The news is impossible to ignore these days. While I wouldn’t describe myself as much of a worrier normally, if I think about what’s taking place outside my door, “sobering” doesn’t even begin to describe it. “Terrifying” might be a more apt descriptor. Especially when my mind strays to all those dedicated health care workers, to family members and friends who are particularly at risk. I shut out thoughts of both possible and likely ramifications of this pandemic.
So although talking about tea may be trivial in this unprecedented time, sometimes little rituals are what keep us sane. A friend of mine connects with her adult son by having tea “together”: they send each other a photo of their own teacup and they try to guess what the other is drinking.
And I’ve also looked at tea’s role in stress reduction in previous posts (e.g., see Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, a Look at Tea and Stress).
Today, however, I’m looking at chamomile (or camomile), an herbal tisane said to help with sleep, because, frankly, many of us might lie awake late into the night, pondering, reflecting.
So will a cup of warm chamomile tea help at all?
To be honest, I’m not really a fan of the flavor myself, although I find the blossoms—particularly after they’ve brewed—charming with their sunny color and pompom-like fluffiness!
But flavor isn’t what’s at stake here.
No, it’s the promise of sleep. Or, more accurately, it’s the anecdotal promise of sleep. Because is there any research behind this promise?
I first went to the NIH, which says . . . not a thing about sleep except that chamomile is used as a sleep aid.
As far as actual data go, the NIH says that this is all that’s really known (but notice the qualifying “suggest,” “might,” “some,” “may”):
- Some preliminary studies suggest that a chamomile dietary supplement might be helpful for generalized anxiety disorder.
- Some research has found that products containing certain combinations of herbs that include chamomile may be of benefit for upset stomach, for diarrhea in children, and for infants with colic. But chamomile alone has not been shown to be helpful for these conditions.
Most reviews of chamomile conclude that there’s insufficient research to say whether the herb helps with sleep problems. A 28-day study in 2011 focused on 34 people, 18–65 years old, who had insomnia. The results between test and control groups?
There were no significant differences between groups in changes in sleep diary measures, including total sleep time (TST), sleep efficiency, sleep latency, wake after sleep onset (WASO), sleep quality, and number of awakenings. Chamomile did show modest advantage on daytime functioning, although these did not reach statistical significance. (Zick et al. 2011)
Not very encouraging, and of note is that the 270 mg used twice daily is higher than you’d get from drinking chamomile tea.
A 2015 review of research involving various foods and their possible therapeutic effects on sleep concluded that the 2011 study by Zick and colleagues is:
the only high quality clinical trial published to date regarding clinical efficacy of chamomile. . . . [and] according to Clinicaltrials.gov, there are no other trials that are recruiting or recently completed examining the effect of chamomile on sleep. (Yurcheshen et al. 2015)
But since then, there’s been additional work. A 2017 study that found that drinking chamomile tea helped with depression and sleep problems in postnatal women, although the study was small (40 women in test group and 40 in control) and limited (2 weeks).
Another experiment published in 2017 looked at the effects on sleep when elderly residents (n = 77, split into test and control groups) of nursing homes ingested capsules of chamomile extract for 4 weeks. Findings? Significant improvement of sleep quality.
However, the residents weren’t drinking a cup of tea. Rather, they took 400-mg oral capsules twice a day, which is way way higher than you could ever get from brewing chamomile tea.
So what about reducing anxiety?
A recent study (Mao et al. 2016) of 179 participants indicated that chamomile “significantly reduced moderate-to-severe GAD [generalized anxiety disorder] symptoms, but did not significantly reduce rate of relapse”—but the chamomile was ingested as 500-mg capsules, three times a day, again nowhere near what you will get out of a cup of chamomile tea.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “limited data shows that short-term use of chamomile is generally considered safe and can be effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety,” but it appears they mean herbal supplements, not necessarily drinking chamomile tea.
So, chamomile tea. Will it calm anxiety and induce sleep?
Scientifically, the jury’s still out.
But does it help you?
That’s a different question. We all know that rituals relax. And that warm drinks are calming, especially if they don’t contain caffeine. And if we think something will reduce our stress level, it will, because our minds are amazing and often the physiological will follow the psychological.
So will these pretty pompoms have an effect?
Consider that they’ve been used medicinally for millennia. And that they are a plant, containing beneficial flavonoids. And many people simply love the flavor.
Those are reasons enough to have a cup!
By the way—
These are two types of chamomile, whose name comes from Greek chamos (ground) and melos (apple):
- Roman chamomile, a perennial plant, used in gardens and for herbal medicine
- German chamomile, an annual plant, used medicinally
In my photo, you can see how dried chamomile does resemble apples!
And if you’ve ever wondered whether buying high-quality loose tea is worth it, compare it with this Harney & Sons teabag. There is a difference.
Whether with chamomile or a different tea, I hope you are finding your own calming ritual during these uncertain times.