Tea and Sleep - Does Tea Help or Harm Sleeping?

By Alex Zorach

Tea, from the Camellia sinensis plant, contains caffeine, a stimulant which is known to interfere with sleep. However, the amount of caffeine in tea is significantly less than that in coffee, and tea contains other chemicals other than caffeine which impact the body's sleep cycle. Especially when compared to coffee drinking, drinking tea has been shown to have sleep benefits.

Caffeine Interferes With Sleep:

Consuming food or beverages that contain caffeine too late in the day can disrupt sleep and contribute to insomnia. Sleep loss can have serious impacts on health and performance, with negative impacts on ability to concentrate, immune system function, and creativity. The effect of caffeine varies widely from person to person, but it is best to avoid caffeine for 4-6 hours before bedtime, and more in sensitive individuals and people suffering from insomnia.

Sleep Benefits of Tea Compared to Coffee:

A study compared coffee use to tea use, and found that both beverages contribute to roughly similar boosts in alertness. However, the study also found that tea drinkers obtain the the same benefits in alertness and concentration as coffee drinkers, even though tea contains considerably less caffeine. In the study, tea drinking disrupted sleep significantly less than drinking coffee, which researchers theorized was probably due to the substantially lower caffeine content of tea.

L-theanine in Tea and Sleep Benefits:

Tea also contains L-theanine, an amino acid which has been found to play an important role in relaxation and contribute to health sleep. All teas contain L-theanine, but some types of teas, such as gyokuro, a Japanese green tea, have particularly high concentrations of this chemical.

Tea and Sleep Apnea:

Sleep apnea is a common and potentially devastating sleep disorder, involving pauses in breathing during sleep, resulting in interrupted sleep. This disorder is often manifested by snoring. Although it is not known whether or not tea can prevent or treat this disorder, there is some evidence that the antioxidants in green tea can at least prevent some of the damage caused by sleep apnea.

Herbal Teas for Sleep:

Herbal teas come from all plants other than the tea plant, and have widely variable effects on sleep. Some herbal teas can enhance sleep while others can disrupt it. Most herbal teas are caffeine free (with the exception of Yerba Mate and a few others) and are thus a better choice for drinking before bedtime and late in the day.

Valerian and kava have been shown to help treat sleep disorders, and there is some preliminary research that chamomile, hops, lavender, passionflower, and lemon balm may also be useful. However, kava and valerian are powerful drugs that should be used only under the consultation of a medical professional, not used casually as a beverage. Chamomile and lemon balm, however, are generally recognized as safe for beverage use.

Alex Zorach
Article by Alex Zorach
Alex Zorach has an M.A. in statistics from Yale University, and is an avid tea drinker and the creator of http://RateTea.net, an informational website about tea that allows users to rate and review teas. Read more about tea and sleep, including detailed references to scientific articles and studies on this topic.

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