Is it too early to start drinking?

By Betty Gold
October 31, 2019
Real Simple

Chamomile has been considered a calming herb for centuries. But what exactly is it, and how legitimate is chamomile's reputation for inducing relaxation? 

Chamomile is a flowering herb that comes from the Asteraceae plant family—when fresh, it resembles a small daisy. To make the herb into tea, the flowers of the chamomile plant are dried and infused with hot water.

Does chamomile tea help you sleep?

Indeed, chamomile tea is an excellent choice for a before-bed drink: in addition to its aromatic earthy-floral flavor and lack of caffeine, it has longstanding medicinal uses and is known for inducing relaxation. Unsurprisingly, chamomile is one of the key ingredients in Sleepytime tea (alongside spearmint, lemongrass, Tilia flowers, and Hawthorn berry).

According to Rachel Cheatham, PhD, the founder of Foodscape Group and adjunct assistant professor at Tufts University, chamomile is a powerful antioxidant. Over 120 chemical elements for chamomile have been discovered, including the antioxidant apigenin, which helps bind receptors in your brain that promote drowsiness and reduce insomnia.

Other research suggests that a combination of chamomile and lavender tea is especially helpful for new moms dealing with sleep deficits. In fact, the consumption of chamomile tea by postpartum women has also been shown to reduce symptoms of depression—which is a common cause of sleeplessness. “Just remember: the key to this effect appears to be regular daily consumption,” says Cheatham. “When the tea drinking stopped after two weeks of testing, so did the desirable sleep-inducing, mood-lifting effects.”

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What other health benefits does chamomile offer?

Anti-inflammatory properties

Chamomile is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, thanks to the lengthy list of chemical compounds and antioxidants previously discussed. Reduced inflammation means a lower risk of gastrointestinal pain, arthritis, autoimmune disorders, depression, and a number of other chronic health issues.

Reduced menstrual cramps

Research is limited, but a few studies have shown that chamomile tea can help soothe menstrual cramping in women. Additionally, participants in the study also reported reduced anxiety and tension associated with period pain.

Protection against certain cancers

One study found that daily consumption of chamomile tea over a number of years was linked with a lower risk of thyroid cancer. While it’s too early to say chamomile tea helps prevent cancer, research suggests that consistent consumption over time may be the key to any protective effects.

Stress relief

Thanks to its calming properties and ability to combat insomnia, chamomile tea can be a highly effective stress- and anxiety-reducer. As many are well aware, sleeplessness and stress go hand in hand. You can use chamomile tea (and its soothing scent) as a natural sedative in a relaxing bath or massage, too—it may help ease soreness and increase circulation. 

Remember: the quality and sourcing of the chamomile tea matters when it comes to potential health benefits. High quality and potency are desired.

How long before bed should we drink sleep-inducing tea?

According to Cheatham, there’s no magic time frame for sleep-inducing tea drinking, though it’s probably best to consume it an hour or so before bedtime if possible. “Creating an evening tea drinking habit is as much about drinking those health-promoting compounds in tea as it is about consciously creating an environment signaling to the mind and the body that bedtime is approaching,” she says. Ideally, pre-bedtime tea drinking should be done without any tech distractions. Enjoy the steeping process, savor each sip, and put the connected devices down and into sleep mode.

Don’t have to ask us twice.

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