient Egyptian times, there's no actual scientific evidence that it aids seep.

However, Katie reveals there is actually one herb that has a very direct link to sleep: valerian.

The roots of this plant are used for medicinal purposes and can make you feel very sleepy. This ingredient does appear in some bedtime teas, but only in small doses. 

According to Ivan Dickons, from Belgian pharmaceutical company, Tilman, it's not actually very easy or practical to use valerian in tea form. He suggests ingesting this ingredient in capsule form. 

"It's the best documented [sleep herb] at this time," says Ian.

While clinical trials have found the concentrated valerian capsules to be successful in aiding a deep sleep, what does this mean for the small amounts found in teabags?

The verdict

Turns out, you'd have to drink eight cups of pure valerian tea to get the same effect as taking one concentrated capsule.

And the bad news doesn't end there - the pure tea isn't actually sold because of its vile smell and taste, which as Katie finds out, is very much like "cat's bum" as she so eloquently describes it!

It seems that bedtime teas are more of a marketing ploy to target the sleep-deprived, however, if you need help relaxing, they can absolutely help your mind and body to unwind. For anything further, it's best to see your GP.

For more food facts, tune into Food Unwrapped on Lifestyle FOOD, Monday to Friday at 7pm.

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