Caffeine and sleep: A good mix?--NOT!


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We've all attempted the all-nighter before; Hours and hours of studying. Cramming and those necessary caffeine boosts. In a normal day though you might also consume caffeine; whether that be in a soft drink, coffee, or energy drink.

This blog poses an obvious question. Is caffeine and sleep a good mix? The answer is obviously no. But just how we analyzed the detrimental effects of smoking, I want to assess why caffeine and sleep are bad mix to help you gain a better understanding of why.

Caffeine is one of the most popular drugs in the world. Classified as a stimulant, eNotes explains that caffeine increases the activity of a living organism or one of its parts. This causes those jittery hands, jumpy feelings when you first drink coffee. Consuming caffeine speeds up the rate at which chemical reactions occur in the body. By increasing the heart and breathing rates, more oxygen is able to get to your brain keeping you more awake. Obviously then, getting sleep after consuming caffeine does not seem plausible. But how does caffeine work and for how long?

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It turns out that caffeine will begin to kick in once it enters the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine. This can cause a stimulating effect as soon as 15 minutes after it has been consumed. Once in the body, caffeine can persist for several hours: it takes approximately 6 hours for only half of the caffeine to be eliminated. This fact, found on the National Sleep Foundation's website, shocked me. I had no idea that caffeine could stay in your system that long! Usually when someone loses the initial "high" from caffeine, they will feel as though they need more and order another latte. I know I feel that way when I drink tea in the morning. Doing this though will further prolong the problem of getting the stimulant out of your system. By the time you are ready to crash for the night all of the caffeine may not have left your system.

Now many of you may be thinking that you need the caffeine to fix to prevent that crash from occurring earlier in the day. You may even feel that you are ultimately so tired that by the time you want to go to sleep you will be able to crash on your own. This is ultimately not true. A healthy sleep study done by Harvard explains that as the caffeine remains in your brain it can interrupt your sleep: "caffeine generally decreases the quantity of slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and tends to increase the number of awakenings." This can cause tossing and turning, choppy interrupted sleep, and the ending result of not feeling as rested. Caffeine also has the possible effect of creating anxiety.

Of course, there are different caffeinated products with different caffeine counts. Energy drinks differ greatly from tea. In further research I found that green tea might be your best alternative if you must have caffeine. In a study discussed on ViconyTeas.com, tea drinking disrupted sleep significantly less than coffee drinking. Researchers concluded this due to the substantially lower caffeine content of tea, as tea contains only a fourth of the caffeine content of coffee. Green tea, especially, is rich in polyphenols and healthy antioxidants like EGCG. So while it might not have as much caffeine, the tea has other means of helping you stay awake. Tea also has an amino acid called L-theanine which has natural sedative qualities. This will make it easier for you to fall asleep when you're ready to.

So next time you reach for that energy drink or poor a cup of coffee, think about your awaiting anticipation for blissful sleep later that day. Realize how your need for speed earlier in the day can later detriment your ability to sleep.

1 Comment

Hi Amy,
I am really glad you wrote about this because it is definitely a pertinent subject for us college students. I can't tell you how many midnight caffeine coffee runs I have done in the past four weeks of class for my friends. I generally try to avoid this habit because I know that if I drink caffeine after 3pm I will not be sleeping that night. In 11th grade I took a nutrition and wellness class and I remember being so surprised when my teacher told us that it can take up to 12 full hours for caffeine to leave the system completely. I also do my best to avoid caffeine because I really do not want to develop a caffeine dependance.
Check out this website for more information on caffeine dependance: http://www.caffeinedependence.org/caffeine_dependence.html#addiction

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