Green tea is one of the healthiest beverages on earth: It’s full of flavonoids that can help reduce inflammation, aids in lowering bad cholesterol and can lessen your chances of heart attack or stroke, Harvard Medical School tells us—all important factors to counteract the effects of the day-old cheese stick and half a sleeve of crackers you sometimes refer to as “lunch.” But does this mean you can drink green tea before bed and reap all its healthy benefits? The short answer: No. Well, not if you want to get a good night’s sleep.
Wait, why can’t I drink green tea before bed?
While there’s three times more caffeine in one cup of coffee than there is in a mug of green tea (95 milligrams to about 30), this doesn’t make green tea a bedtime drink. In fact, it’s something you should avoid drinking in the evening in the same way you wouldn’t have a cup of caffeinated coffee an hour or two before bed.
“Green tea before bed wouldn’t be the best idea because it definitely does have caffeine in it,” says nutritionist Sarah Adler, author of Simply Real Eating. “Any amount is going to trigger your adrenals and hormones to be in a more awakened state. A cup or two earlier in the day or midday would be a better idea.”
Maybe I should play it safe and skip the green tea altogether?
Wait, no! Green tea is perfectly fine to drink once or twice a day. You might want to consider restricting yourself to two cups if you have a history of kidney stones, however, because both green and black teas contain high levels of oxalates that could lead to the formation of more, according to the National Institutes of Health. Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t super common (phew!), especially for those of us who aren’t susceptible to kidney stones.
Green tea is naturally loaded with polyphenols, which fight cancer, and it might even help you lose weight thanks to its fat-burning and metabolism-boosting abilities. Green tea can also help protect from Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s (diseases that have been directly linked to damaged neurons in the brain) via catechin, a compound that keeps the neurons in the brain from becoming damaged via accidents or head traumas and natural deterioration over time. Those catechins can also kill the bacteria in your mouth that cause bad breath and fight off common viruses like the flu (but this isn’t an excuse to skip your flu shot!).
“Green tea has high amounts of antioxidants too,” Adler says. “They help your system naturally detox, slow down the aging process and reduce inflammation—which can heal injuries and distresses to the body.”
What time can I drink green tea and not risk ruining my sleep schedule?
Green tea is packed with the amino acid L-theanine, a powerful anti-anxiety and dopamine-boosting (think good mood vibes) compound, says Meg Riley, a certified sleep science coach at Amerisleep. So it can definitely help us chill out on stressful mornings (like when your kids spend 30 minutes fighting against your effort to get their coats on and you end up late for work).
“The theanine in green tea reduces stress-related hormones like cortisol,” Riley says. “It also helps to relax neuron activity in the brain, and evidence shows that drinking green tea during the day can improve your sleep quality later that night.” Riley adds, however, that the caffeine in green tea can still keep you up, so it’s important to stop drinking it at least two hours before you hit the hay.
If it’s low in caffeine, why can’t I drink green tea at night?
It’s true that green tea doesn’t have enough caffeine to give you the jitters like some coffee drinkers experience, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have enough caffeine to keep you awake at night. Sipping some in the morning can give you an energy boost and even wake up your brain enough to perform better at work and carry out tasks that require more thought than tying your shoes, but all this also equates to a level of sharpness that’s not conducive to shut-eye.
“The caffeine in green tea can stimulate our alpha brain waves, which relates to an alert but calm feeling in the body—much different from the shaky feeling some experience after drinking coffee,” Adler says. She calls this balance between alertness and calm “the best of both worlds,” but says it’s best to luxuriate in it while combing over your morning emails and not as you’re winding down before bed.
What if I switch to decaf green tea?
Decaffeinated green tea has only 2 milligrams of caffeine in it—obviously not nearly enough to affect your sleep—so it’s true that, on paper, this looks like a no-brainer. The problem here, however, is that in order for the tea to be stripped of its natural caffeine, it has to go through a process that makes it become processed and, in effect, much less healthy.
“Opting for decaf green tea may not give you as many of the health benefits as regular green tea because decaffeinating it removes some of the tea’s powerful antioxidants,” Riley says. Darn.
Since decaf just doesn’t live up to its all-natural sister, it’s best to stick to regular green tea and to steep it in the morning and early afternoon. And that’s the tea.