A relative of the sunflower, chamomile is a flowering spice that has a physical appearance akin to daisies. With a bold yellow central flower-head surrounded by a crown of dainty white petals, chamomile is a historically popular herbal remedy for all sorts of ailments. It is also a great option if you’d like to figure out what to drink before bed to sleep better.
There are two main types of chamomile flower, German chamomile and Roman chamomile. Though they are fairly similar in use and appearance (except for minor differences in their stem systems) these two are actually classified into different species. German, or wild, chamomile is grown and used more widely than Roman chamomile, and when you drink chamomile tea, it is most likely that the flower you are brewing is this wild variety.
German chamomile is native to Eastern Europe and Asia but is grown all around the world for various uses. Roman Chamomile is more prominently grown in Western Europe and North Africa and often serves a more decorative purpose in gardens, though it can also be consumed and used in a variety of beauty and nutrition products. There are also a variety of other flowering spices that share similar characteristics to the chamomile flower with which we are most familiar.
In order to produce tea, the chamomile flower is harvested and separated from its stem then dried and preserved. Sometimes, the flower’s fragrance is extracted for use in perfumes and lotions and is occasionally distilled into its essential oil, chamazulene. Chamomile oil is also occasionally used as a natural anxiety remedy, similar to the way that some use cbd oil.
The scent of the chamomile flower is subtly sweet and earthy, often compared to apples or dried hay. The flavor is relatively light, so sometimes chamomile flowers are combined with other, more potently flavored components, such as lavender or peppermint, in order to produce a flavorful and relaxing herbal combination.
Chamomile’s medicinal use dates back centuries and it has been linked to reducing inflammation, calming anxiety, and easing insomnia symptoms as well as treating skin conditions and digestive issues, among other things. Though experiments testing the effectiveness of chamomile in sleep induction have produced varied results, meaning that little unequivocal evidence exists to prove chamomile’s effectiveness as a tranquilizer, anecdotal evidence from all over the world has been around for generations.
It is no surprise that this subtle flower is such a common component of “sleeptime” type teas and a favorite “cure all” used by mothers (certainly used by my mother) to treat everything from the common cold to menstrual cramps. In fact, Chamomile is one of the most popularly consumed varieties of herbal tea, which is naturally caffeine free. Just as millions of folks use coffee to wake up in the morning, people around the world enjoy chamomile as they are winding down in the evening.
Some studies, too, have found that pregnant and postpartum women who drink chamomile tea regularly have a reduced risk of depression and insomnia in the first several months of their child’s life.
The flower contains an abundance of the antioxidant apigenin, which binds to neural receptors that may be linked to anxiety and sleep onset. Most likely, the concentration of apigenin found in chamomile is the main reason that the tea has such a calming effect.
Though apigenin gives chamomile an added calming element, simply the act of drinking a warm mug of tea before bed can have positive effects on your sleep. The reason for this is both psychological and physiological.
First, routine can be an incredibly powerful thing in combating a variety of issues. Everything from depression to insomnia can be eased with a healthy and well-established routine. Adding an act as simple but calming as drinking a mug of tea before bed can be a worthwhile part of your nighttime routine and help ease your mind into sleep mode, hopefully making it easier to fall asleep.
Making tea, too, has been likened to a meditative practice by some. Being mindful throughout the process of brewing the water, steeping the tea, and slowly sipping the warm liquid can help to ease your mind and is a good time to reflect and decompress after a long day. Try putting away your phone or other distractions in the hour or so leading up to bedtime. Instead, try to implement some other calming activities into your routine–pet your cat, read some poetry, chat with your family, listen to some relaxing music–anything that will help prepare your mind for sleep.
The important thing here is that you are establishing a routine that you use on a regular (if not nightly) basis. Our brains crave routine, so if there are certain activities that we engage in every night before going to bed, especially ones that are already calming and will prime your mind for rest and relaxation, the more we do these activities, the more likely our brains will begin to associate them with sleep. Conditioning your brain to get sleepy and prepare for bedtime every time you drink chamomile tea or engage in your nighttime routine can eventually make it much easier to fall asleep quickly.
Our internal sleep cycles are really dependent on external stimuli like light and temperature in order to regulate our circadian rhythm, which controls when we get sleepy and when we feel awake. In the evening, your body temperature drops slightly in order to prepare for sleep. While asleep, your internal temperature reaches its lowest point in order to conserve energy, then begins to creep back up in the lead up to morning. The ideal temperature for sleep is actually fairly cool, your bedroom should be around 65℉ and you want to ensure your mattress doesn’t heat up too much so that you can sleep the most soundly. Because of this, you don’t want to do anything right before bed that will heat your body up too much, such as working out. It is helpful, however, to take a warm shower or drink a warm beverage about an hour before bed because doing so allows your body to cool down relatively quickly, and the dip in internal temperature can cue your body to begin preparing for sleep.
There are no guarantees that chamomile tea will solve all of your sleep issues or medical maladies. It is definitely important to speak with a healthcare professional if you are dealing with any serious ailments. Implementing the subtly sweet and comforting beverage into your evening routine is a great way to prepare for bed and can have some positive benefits on your physical and mental well-being. Even if a warm mug of flower water doesn’t solve everything for you, it is still a great way to, in the words of Tom Haverford, treat yo’self.