Chamomile has very successfully ingrained itself throughout both western and eastern modern culture. In any one evening you might have your nana, a fitspo instagram model, and classical business-business-business dudes sipping away on their respective chamomile brews before bed. It’s certainly popular, but will chamomile tea actually help you sleep better?
In this article we’ll look look over the current state of scientific understanding on chamomile’s sleep promoting effects, discuss some other mechanisms at play with a tea preparation, and even glance some other benefits of the herb.
Research for this article has challenged my thinking over, and over again - and hopefully it will for you too.
Will chamomile tea help me sleep?
Well… it’s the ultimate question - but also a pretty hard one to give a sure answer of at this time.
Given the incredible quantity of anecdotal reports of its sleep benefits, its pretty tempting to just outright say - yes. In fact, I have personally found that a chamomile tea has helped reduce the amount of time it takes for me to fall asleep during a period that I had sleep difficulty. Chamomile is also one of the oldest and most commonly used sleep-aiding herbs across the world, dating back to ancient Greek and Egyptian empires.
But unfortunately we don’t have much evidence available when it comes to clinical research. In fact, there are only a small number of studies that have investigated chamomile specifically for sleep, and most studying pharmaceutical alcohol extractions rather than tea preparations. Evidence that has been gathered regarding sleep is generally mixed in both human trials and animal, and the human trials are low quality due to the challenges of sleep monitoring and lack of strong financial incentives. However, investigations determined what is believed to be mainly responsible for Chamomile’s sleep promoting effects - Apigenin. (It is expected that other flavonoids present in chamomile also contribute to some degree, but they are yet to be identified.)
Apigenin is an organic compound that belongs to the flavonoids group, commonly found in Chamomile, among other plants. Apigenin is commonly attributed to the sleep promoting effects of Chamomile by it’s actions in binding to GABA type A receptors, increasing the effects of GABA in relaxing the brain - similar to the benzodiazepine class of drugs. But this is where it gets interesting… in year 2000 a follow up study using a benzodiazepine antagonist, Flumazenil, was utilised to test that theory. In this rat study apigenin demonstrated clear sedative effects, but then when Flimazenil was injected to prevent the GABA-A pathway just discussed. It had no effect. This implying that the GABA receptor binding is not the mechanism for the sleep promoting effects. As of 2019, this puzzle is still to be solved and I’ll leave you with the same slap-in-the-face open ended quote that plagues me.
Fast asleep, but what other factors may be at play here?
The mechanisms of chamomiles sleep support are still relatively unknown - but what are some other factors contributing when you sip on your chamomile tea?
- Premeditation - preparing a chamomile tea takes time, you must have already obtained the tea, boiled the water, and brewed the tea. These actions all require planning for sleep, and meaning you are likely more mentally prepared also.
Wind-down time - I don’t know anyone who slugs their Chamomile tea back like a shot, then boosts over to the iron jungle to slam some weights. More typically, it is a quiet, still, and gradual process of sipping away at the brew. Basically, it entails the perfect wind-down routine to prepare yourself for rest.
Flavour - Chamomile tastes like flowers, because it is flowers. No doubt a taste many find pleasant, which would contribute to improved mood and subsequently less stress.
- Hot water - Never underestimate the relaxing effects of even sipping on hot water alone.
German vs Roman Chamomile
Chamomile is not just one plant, but rather a group of plants- each with their own unique traits, but also sharing many properties. But in modern usage there are only two varieties commonly used. These being “German Chamomile” a.k.a. Matricaria chamomilla, “Roman Chamomile” a.k.a. Chamaemelum nobile.
The Apigenin content in Roman Chamomile has found to be higher than in German, and for this reason it is preferred for calm and sleep aiding support. That is not to say German is without value, but rather has better use cases according to the different bio-active compounds it is made up of.
Other well supported uses for Chamomile
Anti-anxiety - Early stage human studies indicate chamomile “may have modest anxiolytic activity in patients with mild to moderate GAD (Generalised Anxiety Disorder)“  and “produced a clinically meaningful reduction in GAD symptoms over 8 weeks”. 
Best source is Roman Chamomile.
Anti-depressive - Early stage human studies report “chamomile may produce a clinically meaningful antidepressant effect in humans” 
Best source is Roman Chamomile.
Anti-inflammatory - useful for anti-inflammatory topical preparations, notably for eczema, conjunctivitis and rash. This also contributes to enhanced wound healing.
Best source is German Chamomile.
Anti-microbial - Chamomile oils demonstrate high anti-microbial activity in chemical breakdowns, this theoretically contributes to enhanced wound healing and immune support. 
Anti-oxidant - Chamomile oils have demonstrated high anti-oxidant activity in chemical breakdowns, providing anti-ageing value. 
Anti-spasmodic - Roman Chamomile oil was shown to relax smooth muscle in animal trials, which is mechanism by which gut distress and P.M.S. pains is assisted.  Best source is Roman Chamomile.
The take home point is that you really might need to prove it for yourself. Honestly, when I set out on this rabbit-hole of an investigation into Chamomile I did hope for a better answer for you - but hey, that’s life. And if the answers not there, I’m not going to pretend like it is.
Chamomile is popular, and general consensus is that it helps with sleep. However, clinical evidence is mixed and severely lacking. Some theory for mechanisms do exist, however these are incomplete.
Like a lot of supplementation and personal health practices, it hasn’t yet been refined to simple input and output (and that’s probably just an engineers pipe-dream anyway). What I can definitively say, is that a good brew of Chamomile tea half and hour before bed has been fantastic for both myself, and many others. There are also many other benefits to Chamomile which have been better documented that may be worth considering.
Either way - while we nut this one out, I’ll just keep sipping away. ;)
Other Valuable Reading
The Wise Ape Chamomile Tea - Orange Dreamsicle!
Keen to get sipping on your own Chamomile? Check out the Orange Dreamsicle Wise Ape Tea - with Chamomile as the core ingredient, it is also loaded with Valerian root, Skullcap, Passion Flower! A gentle guide to restful sleep.
VitaKea Founder & Caretaker
Key players in my current health regime include meditation, regular exercise (type depending on current fixation), early to bed, early to rise, packing in as many fungi & leafy greens as possible.
My supplementation varies as I test out new protocols. That considered, I prioritise anything that can be utilised for long-term benefits. Of course, for special cases I can definitely appreciate a good stimulant, or perspective modifier.