The Sleepytime Teas That Are Actually Worth Buying

In this very unscientific test, I yawned my way through the workday to find the sleepiest and most delicious bedtime tea, though, to be honest, some of those meetings were just very boring.
03/07/2017 10:41 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2017

For Bon Appetit, by Alex Beggs.

My speech was slurring, my tongue felt a little fuzzy, and I asked a room of my colleagues, “Why haven’t we ever discussed everyone’s favorite apple? Mine’s Winesap.” This was neither funny nor interesting. I put down my gigantic thermos of “Mommy’s Little Helper,” a potent herbal blend by David’s Tea to help you fall asleep. But Mommy wasn’t helping; she had me fucked up on valerian.

That was the last sleepytime tea I could handle testing at 3pm on a Tuesday, which seemed like the only way to know if they were working.

The original Sleepytime Tea (you know the one, with the comatose bear in front of a precarious roaring fire), hit shelves in 1972. That thing sells over 4 million boxes a year! And now that herbal remedies (cough) are becoming more and more mainstream, you have too many to choose from. And wait until you hear about Ambien!

Herbalists will note that human bodies react very different to herbs: some might even feel energized by valerian, while others might conk out after a watery cup of chamomile. I kept that in mind — and so should you because this isn’t medical advice, dudes — as I sipped and snoozed through as many teas as I could find. Some tasted like gym socks, others like floral arrangements in a funeral parlor, and a few managed to have no flavor whatsoever.

In this very unscientific test, I yawned my way through the workday to find the sleepiest and most delicious bedtime tea, though, to be honest, some of those meetings were just very boring.

Here we go.

Courtesy of brand

I’m a fan of all Pukka teas, mostly because the name reminds me of the giant rabbit from Harvey, but also because they’re never bitter in the way bagged tea can be. They’re organic, too, which is a bonus because I like my herbs squeaky clean. The longer you steep the Night Time tea, the more the licorice flavor comes out (in a lightly spiced way — not like the disgusting candy). Otherwise, the flavor is so low-key you can barely taste anything. Relaxing oatflower, the main ingredient, is probably why. There’s a hint of chamomile, but just barely. Tulsi, lavender, and limeflower are other players, but they’re all nearly invisible, like a mischievous rabbit who follows Jimmy Stewart around.

Verdict: Easy to drink and perfect after a meal, when maybe you don’t want intense flavors chiming in. Combined with Seinfeld reruns and a few glasses of wine, I was asleep in three minutes flat. Would drink again.

Courtesy of brand

If you’re really serious about this sleeping business, you need to skip over the plain Nighty Night and hit the Nighty Night Valerian instead. It gets me every time. After a 10-minute steep, there’s a pleasant funky-earthy stink to this organic tea, plus notes of gym socks. But the scent is much stronger than the taste. In wine, they call that the “nose.” There’s also passionflower — an actual flower and not the name of a bath oil your mom bought from the last Avon lady on Earth — known to chill the nerves. If you’re prone to lying in bed thinking about packages lost by USPS, your cat’s fading eyesight, and what will happen to your health care in the near future, well, this is for you.

Verdict: Legit. Despite the scent, the flavor is mellow and perfect for ending a long day overthinking how to respond to that one email.

Courtesy of brand

There’s a big warning in bold on this box: KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN. So you know it’s gonna be good. Sorry kids, stick to your sippy cups of scotch, this is adult tea. Passionflower is really carrying the team, with lemon balm, licorice, and chamomile on the bench. Familiar ingredients, and a familiar taste: weirdly like nothing at all. How can something taste like so much nothing? These are the stoner thoughts you’ll have when drinking this tea. If anything, I’d say it tastes like hay. Or the color beige. It’s hard to find that offensive. It didn’t make me feel particularly woozy and slightly dangerous in the way valerian gets me, but it’s good to switch things up before your body starts building up tolerances.

Verdict: Very chill, but not chill enough. Flavor of nothing continues to mystify me.

