Body,  Nutrition,  Sleep

Why Caffeine Ruins Your Sleep, Even If You CAN Fall Asleep

Coffee, green tea, chocolate… It seems like all good things come with a dose of caffeine. You’re probably been preached at before about all the dangers of caffeine. How it can keep you up at night, make you feel jittery, and overload your nervous system. While these things are all true, I actually want to take a different approach to this conversation because I’m not telling you to give up all sources of caffeine. I think the more important conversation revolves around understanding what it’s actually doing in our bodies and for how long. This way you can make an informed decision about that 3rd cup of coffee in the AM or that pick-me-up cup around 4.

You might be thinking something like this… “But if I can fall asleep, then caffeine isn’t affecting me, right?” “I mean, I still feel tired, so it’s all worn off by now anyway.” “I’m resilient to caffeine. I can have as much as I want, and it doesn’t bother me.”

Silent Sleep Killer

You’re right. You probably can fall asleep even after 12 cups of coffee and half a bar of chocolate. Especially if this is an every day occurrence and your tolerance is built up.

But did you know that even if you CAN fall asleep, caffeine can still wreak havoc on the quality of your sleep.

Caffeine takes up adenosine receptors so adenosine can’t use them. Adenosine is vital for every single cell in your body to function properly. All of this competition directly impacts brain functions including sleep. cognition, learning, & memory [1]. This is means your sleep is impacted, even if you can actually fall asleep. Being asleep doesn’t mean you’re getting good quality sleep.

Caffeine also inhibits GABA-A receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that basically turns on your chill [2]. When your nervous system is excited, GABA helps turn down the excitement. Again, this is going to directly impact the quality of your sleep. Your body won’t get into rest & digest mode as deeply and as early.

But, but…. Caffeine!

I can hear your thoughts right now. “But… but…. but… I can’t live without my caffeine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Yes, I hear every one of those desperate exclamation points straight from your mind. I get it.

Here’s the deal. In moderation and with the proper timing, you can avoid the sleep sabotage that comes from regular caffeine consumption.

Caffeine has a half-life of 5 hours in healthy people. However, it can actually take 1.5-9.5 hours to actually eliminate half of the caffeine from your system [3]. What does this mean for you? If you drink a cup of coffee at 9 am, it takes at least 5 hours for half of the caffeine in your single cup of coffee to work its way out of your system. By 2 pm, half of the caffeine is still there. By 7 pm, you’re left with 25%.

So what happens if you have a cup of coffee at 4 pm? Best case, you’re left with half of the caffeine in that cup at 9 pm when your body should be going into rest and digest mode for sleep. Instead you’re still hyped up on a stimulant!

I would recommend stopping your caffeine consumption by noon. Switch to decaf, trade your green tea for herbal, & don’t have that square of dark chocolate right before bed.

Caffeine’s Benefits

I know that by this point is kind of sounds like caffeine is a monster lurking in your coffee mug. But it’s not all bad!

There are benefits to caffeine consumption, so I’m not telling you that you’ve got to cut it out completely. It’s also a stimulant and can make you feel more perceptive and awake. You can even get a cognitive boost from caffeine because it releases different neurotransmitters in your brain [4].

The extent to which caffeine actually improves your brain, long or short term, is still highly debated. Also, it affects every person differently. The benefits you get may be different someone else, so it takes a little experimenting to know what the right number of cups is for you every morning to wake up and be ready to go without overdoing it.

Watch out for high doses, though. Too much caffeine can cause anxiety [5]. It’s all about balance!