L-Theanine vs Melatonin: Which is Better for Sleep?

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dried green tea leaves

Bedtime: that part of the day when you call it quits, rest your weary mind, and rejuvenate your body for the day ahead. But what about when sleep is elusive, and anxiety keeps you awake? You might have tried a few remedies, but here, we explore and compare two sleep aids: melatonin and L-theanine. 

Your body naturally produces melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycles. On the other hand, L-theanine is an amino acid found most commonly in tea leaves that’s well known for its stress-reducing effects. 

This breakdown compares L-theanine and melatonin, their pros and cons, and provides everything you need to know about deciding which to use to improve sleep.

What is L-Theanine?

L-theanine is an amino acid found in tea leaves, especially green tea. It's known for its calming and relaxing effects on the mind and body. 

L-theanine was first discovered as a component in green tea in the mid-20th century. The compound is present in green, black, and white tea and certain species of fungi. On average, a cup of tea has 20 mg of L-theanine, while L-theanine supplements range from 50 to 250 milligrams per dose.

L-theanine has become increasingly popular for its many health benefits, and some studies have emerged to support these claims. It’s used for stress management, improving mood, heightening focus and concentration, and - as we’ll explore in more detail - as a sleep aid.

Benefits

Per recent studies, L-theanine is structurally similar to glutamate, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier, directly impacting brain function. L-theanine also appears to increase the amount and effectiveness of GABA in the brain, which correlates with calmer mental states and decreased anxiety.

Evidence also indicates that L-theanine increases the frequency of alpha brain waves. Heightened alpha wave brain activity is associated with calmer, more focused states – they’re often found in brain scans of Zen meditation masters. 

One of L-theanine’s functions in promoting sleep is its ability to ramp up the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These neurotransmitters regulate mood, encourage relaxation, and induce restful sleep. By increasing the amounts of these neurotransmitters, L-theanine can help to reduce stress and anxiety, factors that commonly interfere with sleep.

It is important to note that while L-theanine can promote sleep, it does not have sedative properties like some sleep medications. It does not induce drowsiness or cause a sudden onset of sleep. Instead, L-theanine creates a state of relaxation and calmness, which can facilitate the natural sleep process. This makes it a safer and more natural alternative for individuals struggling with sleep issues.

Research is still unearthing other mechanisms and benefits by which L-theanine improves sleep, and the current state of science is encouraging enough for those interested in trying it as a supplement.

Risks and Side Effects

Most people can safely use L-theanine with few reported side effects. However, the current research on L-theanine is limited. Scientists don’t know all its potential side effects or drug interactions, so it’s essential to discuss with your doctor if you’re concerned about current medications.

Some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal issues when using L-theanine, such as stomach upset, nausea, or diarrhea. These symptoms usually subside and are temporary, but those who experience persistent or severe gastrointestinal issues should discontinue use and consult a physician.

Some groups should not take L-theanine, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and those with pre-existing medical diagnoses.

What is Melatonin?

While also known as a supplement, melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain's pineal gland. Its primary role is to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm

The production of melatonin in one’s system is influenced by the amount of light exposure we receive. In darkness, the pineal gland releases melatonin into the bloodstream, signaling the body that it is time to sleep. This helps to promote a sense of drowsiness and prepare the body for restful sleep.

Melatonin not only helps to initiate sleep but also plays a role in maintaining sleep throughout the night. It helps to regulate the duration and quality of sleep by promoting deep sleep stages and reducing the frequency of awakenings. 

Additionally, melatonin levels gradually decrease towards morning, allowing the body to naturally wake up and feel refreshed. Overall, melatonin plays a vital role in the timing and quality of sleep, ensuring a well-rested state and promoting optimal functioning during wakefulness.

strawberry melatonin gummies

SHOP STRAWBERRY MELATONIN GUMMIES

Benefits

The body has its own melatonin, but supplements may help with concerns including jet lag, insomnia, and other sleep disorders.

One benefit of melatonin is its ability to improve sleep quality. Research suggests that melatonin can lessen how long it takes to fall asleep and increase overall sleep time. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who struggle with insomnia or face challenges falling asleep.

Some studies also suggest melatonin can enhance REM sleep, which is associated with dreaming and memory consolidation. Furthermore, melatonin has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which may contribute to overall sleep health and well-being.

