Chamomile Tea: A Help for Sleep and Stress?

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.

question-marks-on-tea-web

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!

camomile blossoms

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)

german chamomile

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.

camomile brew

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!

blossoms closeup

This organic, loose chamomile is from TeaHaus.

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.

harney and sons chamomile

Whether with chamomile or a different tea, I hope you are finding your own calming ritual during these uncertain times.

7 thoughts on “Chamomile Tea: A Help for Sleep and Stress?

  1. Trivial or not, I think tea should be talked about (and drunk) in these unprecedented times. Chamomile has never done any more for me than any other warm drink. I often wondered if it was just me. Now I know! And I love the idea of sending pictures of one’s tea to keep the relationship lines open. Thanks for the ideas and research!

  2. I am intrigued by the camomile sleep hoax. I’ve always associated it as a sleep aid. Do you think it can just be psychological. I too am not fond of the taste so could just choose another night time tea. Having said that I used homeopathy through out my sons life which worked every time very efficiently.
    So what do scientific studies actually prove. I’m torn.

    1. You’ve brought up some great points, and several things come to mind. First, if the homeopathy works for you, then it works, right? Same with drinking camomile. If it helps, that’s great. If a different tea or herbal tisane seems to help, that’s great too.

      As far as scientific studies go, it takes time to build consensus plus results must be repeatable. Also, many studies are evaluating extracts so they aren’t directly comparable to me brewing a cup of tea or tisane in my own home. When studies do use brewed tea, some look at black tea, others at green, others at herbals, etc., and often a “cup” is defined differently (2, 4, 6, 8, or 12 ounces for instance).

      What we do know is that plants, and tea (Camellia sinensis) in particular, offer a lot of health benefits for us in general. In addition, because drinking tea, including herbal tisanes, is also deeply embedded in ritual and culture, there is definitely a strong psychological component. In the end, the science on camomile at this point is just not conclusive, so if you don’t care for camomile and if you find another herbal that you prefer, maybe that will prove just as (or more) helpful for you. In the evening, I personally like honey bush and some of the honey bush blends.

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