Courtesy of brand

If your mom microwaved Sleepytime for you when you were too young to know what deprivation tastes like, you'll recognize this tea from a mile away, especially because there’s a huge, snoring bear on the box. They tried to rebrand, and thousands of calls and emails cried out UM NO. So they brought the bear back, and the world is a better place for it. The herbs aren’t organic, so hippies I consulted don’t adore this one, but I do. They’ve managed to cook up an herbal blend that’s flavorful and almost sweet, minty, chamomile-forward without bitterness, and heavy on the most powerful ingredient of all: nostalgia. Well, I take that back. In Sleepytime EXTRA, the extra stands for the actual most powerful ingredient, our narcoleptic friend valerian.

Verdict: Is this the Coca-Cola of sleepytime teas? Maybe. But there’s a reason why: The flavor is comforting, powerful, and downright good. And look at the bear, man. He’s passed the fuck out.

Courtesy of brand

This tea talks dirty to you, and I like it. Inside the bag is a bouquet of dried flowers (chamomile, rose, lavender, passionflower, etc) — it looks like potpourri and made me wonder if I should store it in my underwear drawer. For scent notes, I wrote down “antique store.” But like other teas, the scent was much more prominent than the subtle floral and fruity taste, which was a nice change from all the roots and herbs. Would be even better with an extra squeeze of lemon.

Verdict: Great flavor if you’re a fan of flowers, on the fence about how sleepy this made me feel. But relaxed and kind of sassy? Definitely.

Courtesy of brand

This was my first time as a human to ever consume catnip, which I knew had great reviews from my cat, Roger, but apparently is also a muscle-relaxing nerve-chiller. There’s also lemon balm, oatstraw, lavender, and skullcap in this tea, which came highly recommended from a flower-essence therapist friend of mine. True story, and real career. When steeped, this made a darker, gray tea that smelled like oatmeal and tasted very mellow, with hints of... hay? That was the most concrete thing I could put my finger on.

Verdict: If you’re not a fan of chamomile/licorice/all those usual medicine flavors in sleepytime tea, this is the tea for you. I wanted something more, but maybe I’m just not appreciative of nuance. Snooze factor: could easily drink during the day after a rough meeting or before that therapist appointment.

Courtesy of brand

Packaged in an open-shelf-friendly octagonal jar, there was a big, green dried hop (the stuff you make beer with) on the top of the tea when I twisted off the lid. What a nice touch! This is a very unique tea, with mugwort and hops, and I love anything that gives me Macbeth witch vibes. I used to make potions like this when we camped in the Michigan woods in my childhood, and this was the tea I was trying to make. Lots of dried pieces of actual nature, without the flavor of sticks, mud, and Off! Bug spray. After steeping a suggested 10–30 minutes, the tea still had only a hint of rose-chamomile flavor. To bring out the floral notes, cold-steep the tea before you leave for work in the morning, and strain it to reheat before bed. You can drink it more concentrated this way (which means less liquid before going to bed, and you know why that’s a good thing).

Verdict: Pleasant, neutral flavor. After having a cup at 3pm on a Monday, I felt a little dizzy — this is definitely better for nighttime. Did it give me “epic dreamtime adventures”? Not really. As someone who sometimes would rather not remember her dreams, that’s fine with me.

Courtesy of brand

Steep Echos' teas are made from olive leaves (cool!) and have esoteric one-word names like "Hush" and "Ascent." The packaging is nicer than any wallpaper I've ever owned, and I'm thinking about how to change that. The flavor is just lovely (chamomile, lots of rose), matching the fancy-boutique-hotel-on-the-seaside vibes of said paper. Nice. The longer the steep, the more potent that becomes. Take the tea bag out after 3–4 minutes.

Verdict: A calming tea but not a get-thee-to-dreamtown sleepytime tea. I'd recommend for late-afternoon stress, after your boss pulled you into his office to reprimand you for something that definitely wasn't your fault. Or was it?

Courtesy of brand

This has an intense minty, lemongrass, and medicinal flavor, which honestly just comes with the sleepytime territory. Valerian in full effect. As mentioned earlier, it fucked me up in the office, so I save this one for seriously stressful nights, like, say, when you know you need to write a long story about teas the next morning and have really procrastinated. The scent is so strong that I store this tea away from other teas lest they all start smelling the same.

Verdict: Seriously snoozy, but not subtle in flavor. Doctor it up with honey to cut through the bitterness.

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