Some nights, sleep can come to you so easily. But other times, you find yourself staring at the ceiling for hours on end, desperate to catch some shut-eye. Whether you’re wired from an evening run or just can’t unwind your busy mind, nights like these might have you searching for any kind of sleep aid to help you get some rest. © Jennifer A Smith – Getty Images Here’s how Sleepytime tea actually works, according to experts.
A natural option to consider—one that many people swear by to help them fall asleep—is Sleepytime tea. But does drinking it, or other similar bedtime teas, really work to lull you to sleep, and what is it about the ingredients that make these teas a beneficial addition to your nighttime routine?
We asked three nutrition experts to give us the scoop.
What is Sleepytime tea?
“Teas, such as Sleepytime, are generally marketed as bedtime teas and are based around calming ingredients, like chamomile, which is known to calm the nervous system. They act by modifying certain neurotransmitters that are involved in sleep,” Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., R.D.N., says. “Lavender, which has a soothing and calming scent, is also commonly included.”
Other ingredients found in sleepy teas include valerian root, passionflower, lemon balm, spearmint, and lemongrass.
Does Sleepytime tea actually make you sleepy?
Chamomile has also been studied for its sleep-inducing effect. “Its calming effects are attributed to the antioxidant in chamomile tea called apigenin,” Charlotte Martin, M.S., R.D.N., says. © amazon.com Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Herbal Tea
A short-term randomized control trial of 40 healthy adults found that those who drank a sleep tea daily (with standardized extracts of valerian root and passionflower) for one week reported better sleep quality than those who did not drink the tea. And while science may back up the ingredients, it may also just be the act of tea drinking itself that induces the sleep.
“For many people the ritual of drinking tea is relaxing, and it may cause sleepiness as a result,” Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., says.
It can also be a great way to decompress after a nighttime workout.
“An evening cardio session gets your heart rate up and releases endorphins, making it difficult to wind down at night, possibly derailing your sleep,” says Martin. “Drinking a sleep tea afterwards can help calm you down so that you’re better able to fall and stay asleep.”
Keep in mind that to get the most out of your tea, steep time is critical.
“The longer you allow [your tea] to steep, the stronger it is. I suggest steeping it for up to five minutes before drinking,” Martin says.
How long before bed should you drink tea?
You should try to drink it with enough time to hit the bathroom before bed to keep your sleep uninterrupted.
“I always advise my athletes to stop drinking liquids at least one to two hours before bed to prevent having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. I think it can be a great way to start your wind-down routine after dinner,” Schlichter says.
Are there other teas that will help you sleep?
A general chamomile or lavender tea that may not necessarily be advertised as bedtime tea can also work to bring on some zzz’s.
“Although the evidence is limited, the relaxing aroma coming from a hot cup of freshly brewed lavender tea might help you unwind before bed,” Martin says.
Just make sure your tea is caffeine-free.
“If athletes enjoy a warm, caffeine-free tea before bed, I often recommend chamomile-based teas, or soothing flavor combinations like honey lavender or peppermint,” says Schlichter. “Additionally, tart cherry juice is known to help with sleep, as it contains natural melatonin, a sleep hormone, and can also help with recovery.”
Are there any risks or side effects?
In general, sipping these teas regularly before bed is safe. While chamomile is listed on the FDA’s list of ingredients generally recognized as safe (GRAS), some people may experience some side effects. And, there are certain teas or ingredients you may want to avoid if you are taking certain medications, so it’s best to check with your doctor.
“There have been some reported allergies in some people to some ingredients in herbal teas, like chamomile,” Schlichter says. “Also, pregnant and nursing women and those suffering from low blood pressure may be more apt to risks and side effects and definitely want to check with a healthcare provider.”
One ingredient in particular—valerian—may also cause some unwanted side effects. A variety of sleepy tea called Extra has valerian in it, and some studies have found that this herb can cause headaches, dizziness, and an upset stomach, Gans says.
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The bottom line
If you struggle with sleep, it may be worth a shot to implement a cup into your nightly routine.
“There’s not any evidence on sleepy teas specific to runners, but they can be used as one of many tools to help support relaxation and healthy sleep hygiene in athletes,” Schlichter says.
For example, if you find yourself energized after an afternoon or evening run, steeping a cup of sleepy tea may help kickstart the relaxation process. And, you should be sure to give yourself time after your workout to prepare for sleep.
“Athletes should try not to do strenuous exercise in the hours before bedtime when possible and allow enough time for food and liquids to be digested before sleep,” says Schlichter.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try implementing other sleep hygiene techniques. Make sure your bedroom is dark, the temperature is no higher than 68 degrees, and the room is quiet from outside noise, Gans recommends.
And, avoiding blue light; minimizing screen time; and incorporating relaxing activities, such as reading, journaling, light stretching, or meditation may also help, adds Schlichter.
For anyone of any age who has trouble sleeping, consider seeing a sleep specialist.
Article by Emily Shiffer for Runner’s World