The only good thing about crawling out of your comfy sheets each morning is starting your caffeine routine. Whether you’re into tea or coffee, caffeine is a stimulant that has an undeniable effect on our energy, alertness, and focus– all things that work against a restful sleep. So, when should we cut down on caf to ensure a good night’s rest, if at all? What are the long term effects of caffeine and sleep on our overall sense of awakeness? With a little research, we’ve got some answers for you.
How Caffeine Works
Americans consume more caffeine, on average, than any other population on Earth. About three times more, to be exact. What does this mean? Simply put, caffeine works by blocking adenosine, the chemical compound that (in high doses) promotes sleepiness within us. The reason we love it so much, aside from the delish beverages we find it in, is because it works instantly. In just a few seconds after our first sip, we experience all the benefits of caffeine.
When it Works… and When it Doesn't
The truth is, caffeine only has as much power as we give it. The more we intake, the more we’ll notice it’s eye-opening effect (literally). But, that’s only until we plateau. Over time, our bodies will adjust to caffeine and normalize our usual intake, making its day-to-day impact less noticeable. Our bodies ultimately build a tolerance to it.
This can be good and bad. When our caffeine intake is relatively low, we can still experience it’s positive effects despite some tolerance. Though, we often deal with this tolerance by drinking more coffee or tea, searching high and low for a midday fix, or turning to higher concentrations (we love a good espresso!). This isn’t so great for our sleep cycle.
Caffeine’s Effect on Sleep
Since it’s primary purpose is to block our sense of sleepiness, when ingested in high doses or late in the day, caffeine can be totally disruptive to our sleep cycle. One study found that we can lose an entire hour of sleep when we consume coffee roughly six hours before bed. The loss of deep sleep (when our bodies reach optimal rest) can leave us feeling especially exhausted in the morning, and rushing to another cup. Thus, the cycle continues!
Energy Boosting Alternatives
If what we’re seeking for when we reach for our favorite morning brew is a boost of energy, we should seek other methods for adding a little pep to our step. Especially once we arrive at midday and throughout the late afternoon. To minimize caffeine intake once morning ends, we can opt for a walk or short workout. Physical activity has proven to increase our energy bank over time. Another option is to include more energy-rich foods in our daily diets. This way, we’re replenishing our energy bank with each meal, avoiding burnout. Lastly, remain hydrated! Caffeinated beverages, especially those high in sugar, can be super dehydrating. Dehydration can make us feel tired and lethargic. Sometimes all your body is really asking for is more water.