Many experts argue that getting sufficient sleep is as important to your overall health as diet and exercise. Sleep deprivation is linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, including depression and weight gain, so as it's Sleep Awareness Week, I'm sharing a simple, cheap and easy tweak I made to my bedtime routine which has significantly changed how I sleep.
About a year ago my boyfriend started religiously drinking a cup of camomile tea before bed. Not a huge fan of herbal teas myself, and as I don't usually have trouble getting to sleep, I had never joined him in this bedtime ritual and dismissed the idea as somewhat of an old wives' tale.
That was until last summer, when I went through a period of really struggling to sleep thanks to a combination of the really hot weather and adjusting to a new routine having started a new job. One evening after several nights of broken sleep in a row, exhausted, I reluctantly accepted a cup before bed, and now I won't willingly hit the hay without it.
While I may not have struggled to get to sleep, I would often wake easily in the first few hours of my sleep cycle and could sometimes spend whole nights tossing and turning, drifting in and out of almost sleep.
But from the first few sips, I found it had a deeply calming and settling effect on me and when I woke the following morning I noticed a real difference in the quality of that night's sleep. I'd had a truly deep slumber.
Now I really notice the difference in my sleeping pattern when I haven't had a cup before bed.
Of course, I haven't discovered anything new, camomile is one of the oldest and most trusted medicinal herbs on record and people have been drinking camomile tea to treat insomnia and induce sedation since ancient times. Yet it remains a relatively under-hyped, possibly forgotten, sleep aid – plus it's cheap and easy to incorporate into your nighttime routine.
We asked Lily Soutter, a nutritionist at herbal tea specialist at Heath & Heather, why camomile tea has such a calming and sleep-inducing effect.
"Camomile tea is not technically a tea, as it doesn’t contain any tea leaves; rather it’s a herbal infusion made from dried camomile flowers," she said. "It is a rich source of special plant compounds called apigenins."
Apigenins are plant compounds found in a number of fruits and vegetables, but parsley, celery, celeriac and camomile tea are the most common sources of them.
"These compounds have been shown to exert anti-anxiety effects, and when consumed at higher doses may also have sedative effects," she went on. "These effects are down to apigenin’s ability to bind to benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, which are responsible for providing a sense of calmness and sedation."
Aside from sleep and anxiety, camomile tea has been linked to a number of other potential health benefits, she adds including reducing menstrual pain, reducing inflammation and helping to lower blood sugar levels.
"Traditionally camomile tea has been used to treat nausea and gas and there are a few studies suggesting that this tea may promote better digestion too," she added. "Whilst more research is needed to confirm camomile’s role in digestion, there are many anecdotal claims in relation to camomile tea’s soothing effects on the stomach."
While other studies have linked camomile tea to boosting the immune system and helping to fight common colds.
More research is needed to directly connect drinking camomile tea with some of these potential benefits, but the next time you're tossing and turning, you may want to grab yourself a cup of 'mile – you might just be surprised by how much it enhances your shut-eye.