Is Chamomile Effective for Chronic Insomnia?
A hot cup of chamomile tea before bedtime is a common herbal remedy among people who have trouble sleeping, but is chamomile effective for chronic insomnia? A recent study showed only modest benefits from the popular herb.
Chamomile has a long history as a sleep aid
Chronic insomnia—an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or waking up multiple times during the night and having trouble going back to sleep, for a month or longer--affects about 10 to 15 percent of Americans. This persistent loss of proper sleep can cause a variety of physical and mental problems and contributes to a reduced quality of life, an inability to concentrate, an increased risk of substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, and exacerbation of other health conditions.
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has been a popular sleep aid for hundreds of years. A study in Sleep Medicine reported that of 997 adults who used sleep aids, 18.5% used natural products, and the most popular among them was chamomile.
Exactly why chamomile may help with sleep is not known, although limited research suggests that an ingredient called apigenin produces sedative effects by modulating gamma-aminobutryic acid (GABA) receptors. Reducing the amount of GABA can have a relaxing effect.
This new double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled pilot trial included 34 patients aged 18 to 65 who had been diagnosed with primary insomnia (suffering with the condition for at least 6 months). The patients took either 270 mg of chamomile twice daily or placebo for 28 days and kept a diary of their sleep habits.
At the end of the four-week period, the patients who took chamomile had a modest benefit in their daytime functioning, one-third less night time awakenings, and about a 15 minute decrease in sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep). However, the investigators saw a moderate effect in favor of placebo for total sleep time.
In a previous study of chamomile using sleep-disturbed rats, the herb led to a significant reduction in sleep latency. However, chamomile did not have an effect on total time of wakefulness.
The results of the new study indicate chamomile is not effective for chronic insomnia, although it may provide some minor help regarding daytime functioning. Chamomile may still be helpful for people who have less severe sleep disorders.
Sanchez-Ortuno MM et al. The use of natural products for sleep: a common practice? Sleep Medicine 2009 Oct; 10(9): 982-87
Shinomiya K et al. Hypnotic activities of chamomile and passiflora extracts in sleep-disturbed rats. Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin 2005 May;28(5):808-10
Zick SM et al. Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia. BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine 2011 Sep 22; 11(1): 78
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