Why Caffeine Can Become Your Sleep Enemy
Do you like drinking coffee or tea? Is it something that you MUST have to get your day started? Many of us rely on caffeine to keep ourselves awake and alert during the day which is great…except that if there’s “residual” caffeine in your system when you go to bed, it can be hard to fall asleep. In fact, caffeine is one of the most common reasons why people experience insomnia.
I’m not fixated to needing caffeine to start up my day. However, I do take in caffeine from time to time, mostly for the taste of coffee or tea rather than for the boost in alertness. I’ve found myself rolling and tossing on my bed too many times in the past just because I don’t feel “tired.” The truth really is that I don’t feel tired because there’s too much caffeine in my system and that’s what’s keeping me awake!
What Does Caffeine Do To Your Body?
So why does caffeine keep us awake and alert? Well, for one, it is a stimulant which works by blocking out sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain, also known as melatonin. Melatonin is the primary hormone needed for sleep synchronization. Its secretion is controlled by neurotransmitters which are affected by caffeine. So basically, caffeine can keep you awake even though you’re feeling extremely exhausted. Trust me, it is not a nice feeling to have. Second, caffeine causes your adrenal glands to release adrenaline, which we all know what that means.
A study was conducted in the early 2000’s to investigate the effects of coffee consumption on sleep and melatonin secretion. In a double-blind experiment set-up, six volunteers drank either decaffeinated or regular coffee and sleep parameters for these volunteers were monitored. Levels of melatonin was also monitored in this study. The study concluded that:
Drinking regular caffeinated coffee, compared to decaffeinated coffee, caused a decrease in the total amount of sleep and quality of sleep, and an increase in the length of time of sleep induction.
In short, caffeine disrupts the quality of sleep you get.
My Experience With Sleep and Caffeine
In the past, whenever I had to work late nights, I would pump myself up with coffee at night. Sure it would keep me awake and “alert,” enough for me to put in several more hours of work, but at the same time, I suffered dearly for not being able to sleep well. In fact, caffeine allows me to be alert…but only to a certain degree. My mind is certainly never fully alert when I try to stay awake with caffeine.
Another reason why caffeine is a sleep enemy is because its effects of inducing sleeplessness carries forward to the next day. In other words, having the lack of sleep due to caffeine intake affects the following day as well, causing fatigue. And for most people, the cycle will start again – take caffeine to boost alertness, experience sleeplessness and insomnia, wake up feeling fatigued, take caffeine again – without them even knowing it! This is exactly what happened to me a few years back.
Breaking the Cycle – What Works For Me
Sounds familiar? The good news is that breaking the cycle is possible, but does require some time and discipline. You can either start by gradually reducing your caffeine intake or by completely cuting off caffeine, whichever feels right to you. For me, I’ve gone with the latter route, and I will warn you in advance that you’ll feel pretty crappy for a few days (i.e. tired, exhausted and low on energy all the time). With the first route, you’ll tend to be less affected, however , you will require more time to get used to the new routine. Looking back, I would probably have done it differently. I would probably try out different times I drink coffee/tea and see if it helps me sleep better.
Just to clarify, what I’m saying is that you don’t have to COMPLETELY cut off your caffeine intake. What I do mean is to test out different routines and find one that works best for you. For most people, myself included, having caffeine BEFORE a certain time in the day still allows for a good night’s sleep. As an example, for most people, making sure that they don’t take caffeine after 2 PM seem to work best. This is different for different people, so be sure to test out different times to see which one works.
Is Caffeine Bad?
Many people draw conclusions that the intake of caffeine is either “bad” or “good.” Like many habits and routines, associating something as “bad” or “good” is really based on perspective. For me, the conclusion is crystal clear – do everything in moderation and stick to whatever makes you happy and healthy. Finding the balance of when and how much caffeine to take does involve some self experimenting, but once you’ve figured out the right formula, you’ll realize that it’s definitely worth the effort!
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