Is Caffeine Disrupting Your Sleep Patterns?

Dr. Craig Hudson, MD | April 7, 2016


We often joke about caffeine being our go-to drug of choice - some people need a morning cup of Joe just to kick start their day, others rely on energy drinks to push through the afternoon slump. But does this quick-fix for productivity come at a price?

How Caffeine is Affecting Your Brain

Caffeine may be considered a stimulant, but most people tend to be in the dark about what that means. In an average day, the human body constantly produces the neurochemical adenosine. There are receptors in the nervous system specifically designed to monitor the production of adenosine. As the amount of adenosine that passes through these receptors increases, the more tired you become, so by the end of the day, you’re ready to go to sleep. Caffeine acts like a barrier between adenosine and its receptors. It stifles the flow of adenosine, which prevents you from getting sleepy. Caffeine isn’t so much an alertness booster, but a sleepiness silencer.

The nature of how caffeine works in our bodies is essentially why many people get hit with a wave of fatigue and tiredness come mid-afternoon. When your morning dose begins to wear off, all of that blocked adenosine is released ultimately causing you to feel tired again. This is when so many people reach for yet another caffeine boost, which can prove incredibly disruptive to your sleep schedule.

Caffeine’s Offsetting Effect on Your Sleep Cycle

How long does it take you to fall asleep at night? Most experts will tell you between 15 – 20 minutes is about average. Caffeine addicts often report struggling with this part of their nightly routine for anywhere between an hour to several hours. If this sounds familiar, you might be suffering from a caffeine-induced sleep disorder. You see, caffeine’s wonderful ability to keep you alert during the day, is also what’s preventing you from getting any shut-eye.

Avoiding caffeine before bed may be a no-brainer, but did you know it can also have a negative impact on your sleep if consumed 3, or even 6, hours before you head to bed? In a recent study, researchers found that people who consumed 400 mg of caffeine (about what’s in a medium coffee) 6 hours before bed reduced their sleeping time by at least 1 hour. Overall, the study found the length and quality of rest was disrupted by caffeine intake no matter how long before bed the caffeine was consumed—though participants were more aware of this impact if they consumed caffeine closer to bedtime.

If you find yourself suffering from insomnia, it may be time to take a closer look at your diet: sodas, teas, and of course coffee, are all loaded with caffeine, so try to steer clear of these crutches.

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