In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid

J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(5):436-47. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2014.926153. Epub 2015 Mar 11.


Sleep deprivation is associated with an elevated risk of various diseases and leads to a poor quality of life and negative socioeconomic consequences. Sleep inducers such as drugs and herbal medicines may often lead to dependence and other side effects. L-Theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide), an amino acid naturally found abundant in tea leaves, has anxiolytic effects via the induction of α brain waves without additive and other side effects associated with conventional sleep inducers. Anxiolysis is required for the initiation of high-quality sleep. In this study, we review the mechanism(s), safety, and efficacy of L-theanine. Collectively, sleep studies based on an actigraph, the obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) sleep inventory questionnaire, wakeup after sleep onset (WASO) and automatic nervous system (ANS) assessment, sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve activities, and a pediatric sleep questionnaire (PSQ) suggest that the administration of 200 mg of L-theanine before bed may support improved sleep quality not by sedation but through anxiolysis. Because L-theanine does not induce daytime drowsiness, it may be useful at any time of the day. The no observable adverse effect level (NOAEL) for the oral administration of L-theanine was determined to be above 2000 mg/kg bw/day. KEY TEACHING POINTS: Sleep deprivation-associated morbidity is an increasing public health concern posing a substantial socioeconomic burden. Chronic sleep disorders may seriously affect quality of life and may be etiological factors in a number of chronic diseases such as depression, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. Most sleep inducers are sedatives and are often associated with addiction and other side effects. L-Theanine promotes relaxation without drowsiness. Unlike conventional sleep inducers, L-theanine is not a sedative but promotes good quality of sleep through anxiolysis. This review suggests that L-theanine is a safe natural sleep aid.

Keywords: OSA questionnaire; actigraph; automatic nervous system (ANS); l-theanine; sleep; wake up after sleep onset (WASO).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Glutamates / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • No-Observed-Adverse-Effect Level
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacology
  • Plant Leaves / chemistry
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Tea / chemistry


  • Glutamates
  • Plant Extracts
  • Tea
  • theanine