A Tea Ritual Could Help You Sleep Better at Night — Here’s How

While you shouldn't expect tea to be a natural, liquified melatonin alternative, it does have benefits for quality sleep.

Cup of tea on a muslin cloth surrounding by herbs
Drew Jemmett / Unsplash

Evening tea can conjure retro-nostalgic images of grandmothers and cozy blankets. Of course, the ritual of drinking tea before bed predates contemporary cozy culture, like hygge coming to America and influencers preaching self-care on Instagram. The ritual of drinking a warming evening beverage can be as calming as time under a cozy blanket.

But if this is the first time you’re stepping into the world of teas, knowing which tea to choose can be a little overwhelming. Especially when some leaves are better for your pre-bed ritual than others.

While a mug of calming, caffeine-free tea (actually, a tisane, as you’ll see below) is a great pre-bed ritual, certified adult sleep coach and Sleepably founder Seth R. Davis also shares that the bedtime benefits of tea have more to do with helping drinkers calm down than acting as an herbal sleeping pill.

“We want to be in a state where our mind is calm, we're not thinking of our to-do lists, we're just focused on winding down before sleep,” he says. “So anything we can do, including drinking tea, to get into that relaxed state of mind is going to be helpful.”

To be clear, the rest-enhancing evening beverage you brew should not actually be tea, as tea refers to caffeinated beverages (such as black, green, and white tea) that derive from the Camellia sinensis plant. This means many of the teas with sleep benefits qualify as an “herbal infusion” or “tisane,” rather than a tea, according to tea sommelier Ode San Diego.

Another tea technicality? “Herbal infusions will help get you in that state of sleeping, but it's not a remedy [for sleep disorders],” she says.

When is the Best Time to Drink Tea for Sleep?

Once you’re ready to start sipping, give yourself approximately one hour before you plan to close your eyes. “Make sure you're not having to get up all night long to go,” says sleep consultant Christine Stevens. Needing to go to the bathroom is the top reason most people wake up at night, so don’t let that happen to you!

Most packaged teas are safe to drink twice a day. If you’re using loose-leaf, use two to three tablespoons per cup, without packing your steeper. The longer you brew your leaves, the stronger the infusion will be.

Can Tea Help Me Sleep Tonight?

You should know that the reported benefits of teas for sleep are more likely to come with consistency than from a single night’s cuppa. Most research looks at herbal consumption over a minimum of two to three times a day for anywhere from four weeks to five years. These studies also use a more concentrated version of the herb or plant.

However, the calming ritual of making and smelling tea is still an undeniable grounding technique. If it helps switch your brain from day shift to night mode, it’s worth incorporating into your sleep routine. And there is no one perfect herb or flavor. “The most important thing is finding something you like and best matches with your routine,” says Dr. Rebecca Robins, who works with Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Sleep Matters Initiative.

What Types of Tea Should I Drink Before Bed?

If you’re looking to plan a pre-bed tea party, here are some of the most popular herbs, leaves and roots:

1. Chamomile for Calm

Known for its calming ability, chamomile has an impressive track record for reducing general anxiety. A five-year trial with 179 participants showed that those who took pharmaceutical-grade chamomile extract three times a day reported significantly less anxiety symptoms than a placebo. These results are likely due to apigenin, an antioxidant that researchers believe has a therapeutic potential based on its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative stress abilities.

Who shouldn't try this? Chamomile is generally safe unless you have allergy sensitivities or are taking blood-thinning medications. And avoid chamomile essential oils as essential oils are not meant for oral consumption.

Find it: Traditional Medicinals Organic Chamomile Herbal Leaf Tea

2. Lavender for Anxiety Relief

Lavender is grouped with chamomile as an anxiety-reducing powerhouse, but it also features aromatherapeutic properties that further induce relaxation through one’s sense of smell. In fact, there’s a study on pharmaceutical-grade lavender oil capsules which determined the plant extract to be comparable to the benzodiazepine lorazepam. Linalool is the active component here that also gives lavender its signature scent. In fact, research also shows the smell of lavender helps reduce anxiety symptoms.

Who shouldn’t try this? Current studies show lavender is generally safe, but there have been reported negative side effects like nausea and indigestion for the oral supplements. These side effects are why experts caution against eating or drinking essential oils, unless pharmaceutically manufactured.

Find it: Buddha Teas Organic Lavender Tea

3. Rooibos for Comfort

Since tea is all about comfort — and if you prefer black tea but don't want to stay up all night — San Diego recommends rooibos, which only grows in South Africa’s Cederberg region. “It’s the same flavor profile, but without the caffeine,” she says. If you like the rich, fermented flavor of black and green tea, rooibos is a great nighttime substitute.

While rooibos doesn’t have science-backed research for sleep help, the antioxidants in this tea are linked to cardiovascular and cholesterol benefits. Knowing you’re going to bed, doing something that’s good for your body, like drinking rooibos tea, is a great way to end the day.

