L-Theanine vs Melatonin

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Melatonin is a sleep hormone that our bodies naturally make. So if sleep is difficult to come by, it might make sense to add a melatonin supplement to your self-care regimen. L-theanine is another option that many people turn to; here we examine each, side by side.

L-Theanine or Melatonin: Which Do I Need?

According to Dietary Guidelines, the American diet contains saturated fat, refined grains, excess sodium, and tons of calories from solid fats and added sugars. Additionally, the same research revealed that Americans eat less than the recommended amounts of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and healthy oils. (1)

Needless to say, this type of diet takes its toll on the population’s health. Common illnesses associated with an unbalanced, unhealthy diet can be diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart problems, and many others. This eating regime could potentially affect the individual physical and mental health. 

Why are Dietary Supplements Important?

It’s not just the low nutritional value in our diets that can affect physical and mental well-being. Other external factors of our modern lifestyles can negatively impact our overall health. Things like:

  • Toxins in the air. We breathe air pollutants on a daily basis, like emissions from coal-fired power plants, industrial plants, cars, buses, trucks, tobacco smoke, chemical solvents, asbestos, and more.
  • Hybrid foods with low nutritional value. Food producers have found numerous ways to change the color, weight, and/or shelf life of products. This is known to lower the nutritional value of the food we consume.
  • Our drinking water has fewer minerals. Modern advances gave us clean drinking water, but the excessive filtration of it had also depleted the water of many essential minerals. In 2005, the World Health Organization reported on the alarming lack of magnesium among other minerals in the drinking water in North America. (2)

Considering all these factors, even though a healthy balanced diet is a desirable goal for better health, supplementing can add that extra push to get there.

Which Supplement To Choose?

A study done between 2003 and 2006, revealed that about half of the population in the United States consumes dietary supplements. (3) 

With the extensive variety of dietary supplements in the market, it can be hard to decide which one to choose. It is advisable to evaluate your personal needs, do extensive research and consult with your physician before choosing one. In recent years, many people favor dietary supplements that contain compounds extracted from nature

Here, we are going to evaluate the potential benefits of two compounds that are found in nature, L-Theanine, and Ashwagandha.

What is L-Theanine?

This natural compound has a legend attached to it. The story goes 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. He was intrigued by the pleasant aroma these leaves produced. When he drank the brew, he described a warm feeling passing throughout his whole body. The emperor named the beverage “ch’a”, later on, known as tea. Tea grew in popularity and traveled from ancient China to the western world. Eventually, it became the national drink of countries like England.

Nowadays, tea is widely consumed all over the world, second after 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. Furthermore, these studies found out that L-Theanine considerably increases activity in the alpha frequency band, which relaxes the mind without creating drowsiness. (4)

L-Theanine is mostly found in green and black tea leaves and some mushrooms 

Benefits of L-Theanine

L-Theanine has been known to cause a relaxing effect on individuals. However, this unique amino acid may also carry other benefits such as:

It Could Reduce Anxiety and Stress levels.

A small study was conducted, where one group got L-Theanine and the other a placebo. They found out that the L-Theanine group showed lower stress indicators and heart rate while performing a difficult task. (5)

Another study aimed at people struggling with high anxiety levels showed beneficial results such as improved visual attention and reaction time while decreasing heart rate. The effects of L-Theanine on brain waves had been known to resemble the same effects caused by meditation. 

May Induce Better Sleep

Many times the importance of good night sleep is overlooked. However, sleep problems such as insomnia or not sleeping through the night can cause serious health problems. Therefore, it is of great importance to work toward habits that support quality rest. Things like cutting down on electronic stimulus before bedtime, exercising, and meditation can certainly help. Including L-Theanine may also aid this goal as well. 

A study conducted in Japan involving the participation of 30 individuals over four weeks, where L-Theanine was used, revealed a significant reduction in sleep quality problems. (6) Though the group was small, the results were certainly promising.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone produced naturally within our bodies by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is released with the rhythms of the sun. When the sun goes down, melatonin is released in higher quantities to induce sleep. During the daytime, the levels of melatonin are lower, keeping us alert. Even though melatonin is often called “the sleep hormone”, and is needed for sleep, individuals can sleep with insufficient levels of it. With that said, adequate levels of this hormone can promote better sleep in individuals. 

Because melatonin release is signaled by the retinas in our eyes, regardless of the actual time of the day, our night-time exposure to bright light could diminish sleep quality, increasing daytime fatigue and insomnia. (7)

In modern times where most of us are constantly using bright light devices such as cellphones, tablets, computers, and laptops, sleep-related problems seem to increase. About 30% of American adults reported sleeping less than 6 hours every night. Therefore, melatonin, as a supplement, had been on a rise in recent years. (8)

Benefits of Melatonin

Melatonin has powerful antioxidant benefits that could help to provide:

Better Sleep 

Studies conducted with individuals experiencing sleeping problems reported that the use of melatonin supplementation helps them to fall asleep quicker, an average of 7 minutes. Individuals also said that they experienced an increase in the quality of their sleep. (9)

Eye Health Support 

A study was conducted with 100 subjects suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD), where scientists gave them 3 mg of melatonin for 6 to 24 months. The researchers reported an increase in retina protection and delayed damage from AMD. Also, individuals did not present significant side effects from this trial. (10)

L-Theanine vs Melatonin

While both elements show similar benefits when dealing with sleeping problems. L-Theanine’s added feature of helping to manage stress and anxiety levels makes it more appealing for individuals dealing with this problem. Unfortunately, simply due to modern life, we tend to be more exposed to high levels of stress and anxiety which can affect other areas of our lives. Therefore, any help in this area is gladly welcome and it is perfectly safe to take both theanine and melatonin together if you feel that you need extra support. 

Bibliography

1.Health.gov. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf

2. Who.int. Accessed March 5, 2021. https://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/dwq/nutrientsindw.pdf 

3. Gahche J, Bailey R, Burt V, et al. Dietary supplement use among U.S. adults has increased since NHANES III (1988-1994). NCHS Data Brief. 2011;(61):1-8.

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 1:167-168.

5. Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007;74(1):39-45.

6. Hidese S, Ogawa S, Ota M, et al. Effects of L-theanine administration on stress-related symptoms and cognitive functions in healthy adults: A randomized controlled trial. Nutrients. 2019;11(10):2362.

7. Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Bedtime mobile phone use and sleep in adults. Soc Sci Med. 2016;148:93-101.

8. Chattu VK, Sakhamuri SM, Kumar R, Spence DW, BaHammam AS, Pandi-Perumal SR. Insufficient Sleep Syndrome: Is it time to classify it as a major noncommunicable disease? Sleep Sci. 2018;11(2):56-64.

9. Ferracioli-Oda E, Qawasmi A, Bloch MH. Meta-analysis: melatonin for the treatment of primary sleep disorders. PLoS One. 2013;8(5):e63773.

10. Yi C, Pan X, Yan H, Guo M, Pierpaoli W. Effects of melatonin in age-related macular degeneration. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2005;1057(1):384-392.

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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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