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What's the Best Tea for Insomnia? (Green, Herbal)

by Dale Cudmore | Updated: Jan 22, 2022

There’s a decent amount of evidence that tea can improve sleep quality.

It’s not enough to cure insomnia, but it certainly can play a small role in a treatment plan for some people.

Most current research has focused on green tea specifically, along with a variety of herbal teas, so I’m going to summarize those results and we’ll pick out the best at the end.

How Tea Can Help Insomnia

So far, researchers have identified L-theanine, an amino acid in tea, as the most important component in terms of sleep.

There are even supplements of L-theanine sold in capsule form.

In short (1):

It has been known that the theanine amino acid in tea has positive effects especially on relaxing, cognitive performance, emotional status, sleep quality, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and common cold

There’s a few important things to note:

  • In order for L-theanine to improve insomnia or sleep in general, the tea still needs to be relatively low in caffeine.
  • L-theanine is found in all “real” teas (i.e. white, green, black, etc.), but not necessarily found in many herbal teas

And while most studies have subjects drink a cup of tea about an hour before bed, drinking too much could also result in needing to wake up frequently to urinate.

Does Green Tea Improve Sleep?

There’s very little research on most “real” teas like white tea, black tea, and oolong tea. However, there’s a decent amount of research on green tea for insomnia.

Studies have found a modest, but significant impact of green tea on sleep, specifically low caffeine varieties (2,3):

Sleep quality was higher in participants that consumed a larger quantity of LCGT (low caffeine green tea).

There still seems to be some effect even in green teas that are higher in caffeine, but the results vary from person-to-person a lot more.

Can Herbal Tea Improve Insomnia?

A “true” tea is tea made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Any other tea made from other plants is considered a herbal tea.

We’ll look at the research on the impact of a few popular herbal teas on sleep here.

Chamomile Tea

Current research on whether or not chamomile tea can help insomnia is mixed, and we’ll need further research to get a clear answer.

For now, there are some studies like this 2017 study that found a significant positive effect on sleep quality in elderly people taking chamomile extract capsules (4):

Another study with sleep disturbed postnatal women found that drinking chamomile tea had a short-term positive effect on sleep efficiency and depression symptoms (5).

But other studies have found no significant effect at all (6):

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

So chamomile tea doesn’t appear likely to hurt sleep at all, and it may have a positive effect on sleep quality, but only in certain people and doses that have yet to be discovered clearly.

Passionflower Tea

Passionflower is a popular natural sleep aid these days.

There’s some research that does show that passionflower tea can improve insomnia symptoms a small amount.

One study had subjects drink passionflower tea about an hour before bedtime and found a small, but statistically significant improvement in sleep quality (but no other metrics) (7):

As you can hopefully see in the image above, sleep quality rating went from 3.57 to 3.83 in the tea group.

It’s not a huge difference, but about the best case scenario when it comes to the effect of a cup of tea.

Magnolia Tea

One study examined the effectiveness of magnolia tea on improving depression symptoms and sleep issues in postnatal women (8).

It found improvements in both sleep and depressive symptoms:

In comparison with the control group, the intervention group demonstrated significant difference for physical-symptom-related sleep inefficiency at 3 weeks post-test.

That’s just a single study, but may warrant further follow-up in the future.

Lavender Tea

Another common herbal tea is lavender tea, which also has a small amount of research on it.

Again, this was tested in postnatal women suffering from fatigue and depression (9).

Subjects drank one cup of tea per day for 2 weeks, and found a temporary improvements in symptoms:

Experimental group participants perceived less fatigue and depression and showed greater bonding with their infant compared with the control group...suggesting that the positive effects of lavender tea were limited to the immediate term.

At the 4-week follow-up there were no differences in the groups, so the benefit may just be temporary.

Three Component Herbal Tea

I came across one more study that tested a blend of 3 components in a herbal tea (Astragali Radix, Angelicae gigantis Radix, and Zizyphi Fructus) (10).

Subjects consumed the tea twice a day for a 4 week period.

Within the tea group, fatigue severity and sleep quality improved at the 4- and 8-week follow-ups vs. baseline in the tea group.

The PSQI score went from 8.25 to 6.5 after 4 weeks in the tea group, which is a great improvement, but didn’t reach the significance threshold. A longer test or larger sample size would be interesting to see in the future.

Summary: What’s the Best Tea for Sleep?

While there is some research on drinking tea for sleep, there’s also a lot missing, so it’s hard to make conclusions.

However, in terms of what we have the best evidence for, low caffeine green tea is likely the best tea for insomnia for most people.

Again, tea is not going to cure insomnia, but it may improve sleep quality by a modest amount. The time that someone drinks tea may also impact its effect.

Herbal teas do show that they may improve sleep as well. In order from most to least evidence, the best herbal teas for insomnia currently appear to be:

  • Passionflower
  • Chamomile
  • Magnolia
  • Lavender

But there’s not exactly a mountain of evidence for any of those.

References

  1. L-theanine, unique amino acid of tea, and its metabolism, health effects, and safety
  2. Reduced Stress and Improved Sleep Quality Caused by Green Tea Are Associated with a Reduced Caffeine Content
  3. Ingestion of green tea with lowered caffeine improves sleep quality of the elderly via suppression of stress
  4. The effects of chamomile extract on sleep quality among elderly people: A clinical trial
  5. Effects of an intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial
  6. Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia
  7. A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Investigation of the Effects of Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) Herbal Tea on Subjective Sleep Quality
  8. A randomized controlled pilot study of the effectiveness of magnolia tea on alleviating depression in postnatal women
  9. Effects of Lavender Tea on Fatigue, Depression, and Maternal-Infant Attachment in Sleep-Disturbed Postnatal Women
  10. Three-Component Herbal Tea Alleviates Prolonged Fatigue and Improves Sleep Quality: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study

Medical Disclaimer: The information on SnoozeUniversity.com is not intended to be a substitute for physician or other qualified care. We simply aim to inform people struggling with sleep issues about the nature of their condition and/or prescribed treatment.


About the authorDale is the founder of Snooze University and a sleep researcher. I overcame my sleep issues and now I'd like to help you do the same by summarizing the latest sleep studies for you.