A hot, steaming cup of coffee: the perfect pick-me-up for your morning… or is it?
While you might love your coffee, it might actually be doing you more harm than good. While it can be a helpful boost for those mornings when you’re really dragging, over-consuming caffeine and having it at the wrong times can be truly destructive to your sleep health.
Unfortunately, too many of us rely on caffeine to get through our days. In fact, caffeine (usually in the form of a hot cup of coffee) is the most abused stimulant internationally! So, while coffee certainly isn’t bad in moderation (and can be quite delicious!), this type of widespread abuse we see across the world results in an overall lack of quality sleep and increase in irritability.
If you have noticed a connection between your daily caffeine intake and your lack of sleep, don’t worry! There is a fabulous alternative: matcha.
You might have heard of matcha before, as it was a huge food trend around 2015. Now, we see matcha lattes and smoothies in many shops. But matcha is more than just a past fad, and there was some method to the madness. Matcha is rich in antioxidants and has a plethora of health benefits, including benefits to sleep. This post will explain exactly what matcha is and detail these health benefits to show why it’s such a great alternative to coffee.
What is Matcha?
Matcha comes from the Japanese words for “ground” and “tea.” And, as its name suggests, matcha is ground tea.
Matcha is a form of green tea that is ground into a very fine powder. It is primarily recognizable due to its bright color. Matcha comes from the plant Camellia sinesis, which sources various types of teas including regular green tea, but what makes matcha stand out is the differences in its growing and processing preparations. These differences are what give matcha its distinct flavor and high concentration of beneficial biocompounds, like polyphenols (antioxidants).
The cultivation and preparation of matcha dates back almost 1000 years in areas like China and Japan. While most plants that create tea see sunlight for the entirety of their growth periods, the plants that are grown to make matcha are covered about two weeks before harvest. The growth that takes place in the shade requires the plants to make higher levels of cholorphyll, which contributes to the higher concentrations of biocompounds found in matcha. It also helps to make the leaves more sweet, soft, and bright.
Once the plants are harvested, the tea leaves are steamed, dried, and heated in an oven. All unnecessary parts of the leaves like twigs or stems are then removed, and the leaves are ground into the bright, fine green powder we know as matcha.
While matcha and green tea come from the same plant, matcha usually tastes sweeter and has a creamier texture in comparison to regular green tea. Many people find its flavor to be very earthy or “grassy” as well, especially if more powder is used. While the taste might not be for everyone, matcha can be a delicious alternative to coffee, especially for those who don’t react well to caffeine or have health issues that prevent them from enjoying coffee.
What Makes Matcha So Beneficial?
In comparison to regular green tea, matcha is more beneficial and offers more nutrients because of the way it is processed.
As mentioned earlier, the higher levels of chlorophyll that matcha’s growing process requires, there is a higher level of healthy biochemical compounds.
Additionally, you gain more nutrients because you are ingesting the entirety of the leaves (in powder form) rather than just the nutrients from tea leaf infusions in hot water.
Matcha contains high concentrations of polyphenols which work as antioxidants in the body. There is a large amount of research that shows polyphenols protect your health.
Catechins, a specific type of polyphenol, are extremely plentiful in matcha powder. The catechin EGCG is especially abundant in matcha and has many health benefits, including protecting against cell damage and reducing inflammation.
Matcha also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps the body make serotonin and melatonin, the two hormones that are necessary for healthy sleep cycles.
Matcha does in fact contain caffeine; it has higher levels of caffeine than regular green tea. Caffeine is good for an energy boost, as it is a stimulant. Caffeine provides some great benefits, like reducing the risk of several kinds of cancer and protecting against neurodegenerative disease. Of course, caffeine does have risks (which is why coffee might be doing you harm), like increasing the risk for depression or anxiety, exacerbating insomnia and/or other sleep disorders, and can cause gastrointestinal problems.
What sets matcha apart from other caffeinated compounds is that the effects of caffeine (those jitters you feel after a cup of coffee!) is greatly subdued in matcha. Why? Because of its high concentrations of the compound L-theanine, which promotes focus and relaxation at the same time. Might sound too good to be true, but we promise it’s 100% truth!
L-theanine is arguably the most beneficial compound matcha contains and is what earns matcha’s status as a food with wonderful health benefits. L-theanine works by stimulating production of neurotransmitters that enhance concentration and mood and promote sleep! So you don’t have to worry about that matcha latte keeping you up half the night.
L-theanine also reduces the neurotransmitters that cause stress and anxiety as well as the hormone cortisol that induces stress, boosts level of alpha brain waves which are linked to a calmer focus, and lowers blood pressure.
So, there are definitely plenty of natural compounds present in matcha that provide exceptional health benefits. Below, we detail exactly what some of these health benefits are.
Health Benefits of Matcha
- Protects Liver
The liver flushes out toxins and processes nutrients. In the past, drinking green tea has been associated with a lower risk of liver disease. Many studies have discovered a link between matcha and the liver, as matcha contains compounds that protect against liver damage. More research needs to be done on the topic, though.
