Coffee and Sleep: Everything You Need to Know
Coffee is more than just a stimulant, for many people, it's a creature comfort. From its rich scent to the warmth it provides and the energy it gives, it's no wonder so many people rely on it to get through the day. But there's one thing that coffee and sleep don't mix: caffeine.
Many people can turn to a cup of coffee in their afternoon and still get a good night's sleep, but for some, drinking coffee too late in the day can lead to insomnia. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can take up to 8-10 hours to completely leave your system. That means if you have a cup of coffee after lunch, it can still be affecting you when you lay down to sleep at night.
It's important to know your own body and how it responds to caffeine, so let's take a look at everything to do with coffee and sleep, so that you can best decide how to use it in your life.
The Basics of Caffeine
Caffeine consumption has increased worldwide dramatically, and there's no real confusion on the "why?" Simply put, we're all busier than ever and need something to give us that extra edge of energy and productivity. Caffeine does just that.
Caffeine acts on your body by blocking adenosine, the neurotransmitter responsible for making you feel sleepy. It also increases the production of dopamine, which helps you focus and stay alert. Caffeine is a mild stimulant, and it takes around 45 minutes to reach peak concentration in the bloodstream.
Caffeine also has a half-life of between 4-6 hours, meaning that if you consume 200mg of caffeine, then 4 hours later you'll still have 100mg in your system. This is why it's important to be aware of the time you're consuming your caffeine, and adjust your intake accordingly.
This delicious beverage has been around for centuries, with coffee beans first discovered in the 11th Century. Today, coffee is a popular drink across the world, and it's estimated that over 90% of Americans and Canadians over the age of 18 consume some sort of coffee drink on a regular basis.
Caffeine: The Amount in Your Cup Matters
A single 8-ounce cup of coffee can range from 95 to 200mg of caffeine depending on the number of shots of espresso or teaspoons of instant coffee. In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority proposed that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day from all sources is safe for adults in general. But, consuming more than 400mg of caffeine can cause symptoms like headaches, palpitations, anxiety, dizziness and the jitters.
It can be difficult to determine the exact amount of caffeine needed to help manage sleep, as it can vary by individual, but it should not exceed 400 mg per day. Any more than that can be dangerous and lead to serious health issues, especially if combined with other stimulants.
Overall, it's important to be aware of the amount of caffeine in your coffee and limit consumption accordingly. Even if it seems like you need that extra cup of coffee, it's still important to be conscious of the amount of caffeine you're consuming, especially if you want to get a healthy amount of sleep that night. When in doubt, stick to the smaller cup and practice moderation, as well as only consume coffee in the mornings.
How Does Coffee Affect the Way You Sleep?
To answer this question, we first need to understand the way coffee is absorbed into our bodies and converted into energy. Caffeine is a stimulant, meaning it can increase alertness and energy levels by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine from binding to its receptors. This causes the release of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which can lead to increased focus and alertness.
After taking a sip of coffee, it travels quickly to the small intestine where it is absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, it is distributed throughout the body and begins to take effect within 20-45 minutes. Peak levels are usually reached within 30-45 minutes, and caffeine can remain in the body for up to 6 hours.
Caffeine affects sleep by delaying the onset of REM sleep, which is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It can also reduce the total amount of time spent in REM sleep, causing fatigue and grogginess the following day. Additionally, drinking coffee late in the day can disrupt nighttime sleep patterns, as the effects of caffeine can last up to 6 hours.
When you are unable to sleep, your body will produce cortisol, the stress hormone, which can lead to further difficulty sleeping. This can create a lasting cycle that can be difficult to break, especially if those disruptions in your sleep occur night after night and break up your circadian rhythm (the biological clock that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle).
The Circadian Rhythm: Coffee's Impact
The circadian rhythm is an internal 24-hour clock that influences a variety of bodily functions, including when we sleep, wake, and eat. It is regulated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is a bundle of neurons located in the hypothalamus. These neurons are sensitive to light and dark, helping determine when and how long you should sleep.
Caffeine can disrupt the circadian rhythm by interfering with the SCN's light sensitivity. For example, if you drink coffee late in the day, the caffeine will block the SCN's ability to detect darkness, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep when you should. This can also lead to an overall reduction in the amount of time spent in REM sleep, which can lead to fatigue and sleepiness the following day.
Caffeine can also affect the production of the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate the circadian rhythm. Caffeine can block the production of melatonin, making it harder to fall asleep at night. Melatonin is a hormone that is naturally released in the evening when the sun goes down, and it helps signal to your body that it is time to go to bed.
The impact of caffeine on the circadian rhythm is complex and can vary from person to person. Some people may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others, and the amount consumed can also make a difference. For example, drinking coffee in the morning is less likely to disrupt your circadian rhythm than drinking it in the evening. Additionally, it is important to be aware of how caffeine affects your sleep, as it can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and a range of other health issues.
Is it Possible to Drink Coffee and Still Fall Asleep?
Maybe you've run into a person or two who tells you that coffee has no effect on them, or that they can drink it and still fall asleep. While it is possible for some people to drink coffee and still fall asleep, it is not advisable for most people to do so.
Because of the stimulating effects of caffeine, drinking coffee too late in the day can cause difficulty falling asleep and can lead to insomnia. People who are sensitive to caffeine may find it especially difficult to fall asleep if they consume it late in the day. Furthermore, drinking coffee can also interfere with the body's natural production of melatonin, which is the hormone responsible for inducing sleep.
Many people have more frightening dreams or nightmares when they drink coffee late in the day, as caffeine increases alertness and can make dreaming more intense.
Therefore, if you are looking to have a good night's sleep, it is best to avoid drinking coffee late in the day or close to your bedtime.
What To Drink Instead of Coffee
If you need a good nights rest and it's too late to have a cup of coffee, don't worry, there are still plenty of other drinks to choose from that can help wake you up.
1. Tea: Teas come in different varieties, from green to black, and contain varying amounts of caffeine. Tea is a great alternative to coffee for those who want a boost of energy without the jittery feeling that coffee can bring.
Green and black tea: These have the highest amounts of caffeine and can give you an energy boost, but just like coffee, be careful before drinking these before you need to sleep. Green tea can have up to 70 milligrams of caffeine per cup, while black tea can have up to 90 milligrams.
Yerba mate: Yerba mate is an herbal tea made from the leaves of the South American holly tree. It has been found to contain more antioxidants than green tea and is a great alternative to coffee if you’re looking for an energy boost. It has around 85 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
Matcha: Matcha is a type of green tea powder that is made from ground up green tea leaves. It contains even higher levels of antioxidants than regular green tea and has around 60 milligrams of caffeine per cup.
Herbal tea: Herbal teas are made from different kinds of herbs and spices and don’t contain any caffeine at all. They’re a great way to relax and unwind without having to worry about any caffeine keeping you up late. However, the warm and comforting feeling of a cup of herbal tea can still help you feel more awake and alert.
2. Water: Water is essential for keeping our bodies hydrated, and it can also help keep us alert. Try drinking a glass of water when you need a boost of energy and you’ll be surprised at how refreshed you feel.
3. Juice: Juices are high in vitamins and minerals and can help give you an energy boost, but the sugar levels can also promote wakefulness. Try drinking a glass of orange juice or a smoothie in the afternoon for a natural energy boost.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.