I don’t always find it easy to drift off to sleep. Like most people, all too often I find thoughts of the day behind me and plans for those ahead whooshing through my brain as I try to switch off. I try my best to do things that are supposed to promote good sleep: ensure the room is cool, quiet and dark; minimise screen use (ok, I fail at that one); and relax with a mug of herbal tea. Although I find the drink soothing, I didn’t really believe that the ingredients of the tea were having any biological effect my sleep. So when I saw a claim from ‘sleep expert’ Dr Breus, that chamomile has proven sedative effects I decided to ask him for the evidence.
Dr Breus’ team acknowledged that evidence is limited in this area and assured me that this was made clear at the time the claim was made, but did send me a research paper to support the claim. The paper was a preliminary study into whether chamomile might be useful in treating chronic primary insomnia; that is insomnia not related to other causes or stresses. Immediately I wondered whether the findings of this work were even relevant to people like me, who haven’t been diagnosed with insomnia, but just find it hard to drift off or are kept awake at times of worry or stress. The study used quite a lot of statistical analyses that I wasn’t confident to assess, but I noticed that the text of the paper clearly stated that there was no significant improvement in the amount or quality of sleep between the group that received chamomile and the control group.
I wasn’t convinced by what I read, but wondered if perhaps I had missed something or misunderstood the research, so the Ask For Evidence team asked Professor Edzard Ernst to take a look. He concluded that:
“The study supplied is firstly only preliminary and secondly largely negative. There is no way this can be seen as supporting evidence for the claim made, in my opinion."
I think I’ll carry on enjoying a warm mug of something soothing at bedtime, but I will be choosing my teabag based on taste rather than what sleep-inducing ingredients they claim to contain.
Zick SM, Wright BD, Sen A, et al. Preliminary examination of the efficacy and safety of a standardized chamomile extract for chronic primary insomnia: A randomized placebo-controlled pilot study. BMC Complement Altern Med 2011;11:78.
This Ask for Evidence story was written by Leah Fitzsimmons, an Ask for Evidence Ambassador
Image by Laura D'Allessandro - (CC BY 2.0)