Chamomile for sleep: How to increase deep sleep naturally

What you need to know about this herbal medicine.
Written by
Julia Hammond
Reviewed by
Last updated on
June 3, 2024
min read
Chamomile for Sleep: How to Increase Deep Sleep Naturally | Kin Fertility
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Waking up from a refreshing, deep sleep can feel like a scene in a movie. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and you yawn restfully, ready for a good day. Except, not everyone gets to enjoy this moment. Some of us struggle to have a good night's sleep and our health suffers for it.

Ask friends or family for advice and they'll tell you things like counting sheep, deep breathing, and drinking a cup of chamomile tea will help soothe the nerves.

But do any of them really work? We can't say much for the sheep, but we can share some health benefits of consuming chamomile tea. Here's everything you should know about this herbal medicine — from how it works to whether drinking chamomile tea is the only option for you.

What is chamomile?

Chamomile is a flower that belongs to the Asteraceae plant family. It has been used as a traditional medicine for thousands of years in places like Rome, Greece, Egypt and China [1]. 

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) it is said to treat stomach problems, cramps, skin irritation, and minor infections [1].

It's also popular in modern medicine, featuring in the pharmacopoeias of 26 countries — including Britain and the United States [1]. FYI, a pharmacopoeia is a book that lists medicinal products and the standards for their use.

The 2 types of chamomile

There are 2 types of chamomile — the German chamomile plant, known as matricaria recutita, and the English or Roman chamomile plant, known as chamaemelum nobile. Most studies focus on the German chamomile since it is more common [2][1].

The fragrant flower heads make for a super versatile herbal medicine. Chamomile flowers are dried and can be used for herbal tea, in capsules as chamomile extract, and to create essential oil [2].

What are the benefits of chamomile?

Researchers are exploring so many different health benefits of chamomile tea, capsules, oils, and other herbal medicines.

One of the key chemical compounds in the chamomile flower is flavonoids. These active elements are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, antibacterial effects, and antioxidant health benefits [1].

Some of the other health benefits of chamomile flowers include [1][5]:

  • Potential to treat coronary heart disease
  • Potential to help prevent cancer cells
  • Has been found to help lower cholesterol in animal studies
  • Chamomile tea may help improve moods and relieve depressive symptoms
  • One study found chamomile capsules could help relieve symptoms of PMS
  • Research suggests that chamomile is as effective as other anti-anxiety drugs
  • It may also benefit blood sugar in people with diabetes

One of the other amazing powers of chamomile is its ability to promote sleep — likely because of its mild sedative effect [5].

We’re going to tell you all about the benefits of chamomile tea and sleep soon. But, before we do, we need to explain a few things about what happens when we sleep and why good sleep is so important for our health.

What happens when we sleep? 

Almost everyone knows that a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night is good for your mind and body. But, not many of us understand what is happening during those hours.

When you sleep, your body is cycling through 2 different phases in blocks of 90 to 120 minutes, and each of those blocks is known as a sleep cycle [6][10].

The 2 phases of sleep

The 2 phases are non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM). REM sleep is the phase when you are dreaming and you spend about one-quarter of your night in this phase [9].

NREM sleep makes up the other three-quarters of your evening slumber. Within this phase, your body goes through another 4 stages of sleep [9]:

  • Stage 1: Drowsiness – you are falling into sleep.
  • Stage 2: Light sleep – you lose awareness of your surroundings, and your breathing and heart rate slow down.
  • Stages 3 and 4: Deep sleep – your muscles relax and your body works on repair and growth.

So, that’s what your body is up to while you’re asleep. But, how does it fall into sleep? And why does it stay there?

What makes us fall asleep?

A lot of it has to do with your GABA receptors, which can be found in the brain. There are 3 different GABA receptors that help regulate your sleep [6]:

  • The first receptor helps you fall asleep
  • The second receptor stops you from waking up between sleep cycles
  • The third receptor helps you transition between the sleep phases

Research has taught us quite a lot about the first receptor. Most sleep medications, like barbiturates, interact with that first receptor [6]. More research is still needed to tell us all about the other 2.

Why is deep sleep so important?

Most of us feel pretty terrible after a bad night’s sleep. Most likely, it's because we didn’t get enough deep sleep. Unfortunately, there are lots of things that can disrupt sleep. Think jet lag, shift work, new parenthood, a snoring partner or conditions like insomnia.

When you aren’t asleep for long enough, your body can’t reach the deep sleep stage of NREM. That’s a problem because so much healing work happens in this stage. For example, during deep sleep [10]:

  • Your body works on repairing muscles, bones and tissue
  • You build up a healthy immune system
  • Brain functions like memory, language learning and motor skills are improved

Most people will enter deep sleep within the first hour of falling asleep [10]. For those who can’t fall asleep, turning to a natural remedy like a soothing cup of chamomile tea before bed is common. But, does it actually work?

Does chamomile tea help sleep?

 If you love to drink chamomile tea before bed, you’re certainly not alone. Around 40% of people use complementary medicines, including for better sleep [3].

