Evening tea can conjure retro-nostalgic images of grandmothers and warm blankets. Of course, the ritual of drinking tea before bed predates the contemporary cozy culture of discovering hygge or watching self-care influencers on TikTok. The ritual of drinking a warm evening beverage can be as calming as time in a soothing bath.
But if this is your first time stepping into the world of teas and tisanes, the options can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, some blends have proven to be better for your pre-bed ritual than others.
While a mug of calming, caffeine-free tea can be a great pre-bedtime ritual, certified adult sleep coach and Sleepably founder Seth R. Davis 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."
Should you drink tea before bed?
The answer is a bit of a technicality. 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 warm beverages with sleep benefits are really an “herbal infusion,” or “tisane,” rather than a tea, according to tea sommelier Ode San Diego.
Since teas have caffeine, tisanes are the way to go at night when you’re looking to unwind. “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 feel ready to start sipping, give yourself approximately one hour after you finish before you plan to close your eyes. “Make sure you're not having to get up all night long to go [to the bathroom],” says Washington, D.C.-based sleep consultant Christine Stevens. Needing to go to the bathroom is one of the top reasons people wake up at night, so it’s important to manage nighttime liquid intake.
Can tea help me sleep tonight?
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 than what’s used in teas.
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, a nighttime herbal tea ritual is worth incorporating into your sleep routine.
What types of tea should I drink before bed?
There is no one perfect herb or flavor for everyone. “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 Hospitals.
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. Chamomile’s superpowers come from apigenin, an antioxidant that researchers believe has therapeutic potential based on its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative stress abilities. Research shows that apigenin found in chamomile tea aids in soothing the nervous system. Chamomile tea also helps regulate dopamine and serotonin, which can offset or even reduce the impact of depressive symptoms. Its anti-inflammatory effects have additionally been proven to relieve anxiety and discomfort due to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and could help prevent osteoporosis.
Who shouldn't try this? Chamomile is generally safe unless you are taking blood-thinning medications or have allergy sensitivities. And avoid ingesting chamomile essential oils, as essential oils are not meant for oral consumption.
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 the sense of smell. This is due to linalool, which gives lavender its signature scent. “Just the aroma of lavender is pretty widely believed to help people relax and potentially get more deep sleep,” Davis says. Research supports the notion that the consumption of lavender herbal tea can reduce depression and anxiety.
Who shouldn’t try this? Current studies show lavender is generally safe when consumed in a form meant to be ingested, but there have been reported negative side effects like nausea and indigestion with the oral supplements.
Find it: Buddha Teas Organic Lavender Tea
3. Rooibos for comfort
For those who 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 drinking something that’s good for your body can be a great self-care note 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 can create a paradoxical reaction — feelings of anxiety and worsening insomnia are linked to reduced brain activity, which can help with feeling calm and sleepy.
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 tea flavors to help your sleep
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 — several 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.
Stevens also agrees with the choose-your-own-adventure tea-blending, “as long as it tastes good and it's not caffeinated,” she said.
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 randomized clinical trial showed that lemon balm may be effective in improving anxiety and depressive symptoms.
- Passionflower: This one “promotes relaxation and may improve sleep,” Davis says. Passionflower contains GABA; a review indicates it may be helpful in the treatment of insomnia because of its sedative powers. Additionally, passionflower boasts positive effects on anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, and depression.
- Peppermint: Though peppermint can be a stimulant, the herb, 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: Ayurvedic medicine commonly touts holy basil, also known as tulsi, for its stress relief and sleep-aiding properties. In a study of adults ages 18-65 who consumed 250mg of holy basil for eight weeks, 37% of participants reported a reduction in stress, 48% saw a decrease in insomnia, and 3.4% claimed their sleep efficiency increased.
Always skip caffeine before bed
“Caffeine is the big one you want to avoid,” Davis says, when it comes to sleep-time beverages. Of course, coffee contains it in spades. “There is caffeine in tea, but coffee is a much different deal,” Parda says. The average cup of regular coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine in it, making it the most frequently consumed psychostimulant in the world. And the typical decaf serving contains approximately 2 mg of caffeine, according to the National Coffee Association. “Decaf doesn't mean caffeine-free,” San Diego points out. “Decaf means you went through a chemical process to remove most of the caffeine, but not totally.”
