The Nutrition-Sleep-Hyperactivity Connection

The Nutrition-Sleep-Hyperactivity Connection

By Andrea Bartels CNP NNCP RNT
Registered Nutritional Therapist

07 Aug 2019

The Nutrition-Sleep-Hyperactivity Connection

Hyperactivity: if you haven’t experienced it, you’ve witnessed it. Take the toddler who just won’t settle down long enough to get into his pyjamas, let alone finish brushing his teeth or get into bed. Take the colleague who babbles at you, or interrupts your work every few minutes by bursting into your office with a fun fact or personal story. Surely we can all recall a classmate, who wouldn’t stop humming, doodling, cracking his knuckles or talking to his peers during the teacher’s lecture. What all of these examples have in common is hyperactivity, with resulting lack of focus and productivity.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common diagnosis in children, and some of the diagnosed are now adults trying to be productive, successful members of society. How can we help them?

Check all food labels for stimulating additives. Among the studied dietary triggers of ADHD are artificial preservatives, artificial colours, caffeine and sugar. Two specific preservatives associated with ADHD in children are sodium benzoate---found in prepared fruit juices and drinks---and BHT--- added to most cereal box bags to maintain freshness. Then there are the artificial colours, such as yellow number 5, and red number 40. Finally, there’s the obvious: refined sugar. Sugar is particularly pervasive, and since it is a rapidly absorbed source of energy, it can lead to excitability in certain individuals. All of these are often found in combination within processed foods, such as in ‘energy drinks’, yet are largely avoidable triggers to remove from one’s grocery list.

Improve Sleep Quality. It may seem counter-intuitive, but what if insufficient sleep can lead to ADHD? Usually, lack of sleep can make us feel groggy, and lead to trouble focusing on the task at hand. But what about hyperactivity? Let’s consider that for a moment. If the brain does not reach a sufficiently deep level of sleep, then this can certainly lead to inattentiveness. Then, as we struggle to focus, our bodies try to keep us alert with increased movement as we seek out stimulation to keep us awake. Some of us try to remedy this with a caffeine-containing beverage or a dose of chocolate, but to what end? The insomnia that may result from this choice just leads right back to where we started. (Read on to find out how to improve sleep quality.)

Natural Support for ADHD in Green Tea
Aside from its natural caffeine content, green tea has several therapeutic constituents. By far, the one that’s most promising for ADHD individuals is l-theanine. That’s because it has a calming effect that’s not going to interfere with focus; rather, it will serve to enhance it.

Not a stimulant, non-drowsy, and not addictive? Then how does it work?
Unlike the drugs prescribed for ADHD, l-theanine is not an amphetamine, or any other kind of stimulant. It may be used without side effects or concern of dependency or addiction. You might be wondering then, is l-theanine a sedative? Actually, l-theanine calms and focuses the mind in 2 ways. For one, l-theanine temporarily blocks the stimulating neurotransmitter, glutamine. We need glutamine as a building block for motivating neurotransmitters, but too much can cause hyper-excitability in some individuals. Secondly, l-theanine works by supporting the production of GABA, a more calming neurotransmitter. It does all this without inducing drowsiness, so it may be used at any time of the day without concern by those who need to be sharp at their jobs, their exams, or while operating heavy machinery.

A promising L-theanine study

A Canadian study spearheaded by Dr. Michael Lyon, MD of the Functional Medicine Research Center in BC looked at supplementing l-theanine to boys with formally-diagnosed ADHD. (Lyon chose to study boys because for every girl diagnosed with ADHD there are 3 boys diagnosed with it). Ninety-eight ADHD boys aged 8 to 12 were given 200 milligrams of l-theanine twice daily. The study results were impressive in that the l- theanine-supplemented boys showed an improvement in sleep quality, which is an important factor in poor concentration at school because sleep disturbances are associated with behavioural disturbances. Since hyperactivity is considered a behavioural problem, l-theanine could be an excellent choice for individuals for whom pharmaceuticals are either deemed inappropriate or unsafe.

Personalize your dosing
PureLab l-theanine comes in several forms so that it can be tailored to the situation. An individual who wants long lasting effects of the supplement can take a slow-release version of l-theanine, for all-day or all-night calm. An individual who is experiencing a more sudden episode of hyperactivity will have faster results with the chewable form, for rapid absorption. Meanwhile, individual who wants to use it preventively each day may use the standard encapsulated form with great flexibility with dosing.

Better Nutrition + Better Sleep = Better Behaviour
L-theanine, then, can be a highly appropriate supplement for children and adults with ADHD because it supports relaxation, focus and better sleep. The positive effects can be unlimited, since better quality sleep can reduce dependence upon stimulating processed foods and drinks, leading to a better nourished brain and neurotransmitter balance.


Beezhold BL1, Johnston CS, Nochta KA. Sodium benzoate-rich beverage consumption is associated with increased reporting of ADHD symptoms in college students: a pilot investigation. J Atten Disord. 2014 Apr;18(3):236-41

Julia R. Barrett. Diet & Nutrition: Hyperactive Ingredients? Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Dec; 115(12): A578.

Lyon, Michael R., Mahendra P. Kapoor, and Lekh R. Juneja. The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Med Rev 16.4 (2011): 348-354.

Dietz C1, Dekker M1. Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(19):2876-2905.

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