Are you having trouble with good sleep? There always seem to be different opinions on what to do to help with it depending on who you ask. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–poor sleep is a symptom, not a disease. Like a cough, poor sleep can be an indicator of many different underlying issues, so naturally the correct treatment is to address the cause of the problem. A cough drop won’t cure a cold; it only helps alleviate symptoms.
This week’s recipe is for a relaxing sleep-aid tea I’ve been using consistently for the past 6 months or so. I’ll give the recipe, then discuss the ingredients and their benefits afterwards.
Sleep Tea (makes as much as you like)
I mix all the ingredients and store in a tea tin. You can store in any airtight container, but dark is better.
Equal parts of the following:
- American skullcap
- valerian root
- airtight container for storage
- Mix equal parts of all ingredients and place in your container. The easiest way to do this is to take the volume of your container in tbsp. and divide by 4. There are 2 tbsp. in one fluid (volume) ounce. (Don’t confuse this with ounces as the weight.) For instance, if I have a container that holds 6 fluid ounces of water, it will hold 12 tbsp. total of stuff. Thus, dividing by 4, you’ll need 3 tbsp. of each of the herbs to fill the container at the correct ratios.
- When making a cup of the tea, I use 1-2 tsp. of the tea mixture per 8 oz. hot water. Steep the tea 10-15 minutes at least, and ensure it’s covered while steeping. The longer you steep, the more of the plant you’ll extract. I’ll have a cup of this tea about an hour or two before bed.
- I measure by volume rather than by weight for this. A lot of herbalists prefer to do it by weight, so equal parts would be measured by weight rather than volume. In general, I do this, but for mixing this tea it doesn’t make a big difference, and it’s quick and easy. You’re not dealing with extremely dangerous chemicals or anything.
What the tea does — and what it doesn’t
This tea is not a sleeping pill of any kind, and it’s not an overnight fix. As a personal anecdote, I’ve been plagued by bad nightmares for years. Stress would increase the severity and frequency of the nightmares, but removing stress didn’t ultimately fix the problem. I tried this tea nightly for a while, and found that the frequency of nightmares decreased some. Then, a while later, I noticed that even the severity of the nightmares was decreasing. I still have them occasionally, but 6 months into using this tea, I can say that it helps with this issue.
I doubt you’ll start to feel drowsy right after drinking it, the way you might with Nyquil. Herbs don’t really work that way. They’re helping your brain and body adapt and correct issues over time. The tea does seem to help me relax when integrated to part of a relaxing night routine (no work, screens banished, reading).
As with lifting and proper dieting, this tea needs time to work. The aid it brings is small and gradual. It’s only after looking back a few months that you notice how much it helped.
The Constituents of the Tea
For a glossary of herbal actions, look here and here.
nervine tonic, hypotensive, antispasmodic
Skullcap has been demonstrated by the Science Priests (though folk medicine knew this long before by different names) to be a very good anxiolytic, used to treat any condition that involves exhaustion or depression (including for premenstrual issues). It helps relax blood vessels and nerves in the brain. It’s indicated for irritability of the nervous system (restlessness and anxiety), insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep, and general functional nervous exhaustion. The effects persist for a decently long period after the patient stops using it. Traditional uses have even been for the treatment of petit mal seizures, although someone experiencing these should definitely be seen by a medical professional.
carminative, antispasmodic, antidepressant, hypotensive, relaxing nervine, emmenagogue
This one is commonly thought of as a relaxing herb, particularly with its use in aromatherapy. This method of use can help relieve stress headaches. In a tea, it helps promote natural sleep. This herb seems to be more of a “helper herb” here, best used in conjunction with others. It also makes the tea taste great.
nervine, hypnotic, antispasmodic, carminative, hypotensive, emmenagogue
Valerian is very effective as a treatment for anxiety. I can personally attest to this. It is also said to help with muscle spasms and general physical or psychological tension. Its use as a sleep aid is effective because it doesn’t depress REM sleep, unlike some stronger pharmaceutical sleep aids. Some people also use valerian for stress-related heart conditions. Hoffman’s book notes that the dosage must be reasonably high to see effects. You should play with this in the tea mixture. You can change the ratios to favor valerian root if you like. What I’ve given above is likely a low to mid dose, and I just use it over a long period of time. If you find yourself severely anxious, consider perhaps doubling the valerian relative to the other herbs.
nervine, hypnotic, anodyne, hypotensive, antispasmodic
Besides adding a sweetness to the tea, passionflower has a depressant effect on the central nervous system without the “hangover” side effects. It’s a powerful remedy for insomnia, and some people do experience drowsiness taking large doses of passionflower. If insomnia is your issue, consider doubling the amount of passionflower relative to the other herbs, or taking a larger dose of the tea per cup of water. Passionflower is also indicated in the prevention of tachycardia. Some others have found it to help in the treatment of Parkinson’s or hysteria.
Don’t use passionflower in combination with sedative pharmaceuticals.
This is just one recipe for a sleep aid tea. Another can be found here, since some people find that skullcap isn’t as effective. The reader will have noticed that sleep aids involve carminatives, nervines, antispasmodics (particularly on the central nervous system), and hypotensives. The four herbs I use here are far from the only options. If you dislike the taste of lavender, swap it for chamomile, for example. If skullcap isn’t working for you, swap in blue vervain (which can also help with headaches). Add ashwagandha if you like (although some people report a stimulating effect from ashwagandha and prefer to use it in the morning for daytime stress management).
Give the tea some time to work. It’s not a drug per se. Herbal remedies are meant to help the body help itself, so think holistically about your issues and sleep routines. What’s causing you to sleep poorly? Put the blue light away at least an hour before bed. Create a nice calming routine in the evenings. Keep your room cool. (If you live in a really hot place, try putting a flexible ice pack in your pillowcase. It works wonders to cool down the main blood vessels in the neck, and you’ll fall asleep much easier in hot weather.) Try some relaxing aromatherapy and a good book. Meditate. Ensure you get good exercise daily.
We’re not just a collection of chemical reactions that need to be adjusted and optimized. We have souls and thoughts and feelings. Medicine is merely meant to be an aid or supplement to health, not the sole source of it.
P.S. My sources for herbs are Mountain Rose Herbs, Bulk Supplements (make sure you get whole herbs and not extracts), and Starwest Botanicals. I take no payment, financial or otherwise, from any of these businesses.
- Hoffman, D.Medical Herbalism: the Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine (2003). Healing Arts Press. IBSN: 978-089281749-8