Risks and Side Effects

Melatonin is generally considered safe for short-term use, but its long-term effects are still being studied. Unlike other sleep medications, it’s unlikely that users will become dependent on it or have any adverse reactions after repeated use or stopping.

The most common melatonin side effects include:

  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea

It is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new sleep aid, including melatonin, to ensure it is appropriate for your needs and to determine the proper dosage.

Combining L-theanine and Melatonin

Combining l-theanine and melatonin for sleep may have several benefits, though the efficacy of the two together has no supporting research behind it. 

Firstly, l-theanine’s calming and relaxing effects help reduce anxiety and promote relaxation, which can be beneficial for individuals who struggle with falling asleep. Melatonin, conversely, can make it easier to fall and stay asleep throughout the night. When combined, the calming effects of l-theanine can help enhance melatonin's sleep-inducing properties and deliver a deeper and more restful sleep.

Additionally, combining l-theanine and melatonin may help to reduce the grogginess or drowsiness the next day after taking melatonin. L-theanine has been shown to have a counteracting effect, promoting wakefulness and alertness during the day. By taking l-theanine alongside melatonin, individuals may be able to mitigate any potential grogginess and wake up feeling more refreshed and energized.

Heightened stress levels can also hamper the body’s natural melatonin production. L-theanine, a natural stress reducer, can help make melatonin supplements more effective and even allow individuals to wean themselves off the supplement. However, melatonin itself also has anxiety-relieving properties that may be worth keeping if you need the extra help.

hot chocolate sleep powder

SHOP SLEEP POWDER WITH L-THEANINE AND MELATONIN

Dosing

While L-theanine supplement sizes may vary (50-250mg for most options) and should be adjusted based on your cognitive needs, your nightly melatonin serving should remain consistent. More isn’t always better, especially in the case of melatonin. 

Most OTC sleep aids use between 3-10mg of melatonin.

The Bottom Line: Which is Better for Sleep?

Both melatonin and l-theanine have their unique benefits and mechanisms to improve sleep, and research suggests they’re more powerful in concert. The choice between the two depends on individual preferences and specific sleep issues. 

Seeking a third option for improved sleep? Check out our Sleep Powder, which has both L-theanine and melatonin and supports restful, deep sleep.

Sources

  1. Hidese, S., Ogawa, S., Ota, M., Ishida, I., Yasukawa, Z., Ozeki, M., & Kunugi, H. (2019). Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102362
  2. Hidese, S., Ogawa, S., Ota, M., Ishida, I., Yasukawa, Z., Ozeki, M., & Kunugi, H. (2019). Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients, 11(10). https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102362
  3. Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.06.006. Epub 2006 Aug 22. PMID: 16930802.
  4. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8. PMID: 18296328.
  5. Zisapel N. New perspectives on the role of melatonin in human sleep, circadian rhythms and their regulation. Br J Pharmacol. 2018 Aug;175(16):3190-3199. doi: 10.1111/bph.14116. Epub 2018 Jan 15. PMID: 29318587; PMCID: PMC6057895.
  6. Brown, G. M. (1994). Light, melatonin and the sleep-wake cycle. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 19(5), 345-353. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1188623/
  7. Herxheimer, A., & Petrie, K. J. (2002). Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of jet lag. The Cochrane Library, 2010(1). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd001520
  8. McGrane, I. R., Leung, J. G., St Louis, E. K., & Boeve, B. F. (2015). Melatonin Therapy for REM Sleep Behavior Disorder: A Critical Review of Evidence. Sleep Medicine, 16(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2014.09.011
  9. Reíter, R. J., Mayo, J. C., Tan, D. X., Sainz, R. M., Alatorre-Jiménez, M. A., & Qin, L. (2016). Melatonin as an antioxidant: under promises but over delivers. Journal of Pineal Research, 61(3), 253–278. https://doi.org/10.1111/jpi.12360
  10. Cho, J. H., Bhutani, S., Kim, C. H., & Irwin, M. R. (2021). Anti-inflammatory effects of melatonin: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 93, 245-253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2021.01.034
  11. Dasdelen, M. F., Er, S., Kaplan, B., Celik, S., Beker, M. C., Orhan, C., Tuzcu, M., Sahin, N., Mamedova, H., Sylla, S., Komorowski, J., Ojalvo, S. P., Sahin, K., & Kilic, E. (2022). A Novel Theanine Complex, Mg-L-Theanine Improves Sleep Quality via Regulating Brain Electrochemical Activity. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2022.874254 

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