Chamomile & better sleep

Chamomile is one of the oldest medicinal herbs known to mankind. Chamomile is a species found throughout Europe but widely cultivated in Eastern Europe.

Its name comes from Greek and means ground apple, referring to its subtle apple scent. The ancient Egyptians already used camomile for its medicinal properties, dedicating this herb to the God of the sun.
Chamomile is a species found throughout Europe but widely cultivated in Eastern Europe.

Chamomile contains several bioactive compounds. Chamomile contains numerous antioxidants, 28 terpenoids, 36 flavonoids and vitamins A, B and C. It also contains metals and minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and sulphur. These extensive constituents contribute to its medicinal properties. Chamomile can be used for its medicinal effects against stress, insomnia, among others.

Chamomile is one of the most widely used alternative therapies for promoting sleep and treating insomnia. But despite its reputation as a sleep-promoting herb, there is little solid research supporting its effectiveness. Although the Commission E, the German counterpart of the US Food and Drug Administration, has approved the use of chamomile blossom preparations for a wide range of other purposes, including spasms of the gastrointestinal tract and bacterial skin diseases, it is interesting that it did not approve its use as a sleep aid in 1984 due to the lack of published research in this area.

The few human studies that have been conducted are small, have errors in design (e.g. no control group), and show mixed results. In a 2011 study, for example, 17 people with insomnia took 270 milligrams of chamomile extract (an amount that can only be achieved in a concentrated extract, not a tea) twice a day for a month and also kept a sleep diary. When researchers compared their diaries with those taking a placebo, they found no significant difference in how quickly patients fell asleep or how much sleep they got.

In contrast, a 2017 study of 77 elderly people in nursing homes found a significant improvement in sleep quality when participants received 400-milligram capsules of chamomile twice a day for four weeks, compared to those who received no treatment. Similarly, when researchers in a 2016 study randomised 40 women who had just given birth to drink one cup of chamomile tea a day for a fortnight, they scored significantly lower compared to a control group that did not drink the tea when it came to both sleep problems and symptoms of depression. However, the improvement disappeared four weeks after the women stopped drinking the tea, suggesting that the positive effects of chamomile are limited to the short term.

As for how chamomile might help in inducing sleep, research in animals suggests that chamomile has both calming and anti-anxiety effects. One study reported that apigenin, a component of chamomile, binds to the same receptor sites in the brain as benzodiazepines such as Valium. Another study showed that chamomile extract at a dose of 300 milligrams caused a significant reduction in the time it took rats to fall asleep, while other research in mice showed that chamomile can significantly increase sleep time induced by sleep-inducing drugs such as barbiturates.