Caffeine-induced sleep disorders and how your health is affected
If you’ve got a bit of a “coffee habit”, every day is a balancing act. You crave the caffeine, but how much is too much? Which cup tips the balance and forecasts a sleepless night ahead? Fear not, we’ve got the 411 on all things caffeine.
Let’s start with the facts. Caffeine is not a coffee additive. It occurs naturally in coffee beans, but also 60 other types of plants, such as some varieties of tea leaves and cocoa. Caffeine is thought to be the most common drug on the globe, used by people around the world – for exactly the same reason. Falling under the category of stimulants, coffee is responsible for an estimated 54% of all caffeine assumption worldwide. About 85% of Americans use caffeine products daily.
How the caffeine buzz actually works to wake you up
Got your cup of coffee? Take a sip. You’ll begin to feel the beginning of a nice buzz within 15-20 minutes. Levels will peak at the 30 minute mark and stay there for at least another half hour. From here, the “caffeine residue” sticks like glue and will stay in your system for up to 6 hours. If you’re reading this after 2 pm, there’s a good chance that delicious cup coffee you just downed will impact your sleep tonight.
If you’re reading this – and drinking a cup of coffee – after dinner, falling asleep might feel like a Herculean task.
Caffeine wakes us up and keeps us buzzed by disrupting adenosine, a substance that helps promote sleepiness. It blocks those receptors, reviving you mid-afternoon or keeping you awake long after your bedtime.
A normal daily dose of caffeine is considered to be anywhere from 50 to 200 mg. With that in mind, note these caffeine counts:
- 330 mg for a 16 oz. large Starbucks coffee
- 148 mg for Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee (2 tsp)
- 135 mg for Tazo Awake-Brewed Tea (16 oz)
- 69 mg for Pepsi MAX (10 oz can)
- 168 mg for Monster Energy Drink
How the caffeine buzz affects your sleep health
Caffeine doesn’t just keep you awake. It can impact the quality of your rest by knocking your circadian rhythm sideways, according to one study. Your circadian rhythm is the control center for your body’s sleep and wake times. A disrupted body clock can smash your sleep quality and reduce your total sleep time.
Caffeine also decreases deep sleep, a crucial phase for functions like cell repair, for example. Research has found that coffee consumption within 6 hours of bed can reduce sleep time by one hour. That affect becomes more profound in older adults because the body takes longer to process caffeine.
There’s also evidence that higher levels of caffeine are problematic, especially for those with high blood pressure or cardiovascular issues.
Making the switch to healthier doses of caffeine
If you’ve been seriously hooked on coffee for a while and want to make a change, experts say it’s not a good idea to go cold turkey. Withdrawal symptoms can include: sleeplessness, irritability, headaches and low energy.
Instead, tweak your consumption to pare it down to the 300 to 400 mg a day range (about four cups max), then drop it down from there. Or aim for sources of caffeine with more modest amounts. While it’s true that tea has more caffeine than coffee pound for pound, you need a smaller amount of tea to make a cup of tea.
If you’re feeling sleep-deprived as you make the transition, try these 17 wake-me-up hacks!
You’ll also find small amounts of caffeine in chocolate, but choose a dark (70%) version which has 20 mg in a 1.5 ounce portion (the suggested daily amount). And bonus! It also has health benefits due to cocoa flavanols, from lowering your risk of diabetes to helping to decrease blood pressure. Most commercial chocolate bars (made with milk chocolate) have much lower levels of caffeine.
Some sodas have caffeine, too, but you’ll want to enjoy them in moderation because of the amount of sugar they contain. Or opt for a Diet Coke with 46.5 mg of caffeine or a Diet Pepsi (36 mg).
When you’re calculating your caffeine intake, consider sneaky sources, too. Did you know Mountain Dew has 53 mg and that two tablets of Extra Strength Excedrin have 130 mg? Whatever your preferred caffeine sources may be, just make sure that you’re avoiding them before bedtime.
The rewards of adjusting and reviewing how much caffeine you’ve been ingesting are significant. High on the list? You’ll get a better night’s sleep!