Coffee consumption can make it harder to fall asleep and may influence sleep quality, meaning you could sleep lighter and might wake up more frequently throughout the night. A study found that caffeine consumed in the evening “prolongs sleep latency, reduces total sleep time, shortens deep sleep, and decreases electroencephalographically (EEG)-derived slow-wave activity,” the key characteristic of deep sleep. Drinking a non-decaf coffee close to bedtime also increases activity in the sigma range in the brain.
Research shows that daytime caffeine consumption can lead to sleep deprivation because it causes a reduction in 6-sulfatoxymelatonin — the main metabolite of melatonin, a hormone that the brain produces in response to darkness, and therefore plays a role in sleep. Stevens suggests cutting off consumption of caffeinated drinks like coffee five hours before bedtime but acknowledges your particular cut-off time could be earlier or possibly later. “You have to try out timing to see what works best for you” because the substance affects everybody differently.
While you’re at it, skip soda and hot chocolate, too.
“When people go to sleep with hot cocoa, they're not going to sleep very well because of caffeine, especially kids,” San Diego says. The average serving of hot chocolate contains 7.44 mg of caffeine, per Country Living.
“And the other thing that I would avoid is sodas. It's a lot of sugar over there, and that's going to keep you awake.”
One can of soda contains an average of 35-50 mg of caffeine. As San Diego notes, the high sugar content in those beverages also makes them enemies to good sleep. A study of 100 women between the ages of 19 and 25 showed that participants with high sugar intake had 3.5 times the probability of having poor sleep compared to those with low sugar intake. Sorry, sweet tooth!
Teas to avoid
Coffee, soda, and hot chocolate certainly aren’t the only beverages containing caffeine. Black, green, and white teas, and pu-erh and yerba mate teas all have caffeine — some of which can have “the same amount as an espresso coffee,” San Diego says.
While caffeinated teas may not be ideal before bedtime, a TAP study concluded that even black and green tea — in addition to tisanes made from calming chamomile, lavender, rose, jasmine, and passionflower — possess qualities that can up relaxation and reduce stress. That’s because of L-Theanine, an amino acid found in tea that has direct effects on the brain and helps activate pathways that lower stress and create calm and relaxation. And when people feel relaxed, it “makes it easier for them to fall asleep,” Stevens says.
The study showed that six weeks of black-tea consumption actually lowered participants’ stress hormone levels and increased relaxation in a group of men who were asked to perform stressful mental tasks. It found that herbal teas may help lower stress and lead to better sleep, and additionally suggested that drinking tea can help break the cycle of stress and poor sleep. In fact, drinking two cups of tea at night could make a significant difference in sleep quality and overall health, provided the volume of liquid doesn’t cause overnight trips to the bathroom.
You may also notice licorice root in many sleep teas on the market; however, experts suggest exercising caution with drinking this flavor of tea, especially for children and pregnant people. Too much licorice root (more than 20g per day) may cause headaches and heart disease. Talk to your doctor before trying teas with licorice root.
Where to buy tea
Grocery stores mainly stock 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 prefer a stronger, more natural flavor, you may want to 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.
Specialty retailers may have a wider selection than a standard grocery store. “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 sleep
|Science-backed ingredients included
|The Irie Cup Sweet Dreams
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 Bedtime*
|Spearmint, 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
|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
The reason herbal teas can be an effective companion to sleep “has to do with the stress response,” Davis says. “When we are dealing with stress, hormone levels can go up, which causes us to go into fight or flight mode. If our minds are going at a 100 miles per hour when we're trying to sleep, that's not conducive to sleep. We want to be as relaxed as possible.”
If you enjoy the nightly ritual of filling up your favorite mug before bedtime — in the same way some people like to wind down with a good book or apply an extensive skincare routine — continue to enjoy it as it transitions you to a relaxed state. 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.”
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