Chamomile tea is widely reported to improve sleep and help prevent common cold symptoms. Adding honey and 2 slices of lemon to your chamomile tea cup is also said to lower blood pressure, help detoxify the body, and reduce inflammation [1].

It’s all well and good to say it — but can we prove it? Science says yes (at least for sleep). Studies have shown that a particular flavonoid, known as apigenin, has a natural sedative effect on your GABA receptors [4][6].

Too scientific for you? To put it another way, when chamomile binds to your GABA receptors it makes you feel relaxed. That's why drinking chamomile tea at night helps you fall asleep. Whether you prefer drinking chamomile tea from leaves or a tea bag is totally up to you.

There are also studies that found chamomile can help relieve anxiety, which may also help to promote sleep [3][4]. 

Are there options for people who don’t drink chamomile tea?

Lots of people really enjoy the natural sweetness of chamomile tea, but we know it’s not for everyone. Luckily, the chamomile flower in all its forms has health benefits.

Essential oil aromatherapy

Research has shown that chamomile essential oils have similar medicinal properties as chamomile tea. They are a type of natural sedative and have been useful in treating generalised anxiety disorder [1].

Chamomile extract in capsules

Another option is to take herbal supplements, like chamomile capsules. A study from America used a high-grade chamomile extract to treat insomnia. Participants took 2 chamomile capsules per day, equivalent to 90mg of dry extract [4].

After 4 weeks of chamomile extract therapy, the results were positive. Although people didn’t sleep for longer, the chamomile extract did improve sleep quality. Participants could fall asleep faster, in around 15 minutes, and were less likely to wake up overnight [4].

Keen to try chamomile capsules? Kin’s Deep Sleep is a 2-per-day supplement to help you stay rested, naturally. It's full of sleep-inducing ingredients like chamomile extract, magnesium, and lemon balm. Developed by dietitians and made locally in Australia, we think it’s one of the best options to soothe your mind, relax your muscles, and promote sleep.

No matter what kind of chamomile you choose, remember to give it time to work. Most studies track results over a few weeks. So, try to wait at least 3 weeks before deciding whether chamomile tea, oil or capsules is best for you [3].

Are there any risks to taking chamomile? 

German chamomile (the kind we use at Kin) is one of the most popular herbal remedies for sleep. It’s generally considered safe, but it may cause side effects in high doses [4][2].

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should speak with their doctor before taking high doses of chamomile. It’s possible that in high doses it can cause birth defects and lead to premature birth or miscarriage [1][2]. The occasional cup of chamomile tea should be fine though.
  • Chamomile may also lead to an allergic reaction — like dermatitis or hypersensitivity. It can also make asthma and hay fever worse [1][2][8].
  • Since it is a natural sedative, it’s not recommended to take chamomile while on other sedatives — such as antidepressants, anti-seizure medication or alcohol [2].

We think it’s really important to say that these are only possible risks and side effects. The best person to speak with is your doctor and they will be able to help you decide if chamomile is a good option for you, as well as understand if it might interact with any other medications or supplements you are using [8].

5 more natural ways to help you fall asleep

For an essential bodily function, it can be surprisingly hard to fall asleep. Things like stress and anxiety, too much noise, too much caffeine or not enough exercise in your day can lead to lying awake late at night.

We've told you how chamomile tea and capsules can help, but is there any other natural remedy you can try? Absolutely — here are 5 ideas [7][10]:

Swap to herbal teas at least 2-3 hours before sleep

If your morning coffee serves to wake you up, then it's probably not the right drink for bedtime. For good sleep, avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee, soft drinks, and black or green tea.

If you still want a warm drink, try herbal tea which is naturally caffeine-free. Popular options besides chamomile include peppermint, ginger, and lavender tea.

Skip the heavy meals late at night

A light snack before bed is okay, but having a heavy meal within 2-3 hours of sleep could be a recipe for acid reflux. It can also ruin your sleep quality because your body is still digesting, making it much harder to reach deep sleep.

Limit noise and light

Improving your sleep quality has a lot to do with your sleep environment. For example, we know that people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer when they are in dark, quiet rooms.

Keep away from blue light

Look, we totally get it — that last episode of your latest binge is just too hard to resist. But, whether you're watching on the TV, phone, computer or tablet; the blue light from your device is a fast road to terrible sleep. That's because blue light stops your body from producing melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you feel sleepy.

Take a warm bath

Not only is it soothing, but a warm bath can help draw heat from your body into your hands and feet. These areas lose heat quickly, which helps you to reach a nice, cool temperature that is perfect for falling asleep.

Try to reduce stress

It's well-known that stress and anxiety can get in the way of a good night's sleep. They make your mind start racing and hold you in a state of alertness. There are lots of ways to reduce stress, from a soothing cup of chamomile tea to meditation. No matter what method you prefer, a low-stress life is usually good for your sleep quality.

Photo credit: Vlada Karpovich / Pexels

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