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Why Some Bedtime Teas Send You To The Bathroom + What To Sip Instead

Kami McBride
Herbalist
By Kami McBride
Herbalist
Kami McBride is a well-known author and educator whose bestselling book, "The Herbal Kitchen," has helped thousands of people learn how to use common kitchen herbs and spices in delightfully simple, new, and delicious ways. She developed and taught the herbal curriculum for the Complementary Medicine Department at the University of California School of Nursing, and she founded the Living Awareness Institute in 1994 where she offers online herbalism courses to students of all skill levels.
Image by AntonioGuillem / iStock
August 3, 2022

Raise your hand if this has happened to you: It's 8 or 8:30 in the evening and you brew a cup of bedtime tea full of relaxing herbs that will surely guarantee a good night’s sleep. You sip it as you tidy up and change into PJs, taking the last drink just before you brush your teeth. Lights out at the stroke of 10, you're calm and perfectly sleepy, drifting off with the satisfaction that you've set yourself up for the elusive eight hours—only to wake at 12:24 a.m. with the undeniable urge to pee. Resigned, you get out of bed, visit the loo, and tuck back in. Then lie awake for an hour or more, waiting for sleep to come. Foiled again.

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Why sleep teas wake us up in the middle of the night + the worst offender.

Many sleep teas include ingredients that are soothing and taste great but that also have diuretic properties.

Diuretics spur the body to expel water as urine, waking us up in the middle of the night. And of course, since tea is mostly water, it just tends to move through us quickly.

This is why I tell clients to drink their final tea for the day by 7 p.m. As my teacher and mentor, the herbalist Michael Moore of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine, told us time and again: "You have to meet the herbs halfway."

Although any tea has the potential to wake you up, years of working with clients has taught me that chamomile tends to do so the most—and it's ubiquitous in sleep tea formulas. Other calming herbs, such as lemon balm, rose petals, tulsi, and oatstraw are mildly diuretic, but they are less likely to wake you up at night.

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A bedtime tea that won't disrupt sleep.

The recipe below features the following calming ingredients that won’t flush out your system and leave you rushing to use the restroom in the middle of the night. 

  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): As the name suggests, this herb has a lemony scent and adds a pungent flavor to tea. It's also soothing and restorative, helping to calm the nerves1 and lift the mood. As I share in my book, The Herbal Kitchen, I was initially skeptical as to whether lemon balm could elevate mood, but after years of use, I can attest to its relaxing, mood-boosting effects2—especially in the face of tension, anxiousness, and stress. Lemon balm isn't strongly diuretic and shines in sleep tea formulas with other herbs.
  • Rose Petals (Rosa spp.): In tea, rose petals add a distinctive floral scent and a slightly sour tang. Roses are both uplifting and calming3, simultaneously promoting healthy mental function and supporting our ability to sleep. Any rose petal can be used in your teas (pink, red, purple, yellow, gold, white, or orange) as long as it is not sprayed with chemicals. I don't recommend roses from florists due to the risk of herbicides. 
  • Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum): Tulsi, also called holy basil, has fragrant volatile oils that are a signature of the mint family. Its flavor is often compared to spices like clove or allspice. Herbalists consider tulsi an adaptogen, helping our bodies and emotions stay in balance even as we encounter stress. Like rose, it supports the nervous system4 over time, but you might notice the calming, uplifting effect immediately as well.
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Tulsi Rose Relax Tea Recipe

Ingredients:

If using fresh herbs, chop finely and double these measurements.

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon tulsi (dried, crush with mortar and pestle just before using)
  • 1 tablespoon rose petals (dried and crushed)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon balm (dried and crushed)
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Method:

  1. Put your herbs and water into a pot with a lid on. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.
  2. Let the herbs steep for 1 hour or more.
  3. Strain the herbs from the water and compost your spent herbs
  4. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

The shelf life of tea is about two days if kept covered in the refrigerator. Once you've tried this once, feel free to play around with how much of each of these herbs you would like in your tea. You can add more rose petals and less tulsi. Experiment with your recipes!

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Tea as an end-of-day rite.

Remember to let your lifestyle support your evening relaxing tea. After 8 p.m., bring your nervous system to a state of calm by staying off screens, dimming the lights, and allowing some space for introspection. I hope these herbs become part of a welcome end-of-day ritual that helps you prepare for the transition to sleep—without waking you up for a bathroom run in the middle of the night!

Kami McBride
Kami McBride
Herbalist

Kami McBride is an experienced herbalist, educator, and author whose well-known book, The Herbal Kitchen, has helped thousands of people unlock the healing potential of their spice cabinets and herb gardens. She developed and taught the herbal curriculum for the Complementary Medicine Department at the University of California School of Nursing, and she founded the Living Awareness Institute in 1994 where she offers online herbalism courses to students of all skill levels. Kami lives in California with her husband and children, and she can often be found concocting seasonal recipes in her kitchen and spending time with her favorite plants outdoors.

Find Kami on Instagram @Kamimcbride or online at www.KamiMcbride.com.