How Does Caffeine Affect My Sleep?

Dr. Dan JensenDiet, Overall Health, Research, Sleep

Sound Sleep Medical - How Does Caffeine Affect My Sleep?
Dr. Dan Jensen

Although legal, caffeine is a powerful psychoactive drug. Like other stimulants, caffeine supplies the central nervous system with added energy, yet is has another mechanism which blocks the action of adenosine on its receptor. Adenosine is the neuromodulator responsible for making us drowsy. So, you can see that caffeine both adds wakefulness to our minds through encouraging synapses to fire more quickly while also inhibiting our feelings of drowsiness. With knowledge of these facts, it will come as no surprise to you that caffeine affects our ability to sleep. And yet, caffeine is the most consumed drug in the world. Knowing a little more about the origins, mechanisms, and effects of caffeine can help us consume at a moderate level with as little effect on sleep as possible.

Where Does Caffeine Come From?

You may be familiar with caffeine in coffee and tea, but the drug is also found in over 60 other plants including cacao pods, mate leaves, and kola nuts. These plants are used to make food and drinks that deliver the drug to our systems. When the drug enters the body, it is extracted through the stomach and small intestine and delivered throughout the body via the bloodstream. The effect of caffeine can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after entering the body. However, once in the body, it takes a long time to dissipate, with some measures determining that only half of the caffeine in the bloodstream has been eliminated after 6 hours. Although the drug takes time to disappear from the bloodstream, it has a more rapid peak and dissolution than other naturally occurring stimulants, such as theobromine, which is found in cacao pods (and chocolate).

How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Although moderate use of caffeine has not been associated with any adverse health side effects, it can be detrimental in higher doses. Those who drink coffee all day long may be experiencing physical dependence on the drug. When the drug is removed, caffeine addicts may experience a wide array of symptoms, ranging from headaches to fatigue and muscle pain. For these reasons, it is not recommended for young children. Moderate use is defined as three 8-ounce cups of coffee (250 milligrams of caffeine) per day. Take note that these cups only contain 8 ounces each rather than the amount contained in a larger coffee mug. Excessive use is defined as 6 or more 8-ounce cups.

What are the Effects of Caffeine on Sleep?

Moderate use of caffeine, though not associated with serious health problems, can have a strong effect on sleep. The side effects of moderate use include increased alertness, reduced fine motor skills, insomnia, headaches, nervousness, anxiety, and dizziness. Other effects include a rapid heartbeat, excessive urination, a “caffeine crash” when the effects wear off, and sleep disturbances. These disturbances include the inability to fall asleep and restless sleep once it is achieved.

How to Curb the Effects of Caffeine on Sleep?

If you are a caffeine user, there are ways to get around these negative effects on sleep. First of all, try to keep your caffeine intake in the moderate level. The time of day also makes a difference. Only allow yourself to use caffeine in the morning, and discontinue use from the midday onward. Maintaining a regular sleeping and waking schedule is important, including a regular bedtime. Creating a soothing sleep environment can help, including a comfortable temperature, fabrics, and smells. Avoid bringing screens into the bedroom or the bed, as they can engage the mind in heightened activity. Discontinue eating, exercising, and alcohol intake two to three hours before bedtime. Although you may think that these activities can ease you into sleep, they can lead to restless sleep in many cases.

Visit Us at Sound Sleep Medical

Of course, if you have trouble sleeping, seeing a sleep specialist is an excellent step in the direction of rest. Our team at Sound Sleep Medical can help you diagnose your particular problems, including whether or not caffeine intake is having an adverse effect on your sleep. Be sure to keep track of your schedules and habits prior to your visit with the sleep specialist, because a detailed record of your behavior will be used to make a complete diagnosis.