The Coffee Dilemma: How Does This Brain Stimulant Affect Your Sleep

Every morning, you get up from your bed and head straight to the kitchen to brew yourself a fresh, steaming cup of coffee. It’s like a ritual, and you actually look forward to it every day. You just can’t seem to get enough of that feeling that comes with taking the first sip of your first cup of coffee!

But have you ever wondered how this cup of coffee can be affecting your brain, particularly your sleep?

To make sure you maintain a healthy sleep cycle, it is important that you understand how coffee can impact your sleep. This article will explain the effects of caffeine on people of different categories and age groups based on scientific evidence. So keep reading!

Caffeine and Sleep

Coffee and Sleep

Caffeine, the main ingredient of coffee, has a massive tendency to affect sleep in humans. Scientists have also found a strong association between drinking coffee and experiencing increased daytime sleepiness and reduced quality of sleep. Some commonly documented effects of coffee on sleep include:

  1. Shorter duration of sleep (1)
  2. Longer sleep latency (2)
  3. Shortening of deep sleep (3)
  4. Frequent awakenings during sleep (4)

The exact way in which caffeine affects your sleep obviously varies from person to person, depending on the amount of coffee you consume throughout the day and right before bedtime. Other factors that determine the sensitivity of most people towards coffee and its effects on sleep include age, genetics, and the exact time of coffee consumption. Let’s discuss all this and much more in detail now.

How Caffeine Keeps You Wide-awake

How does coffee keep you wide awake?

Before discussing anything else, let’s refresh your knowledge on how a cup of coffee can keep you wide-awake, despite having a strong urge to lay down and sleep.

It all comes down to caffeine, a notorious stimulant of the central nervous system. Caffeine directly acts on adenosine, a chemical that your brain keeps producing as long as you are awake. This means that the longer you are awake, the more adenosine there will be in your system. And the higher the levels of adenosine get, the sleepier you feel since it is a potent sleep inducer. (5,6)

Caffeine directly interacts with adenosine to reduce its levels, and the sleepiness automatically goes away.

Within your body, consider caffeine like an uninvited guest at a party: It arrives unannounced and peaks early, but continues to linger on for a very long time, even after the party has ended. Just like that, caffeine enters the system as soon as you take a sip of your coffee, and the effects peak within the first 60 minutes. This is why most people feel energized as early as 15 minutes of drinking this very stimulating beverage.

But that quick onset doesn't mean a quick discharge! You won'tl get rid of this stimulant from your system anytime soon. In fact, caffeine will stay in your body for a long time, gradually and slowly decreasing in concentration. You can practically feel its effects slowly wearing off after a few hours of consumption.

According to the FDA, caffeine has a half-life of around six hours. (7) As soon as you drink coffee, you will start experiencing its stimulating effects right away. After peaking in about sixty minutes, its concentration in your blood will start declining, and reduce to only half of its initial amount within six hours. Then, during the next six hours, it will be completely out of your system. So suppose if you consume 100mg of caffeine at around 10 in the morning, you’ll still have approximately 25mg of it running through your body at 10 at night. It doesn't just go away as quickly as your buzz might!

So What Does Caffeine Do As It Circulates Through Different Parts Of Your Body? 

The primary effect of caffeine is making it harder for you to fall asleep, at least initially. This is called prolonged sleep latency and people experiencing it can lay in their beds with their eyes wide open and no signs of sleep. But that’s not the only way caffeine affects your sleep. In addition to making it difficult to fall asleep, it can also force you to get up frequently throughout the night, reducing the total duration of your sleep time and seriously affecting the quality in a negative way. Interestingly, caffeine also decreases the time you spend in the deepest stage of sleep.

Why Caffeine Hits Everyone Differently?

Why does coffee affect everyone differently?

By now, you are clear about how coffee can affect your sleep. But remember that no rule can exactly predict how this drink is going to affect every person, as there is a possibility of a lot of variation.

For some people, even two, full-blown double espresso shots may not be enough to cause any disturbance, while for others, a simple cup of black tea can be enough for jitteriness to kick in.

So what’s the deal?

According to scientists, there are different factors and elements that decide how a person reacts to caffeine. For example, the rate at which your body metabolizes caffeine and your natural sensitivity to this chemical varies from one person to another and mainly depends on genetics. Experts also speculate that there might also be certain genetic variations in terms of adenosine receptors in the body that may alter how you react to a cup of coffee.

Then, there are variable lifestyle factors, such as the amount of coffee you drink and how regularly you drink it. Lastly, medical variables, like the use of certain medicines, also considerably affect how caffeine affects your sleep.

You may be interested to know that the way caffeine affects your body and sleep can also change over the years. For some people, the sensitivity to this chemical increases with age, so if you notice how your regular espresso is getting too much to handle all of a sudden, it might be because your body has gotten more sensitive to caffeine.

Caffeine Interfering With Sleep: What to Do About it?

Caffeine Interfering With Sleep: What to Do About it?

If you are one of those lucky people who keep drinking all the coffee they want throughout the day yet manage to sleep like a baby every night, congratulations! However, please note that studies show that those who say their sleep is not impacted by caffeine, actually show disruptions to their sleep cycles at night. So be aware that while you don’t necessarily feel the impact, there is a chemical shift within our brains that can occur due to consuming caffeine so close to bedtime.

If you are one of those unfortunate ones who end up staying wide awake all night long just because you had a tiny bit of coffee a little closer to bedtime, you’ve got to get over this problem, and as soon as possible.

So What Can You Do About This Problem?

The first thing to do is set a time past which you must absolutely avoid caffeine at all costs. As a general rule of thumb, most people must stop drinking coffee at least eight hours before their usual bedtime. If you correctly follow this rule, caffeine will be almost out of your system by the time you lay down to get some sleep.

However, considering the variability that exists regarding how everyone responds to this chemical, it is important that you try out this rule for yourself and determine your cut-off time that works best according to your own body. This may be time-consuming for many but experts believe that trial and error is usually necessary if you are looking to find the right balance for yourself.

For some people, the individual results might be surprising and completely different than the officially issued guidelines. For example, you may find out that your body is perfectly capable of drinking coffee as late as 4 p.m. which is something that a doctor doesn’t normally recommend. You may also find that cutting down the amount of caffeine you consume may work better instead of controlling its time of consumption. Lastly, some people may also notice an improvement in their sleep cycle as soon as they switch to a decaf version of their usual coffee.

Irrespective of what suits your body the best, experts advise making the transition slowly and smoothly. This is because caffeine is highly addictive, and if you have been regularly consuming it for some years, chances are you have some level of addiction to it. In such cases, suddenly changing your daily caffeine routine can lead to potential side effects like a headache, irritability, and drowsiness. So make sure to take it slow and steady.

Some other tips to to improve your sleep include:

  • Maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule and sticking to it, even on the weekends
  • Sleeping in a perfect sleep environment that is cool, quiet, dark, and comfortable
  • Set a regular bedtime routine and include a relaxing activity such as a hot shower or soothing music
  • Have your dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before your usual bedtime
  • Avoid smoking as much as you can

In a Nutshell 

Coffee and Sleep

Caffeine can be your emergency savior on days you are feeling extremely lazy and low on energy. But this does not mean you should potentially start abusing it. This chemical is a potent brain stimulant and tends to affect your sleep in multiple ways. It makes it harder to fall asleep and reduces the overall sleep quality, there are several ways how caffeine can negatively affect you and your routine. So make sure you use it with caution and care.

To Your Health and Happiness, Doctor Danielle

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