Fibromyalgia Disrupts Sleep: Could L-Theanine Help You?

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

If you are living from fibromyalgia, you most certainly are already aware of how it can disrupt your sleep. Here is what you can do to help get some relief.

Did you know? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about 4 million adults in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia. That’s about 2% of the population! Although the exact causes of fibromyalgia are still debated, fortunately it can often be managed and treated effectively. (1)

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a condition characterized by chronic pain that spreads throughout the entire body, often with specific tenderness points. People suffering from fibromyalgia tend to experience sleep disturbances, headaches, cognitive problems, fatigue, etc.

As the symptoms of Fybromyalgia can imitate symptoms of other conditions, it is sometimes difficult for physicians to accurately diagnose this disease. As no exact test exists, the health care provider works by eliminating symptoms that may be caused by other conditions and confirming the indicators present. 

A complex history of Fibromyalgia 

Fibromyalgia has been controversial throughout time, with some doctors calling it a “fad diagnosis”. Treating it as if it’s not a real disease, despite research indicating that fibromyalgia is a real condition that deserves a long look.

Findings of fibromyalgia date as far as the 16th century, by the term “rheumatism” introduced by the French physician Guillaume de Baillou in 1592. This referred to a musculoskeletal pain that did not originate from an injury. In time, physicians start using the term “muscular rheumatism” to indicate painful conditions that did not cause deformity, like fibromyalgia.

The term fibromyalgia was first used in 1976 by Dr. P.K. Hench and in 1990 the American College of Rheumatology published the first criteria for fibromyalgia (2).

Another important breakthrough occurred in 1992 when theories came out pointing to neurological causes for fibromyalgia, defining FMS basically as a CNS (Central Nervous System) disease. (3)

Who is at risk of Fibromyalgia?

Some known risk factors for fibromyalgia are:

  • Age. Anyone can develop fibromyalgia at any age, however, it is most commonly found in middle age. As people grow older the risk of being diagnosed with fibromyalgia becomes higher.
  • Gender. Though the cause is not clear, there are more cases of fibromyalgia among women than men.
  • Family history. Individuals that have relatives with fibromyalgia are more likely to develop it.
  • Disease. People experiencing Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis are at higher risk of acquiring fibromyalgia.

Also, fibromyalgia flare-ups can be trigger by:

  • Stress
  • Injuries
  • Illnesses, like the flu. 

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

The areas that experience a consistent dull ache due to fibromyalgia are known as “regions of pain” in the healthcare field. Most doctors would diagnose fibromyalgia if an individual is experiencing musculoskeletal pain in 4 out of the 5 regions. (4)

Some other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be:

  • Depression and anxiety 
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Problems with concentration, focus, and thinking 
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Sleep problems (non-restorative sleep)
  • Bladder problems like cystitis  
  • Digestive problems such as bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • Fibromyalgia can also negatively impact emotions and energy levels 

What is L-Theanine?

This natural amino acid, mostly found in green and black tea leaves and some mushrooms, has a very long history. Legend has it that around 2,732 BCE, the Chinese emperor Shen Nung came across a wild tree that blew its leaves into his pot of boiling water. The pleasant aroma these leaves produced intrigued him. When drinking the brew, he described a pleasant warm feeling throughout his whole body. The emperor named the beverage “ch’a”, which would later become known as tea. Tea became popular and eventually traveled from ancient China to the western world, becoming the national drink of countries like England.

In this day and age, tea is consumed on a large-scale, all over the world, second only to water. Studies have shown that tea is rich in flavonoid antioxidants.  It also contains a unique amino acid called L-Theanine that may regulate aspects of human brain function. Studies have also found out that L-Theanine considerably increases activity in the alpha brainwave frequency, which relaxes the mind without creating drowsiness. (5)

How Does L-Theanine Work?

L-Theanine supports relaxation and facilitates sleep by promoting various changes in the brain:

Boost Levels of GABA

L-Theanine has the ability to increase levels of the neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin, and dopamine which regulate emotions, mood, concentration, appetite, energy, and other cognitive skills. Higher levels of these neurotransmitters improve relaxation and can help with sleep.

Reduce Levels of “Excitatory” Brain Chemicals

While helping increase calming chemicals in the brain, L-Theanine also lowers the number of brain chemicals associated with anxiety and stress. Furthermore, L-Theanine may protect brain cells against stress and age-related damage.

Enhances Alpha Brain Waves

Alpha waves are present in the brain during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, but they also appear when our minds are engaged in creative activities or meditating. This state of our brain’s waves is also called “wakeful relaxation”. L-Theanine seems to prompt the release of alpha waves in the brain which increases focus, creativity, and relaxation.

One attractive feature of the use of L-Theanine is that it has the capability of relaxing without drowsiness. Creating this “wakeful relaxation” state of mind without a sedative effect. 

L-Theanine for Better Sleep

L-Theanine’s efficiency in increasing relaxation while reducing anxiety and stress levels can aid in sleeping, helping you to fall asleep faster and easier. Also, thanks to L-Theanine’s alpha wave-boosting ability, it can help the body and brain to easily enter the first stage of NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. The use of L-Theanine can promote deeper and sounder sleep.

L-Theanine and Fibromyalgia

Because of how L-Theanine works with chemicals in the brain, it can significantly improve the quality of our sleep and the amount we get too. So it follows that L-theanine can substantially increase quality of life for people who have fibromyalgia, as they are often affected by sleep disorders.

Although fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that can be challenging to treat, by integrating components such as L-Theanine into the diet, it may help alleviate some struggles and enhance quality of life.

For those with fibromyalgia, L-Theanine can be an important step towards healthy living.  By achieving better sleep, they can feel encouraged to make other lifestyle changes like reducing stress triggers, building a more balanced diet, and beginning an exercise plan. Better quality of life is achievable one step at a time.

Bibliography

1. Fibromyalgia. Cdc.gov. Published July 27, 2020. Accessed March 17, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm

2. Galvez-Sánchez CM, Reyes del Paso G. Historical background on the Study of fibromyalgia Syndrome. Published online 2020. doi:10.32545/encyclopedia202006.0009.v4

3. Clauw DJ, Arnold LM, McCarberg BH, FibroCollaborative. The science of fibromyalgia. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86(9):907-911.

4. Kaltsas G, Tsiveriotis K. Fibromyalgia. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., eds. Endotext. MDText.com; 2020.

5. 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 1:167-168.

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About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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