2. Aids in Weight Loss
It’s common knowledge that green tea aids in weight loss/weight management. It is believed to help boost metabolism and fat-burning.
3. Boosts Brain Function
The catechin present in matcha that we mentioned earlier, EGCG, is proven to protect brain cells. Evidence shows that matcha can help prevent age-related neurodegenerative diseases, like dementia. Research also indicates that matcha helps with cognitive performance; it improves attention, reaction time, and memory.
4. Prevents Cancer
The various compounds present in matcha all have benefits, some of which protect and fight against cancer. Leukemia, breast, and colorectal cancers are just some of the cancers that matcha helps to protect against.
The catechin EGCG has also been shown to kill cancer cells, prevent tumor growth, and slow the movement of cancer cells. Newer research on matcha indicates that EGCG can even help make cancer cells respond more effectively to chemotherapy!
5. Protects Heart
As the leading cause of death worldwide, heart disease is a big concern.
Research shows that the compounds like EGCG in green tea and matcha can lower risk for developing high blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. It also helps reduce inflammation and may even aid in preventing atherosclerosis and heart attack.
6. Benefits Metabolic Health
Research suggests that matcha has anti-diabetic effects. The catechins and other polyphenols present in matcha and green tea helps lower blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. In particular, matcha has been linked to improving blood sugar and insulin function.
The catechin EGCG alone has been associated with speeding up metabolism, so, as previously stated above, matcha can be helpful in aiding weight management as well as improve metabolic health.
7. Promotes Healthy Sleep
Finally, matcha can promote healthy sleep, which makes it an even more suitable source of caffeine than coffee, which can negatively affect sleep.
The presence of the compound L-theanine helps reduce levels of cortisol, which induces stress and anxiety. L-theanine reduces our responses to stress as well, directly helping those with depression or anxiety disorders to get better sleep.
Matcha also contains tryptophan, which can increase serotonin and melatonin levels, which are the hormones necessary for sufficient rest and healthy sleep cycles.
EGCG’s anti-inflammatory properties also can aid in getting healthy sleep.
There is clearly a plethora of health benefits that matcha provides to the body that makes including it in a healthy diet worth trying!
How to Use Matcha
The first thing to keep in mind when using matcha is that you only want to use organic matcha. Organic matcha will taste the best and it has the highest-quality production standards. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive, but the quality is worth it!
Matcha can be used in many different ways. You can add it to hot or cold drinks like tea, milk lattes, or smoothies. Our personal favorite way to drink it is with steamed (or simply heated) coconut milk, which makes for a lightly-sweet latte. Matcha isn’t limited to beverages, though. You can also use it in your cooking and baking. It makes an especially great addition to energy bite recipes!
Another thing to note: a lot of matcha products come sweetened and contain added sugars. We recommend reading the labels to double check, and make sure you get unsweetened matcha powder, as you should limit your added sugar consumption. And yes, the matcha latte at Starbucks is sweetened, so it’s best as an occasional treat. You can make your own at home!
You may wonder when is the best time to have matcha. If you’re looking to benefit from its cognitive benefits like increased focus, wait a couple of hours after you first wake up, when your cortisol levels first begin to dip. On the flip side, matcha is safe to have closer to bedtime if you are trying to take advantage of its relaxing effects. This is a personal preference, and every person’s body works differently. You might find that having matcha an hour or two before bed actually aids in your sleep. Others might find it keeps them more alert due to its caffeine content.
Whatever the case, be sure not to overdo it. Matcha’s caffeine content is balanced out by the presence of L-theanine, but you should still watch your caffeine consumption whether you’re drinking espresso or a matcha latte. One serving is plenty; less is more!
If you have a sensitivity to caffeine, are pregnant or nursing, or take medications that interact with caffeine, check with your physician before adding matcha into your diet.
The Bottom Line
However you prefer to use matcha in your diet, there’s no doubt it’s a beneficial addition! It packs a powerful punch of antioxidants and nutrients that benefit your body in many different ways.
If your coffee is giving you the jitters or keeping you up at night, this might be a great alternative for you with a bonus for more nutrients and health benefits.
Regardless of your caffeine consumption throughout the day, if you or a loved one are struggling with chronic snoring, insomnia, or other sleep issues, don’t let it ruin your overall health. Here at Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia, we have a highly-trained team of sleep specialists dedicated to your health and wellbeing. With at-home sleep tests, a secure telemedicine portal, and online scheduling, we make the process of diagnosing and treating sleep disorders as easy as possible. Your comfort is our top priority!
Take control of your health today! Schedule an appointment online today or call us at (703) 689-2480 for a free consultation. Please keep in mind that if you are dealing with snoring, you may be asked to use the app Snorelab to monitor your sleeping patterns prior to your first appointment.