Who shouldn’t try this? Bad side effects of rooibos tea are pretty rare, but monitor your body’s reaction and consult your doctor if you notice anything strange.

Find it: Brooklyn Tea Vanilla Rooibos

4. Valerian Root to Ease Slumber

Valerian root has compounds that work in a similar way to pharmaceutical anti-anxiety meds. The antioxidants, valerenic acid, and other components in valerian root stop your brain and nervous system from breaking down gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical messenger that plays a role in regulating your brain and nervous system.

High GABA levels are linked to reduced brain activity, which can help with feeling calm and sleepy. While there are studies that report users experiencing better sleep after taking valerian supplements, many are older and haven’t been replicated in larger trials. The most recent study is a pilot double-blind, randomized trial where patients with OCD reported reduced symptoms after taking valerian root capsules after eight weeks.

Who shouldn’t try this? Valerian is generally safe, but there are reports of headaches, dizziness, stomach problems, and drowsiness from people who take valerian supplements. Because of this, Davis warns, “you probably don't want to mix it with sleep aids, alcohol, or antidepressants.”

Find it: DavidsTea Valerian Nights

Other Flavors to Help Your Sleep Routine

Various types of loose leaf tea in spoons
Alice Pasqual / Unsplash

If you’re looking for a one-night boost, most teas that make you feel comforted will do the trick. And mixing and matching can also be a good idea — many sleep-centric tisanes blend many of these flavors. For a truly soothing combo, International Tea Masters Association certified tea master and tea educator Philip Parda mixes two classic sleep-associated herbs together.

“Chamomile is really good to begin with, but lavender brings an aromatherapeutic dimension and it's just excellent,” he says. And Stevens agrees with the choose-your-own-adventure tea-blending, “As long as it tastes good and it's not caffeinated!”

Here are a few other ingredients to consider:

  • Lemon balm: If you like blends, you might want to mix lemon balm and valerian for a double dose of snooze-spiration. A small placebo-controlled study found that participants who took a low-dose supplement with lemon balm and valerian reported less anxiety.  
  • Passionflower: Got hot flashes? Passionflower has been reported to help with the decreasing intensity and frequency of hot flashes after two and four weeks.  
  • Peppermint: Peppermint, which also aids digestion, has been cited as a beneficial ingredient for improving sleep quality in aromatherapy. Sitting with a cup of strong peppermint tea could be soothing before bed.    
  • Holy Basil: Also known as tulsi, holy basil is commonly used in ayurvedic medicine for stress relief and sleep aid. In a six-week randomized, placebo-controlled trial, participants who used holy basil reported a significant decrease in sleep problems and general stress. 

Where to Buy Tea

Grocery stores offer mainly bagged teas, which can be quick and convenient. Bagged teas take less time to steep and release the smells and oils that may benefit your sleep. If you’re going for the big brands, San Diego recommends infusions from PG Tips and Twinings.

However, if you find pre-made teas a little bland and processed to the taste, you should opt for loose leaf. “[Loose leaf also] allows you to extract more of the aromas, flavors, and nutrients, so you might get more potency,” adds Davis.

And this is the plus side of going into a specialty tea store. “[There are] only so many types of teas are available in bags,” Parda says. “With whole-leaf tea, we can offer a wider range because of the variety from different countries.”

The sleep-time blends you see often feature a mix of flavors. Here are the top five tea blends we like:

Tea blends for sleepScience-backed ingredients includedOther ingredients
The Irie Cup Sweet Dreams

Lemongrass, peppermint, 

chamomile, valerian root, spearmint 

Rosehip, hibiscus, cornflower petals 
Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time Classics Chamomile, spearmint, lemongrass Tilia flowers, blackberry leaves, orange blossoms, hawthorn, rosebuds 
Yogi Tea BedtimeSpearmint, chamomile, lavender, passionflower, valerian root extract 

Licorice root, skullcap leaf, cardamom seed, cinnamon 

bark, St. John’s Wort leaf and flower, rosehip, 

raspberry leaf, stevia leaf, 

valerian root extract 

Twinings Nightly Calm 

Chamomile, spearmint, 


Linden, orange leaves, orange blossom, lemon myrtle, rosebuds, hawthorn berries 
DavidsTea Mother's Little Helper Peppermint, lemongrass, chamomile, valerian root Hibiscus, rosehip, cornflowers 

*Note: This one has licorice root in it.

Sleep Time Is in the Tea-tails

Does tea help you sleep better? The answer is 100% yes — if you enjoy it as a ritual. The process of making and drinking the beverage to fuel and care for yourself is part of why it helps you prepare for a good night’s rest.

“It’s that ritualization,” Stevens affirms. “I like the idea of doing the same set of actions in the same order every night to get ready for sleep. And if that does involve tea, that's a great start.”

Need more comfort tips? Give your bedtime routine an extra pad of comfort by drawing a bath or listening to these scientifically backed songs for sleep.

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