Caffeine and Sleep
Caffeine plays a large role in a lot of people’s lives whether in the form of coffee, tea, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. Today we live in a society that is always on the go and always needing more things done with not enough time to do it. So you turn to caffeine to help you power through the day. How much and when you consume caffeine can have a lasting impact on the quality of sleep you get.
The Why: Caffeine is a stimulant as you know. It increases heart rate, alertness, and concentration. All of these qualities work wonderfully in the morning for getting the day started and for diving into your work. The problem arises when you are drinking coffee or some other source of caffeine later in the day to try and make it to the finish line. Caffeine has a half life of around 5 hours, but for some people this can be even longer depending on how your body breaks it down.
What does half life mean? Half life is a term used for how long it takes for a compound to be broken down half way.
How does caffeine affect sleep?
What does this have to do with your sleep? Let’s look at an example. Jennifer gets up in the morning and has a coffee from the drive thru at 7:00am. The coffee has 150mg of caffeine. She gets to work and does some paperwork and spreadsheets and grabs another coffee from the break room around 11:00am. This coffee has 80mg of caffeine in it. Afternoon rolls around and that energy crash comes on strong around 3:00pm. This is normal for everyone to have a low energy point somewhere between 1-3pm. It coincides with your cortisol/melatonin cycle. Cortisol dips around this time of day. Jennifer has one last cup of coffee to get through to the end of work at 3pm at 80mg. The total caffeine is 310mg. The caffeine from her first cup of coffee breaks down like this.
9.3mg @3am the next day
4.6mg @8am 25 hours from when she consumed it
2.3mg @1pm 30 hours after she drank it
Now remember this is just from the first cup. This does not take into account the other cups of coffee that she consumed later in the day. Those other cups had a cumulative effect on the amount of caffeine in her body. When she tries to lay down to go to sleep at 11pm she is still feeling pretty wired because she has the equivalent of almost a standard cup of coffee worth of caffeine still in her bloodstream. This also does not take into account caffeine from the previous day that could still be in her system also.
Does this sound like you? Do you lay awake in bed exhausted, but wired? Start keeping track of your caffeine consumption along with this new knowledge of how caffeine works in the body. You may need to adjust how much and when you are drinking that latte or espresso. Ideally, the max amount of caffeine you should consume per day is 200mg or less.
Consuming caffeine also has a diminishing return if you consume it regularly. Meaning you get less and less benefit from it unless you are consuming larger amounts. Your tolerance gets higher.
How to use caffeine as a tool
Do you want to increase your productivity? Do you want to have an advantage over other athletes and coworkers? Then it is wise to use caffeine strategically instead of consuming it ad hoc. When you prioritize your sleep, and are able to get high quality and of sufficient duration, then you should not need caffeine just to make it through the day. Now you have the power to use it when you really need it. Do you have a presentation to give in the morning? Now is the time to have that cup of coffee. It will increase your alertness and focus and have you on top of your game. Remember also, it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine to start having an effect and up to an hour before it is at full circulation in your body.
Try This: Take stock in your caffeine consumption. When are you consuming a caffeinated beverage or food (anything chocolate or coffee flavored)?
If you consume caffeine, aim to stop consuming it by 12-1pm. This will give your body sufficient time to break it down enough to not interrupt sleep.
Keep in mind, everybody is different in which the speed they process caffeine. You may need to cut out caffeine even sooner.
If you are a heavy caffeine drinker, go slow with removing caffeine from your diet. This will reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Instead of removing a bunch all at once, start by having three quarters or half the amount that you usually have in each cup. You could cut it with decaf if you want the volume to be the same. Once you do that for a week reduce it again by half. Keep repeating this until you get to the amount you are comfortable with or are ready to drop it completely.
If you still crave that cup of coffee in the afternoon consider decaf. The taste and cue of drinking it can trick your brain and make you feel energized without the caffeine. The best option drink your decaf while outside getting some light. I bet you will feel better than Steve who stayed inside for his caffeine fix.