How much do you really know about caffeine and sleep?

12th February 2019

Read time is about 5 mins

How much do you really know about caffeine and sleep?

Is caffeine really the bad guy?

Whether you consider it a part of your morning habits, or a “necessity” to survive your work day, coffee consumption is on the rise, in Canada and elsewhere around the world. In 2018, over 70% of adults aged 18-79 answered “yes” when asked if they’d had coffee the day before.

In our increasingly busy world, people are relying more and more on caffeine to keep them awake. Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in the leaves of different plants. It’s commonly known to be in coffee, teas and energy drinks, and it’s also found in some foods and prescription drugs. But what are the consequences of this habit on your body and sleep?

Put on a fresh pot of coffee, and let’s chat about it.

The good news: caffeine can be healthy … in small amounts.

Although caffeine tends to receive a lot of bad press, when consumed in small amounts, it can be healthy. Did you know that it’s actually a rich source of antioxidants that help fight disease? In fact, some studies have linked it to a lower risk of Type 2 Diabetes, liver disease, even dementia.

Caffeine is an “alerting agent” that can have a positive effect on reaction, mental performance and concentration. Several studies have also linked caffeine to increased athletic performance when it comes to strength, power and endurance. It works by suppressing certain neurochemicals and stimulating others. Caffeine temporarily blocks the production of adenosine (a neurochemical that builds over the course of the day to make us sleepy), which enhances our attentiveness. Additionally, it suppresses melatonin, while increasing dopamine production. All of these actions make us more alert.

The bad news: caffeine can disrupt your sleep.

Unfortunately, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. When we start to rely on coffee for energy, or start replacing quality sleep with extra caffeine, we may begin to experience negative side effects. Over consumption of caffeine can disrupt your sleep and negatively affect your circadian rhythm. When your “body clock” is off, your sleep quality will suffer, which will often lead to even more caffeine consumption the following day.

The Mayo Clinic estimates that the average person can easily tolerate 400mg of caffeine a day (or about 20oz of coffee), but caffeine sensitivity varies greatly from person to person. For most, caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours, but lifestyle and other health factors can change that. People who are caffeine sensitive or have consumed too much caffeine could experience any of the following unpleasant side-effects: sweating, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, increased heart rate and even muscle tremors.

What can I do so that caffeine won’t affect my sleep?

There are several rules we recommend following to ensure health caffeine consumption. For starters, stick to roughly 400 mg of caffeine a day. Second, try to limit it to the morning or early afternoon. You can try establishing a “caffeine curfew,” and do your best to avoid caffeine in the late afternoons or evenings. If you drink coffee, it works best if you have it intermittently (not every day), as the body will build up a tolerance over time.

By sticking to these rules, you can enjoy the benefits of caffeine, while still making sure you’re getting a good night’s rest.

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