How Does Caffeine Affect Sleep Quality?

How Does Caffeine Affect Sleep Quality?

From Buzz to Zzz: Unpacking How Caffeine Affects Sleep Quality

If you’re among the 7% of Americans who don’t consume caffeine of any kind, we congratulate you for your bravery. This article is not for you.

The other 93% of us depend on caffeine for energy during the day. Alongside breakfast and a commute, many consider caffeine a morning routine staple. Whether it’s a cup of coffee, tea, or an energy drink, caffeine provides a reliable jumpstart that prepares many Americans to face the day.

The benefits of caffeine are well-documented. It can make you feel energized and alert, helping stave off residual drowsiness. It can also improve short-term brain performance, even if this benefit is partially a placebo. Most importantly, it helps people feel wide awake, despite any issues in sleep quality or longevity.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, one many people depend on without fully understanding how it might affect the body. Among other drawbacks, caffeine can severely hamper your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep — leading many modern professionals into caffeine use disorder or an unhealthy dependency.

Let’s explore what caffeine can do to your sleep quality — and what you can do to limit its effects.

How Does Caffeine Impact Sleep?

As a stimulating energy driver, most commonly sourced from coffee beans. It’s also found in certain types of cacao beans and added to various energy drinks. As a water soluble fat, it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier and antagonize your A2a receptors.

Long story short, it emphasizes feelings of wakefulness for approximately 3 to 5 hours.

Caffeine is proven to impact sleep in several ways. It can decrease your sleep quality and longevity. It can also disrupt circadian rhythms and increase the number of times you wake between evening and morning.

Here are more ways caffeine can negatively impact your sleep quality:

  • Sleep onset delay: Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in your brain, which typically promote sleepiness.
  • Decreased deep sleep: Caffeine also decreases slow-wave sleep (SWS), otherwise known as deep sleep. Deep sleep improves memory retention, immune functionality, and cell regeneration. 
  • Increased sleep latency: Caffeine can affect sleep latency, the average amount of time it takes you to fall asleep. This leads to longer transition periods between sleep and wakefulness.
  • Withdrawal: Reducing your caffeine intake can create withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, and anxiety.
  • Interference with sleep disorders: Caffeine can aggravate sleep disorder symptoms. Insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), and other disorders are sometimes made worse by caffeine-related disturbances.
  • Elevated heart rate: Caffeine will increase your heart rate in the hours after consumption. This makes it more difficult to embrace sleep as the day winds down.

Your body likely has its own reaction to caffeine, one that might differ from others. You may experience changes to your metabolism, food sensitivity, even overall caffeine tolerance.

How Else Does Caffeine Affect the Body?

Besides sleep, caffeine can also impact other natural bodily processes. Mild reactions to caffeine include anxiety, restfulness, and fidgeting — especially for the average American that consumes three cups of coffee each day. It can also lead to muscle tremors and increased urination. Some people notice increased irritability, headaches, or an upset stomach after consuming caffeine. 

Caffeine can also lead to a variety of severe reactions in the body. For example, caffeine has been known to cause hallucinations, seizure, or psychosis. In many cases, caffeine can trigger or worsen symptoms of other underlying conditions. If a habitual coffee drinker stops without tapering, they can experience a sometimes harsh, pronounced form of withdrawal.

How Do I Limit the Effects of Caffeine?

Many people consider caffeine a necessary part of their morning routine. Even if you’re not ready to part ways with caffeine, there are several ways you can limit its effects.

First, you can control overall caffeine intake. Consume a moderate amount of caffeine — perhaps a single cup of coffee in the morning — to help you prepare for the day. Cut back on secondary caffeine or any additional energy drinks or shots after you wrap your morning routine.

It’s also important to limit your caffeine intake to morning hours. As a general rule, stop drinking caffeine at least 10 hours before you plan on sleeping. This allows all caffeine to fully run its course before you begin your bedtime routine.

Stay on the lookout for “secret” caffeine sources: food items or drinks that might bury caffeine beneath other ingredients. Check labels on makeup and medication to avoid any inadvertent consumption.

What is the Best Alternative for Caffeine?

Several caffeine alternatives provide a spark to your morning without the same health effects. For example, many people prefer to exercise rather than consume caffeine in the morning. Light to moderate morning exercise floods your body with dopamine and serotonin, two hormones that improve your mood and enhance energy levels. Other caffeine alternatives include decaffeinated drinks, green juices, and cold showers.

Let’s explore these options:

  • Decaffeinated beverages: For people who still prefer familiar flavors, decaffeinated coffee or tea is worth a shot. These drinks have most of their stimulating effects removed, while still preserving the taste. While decaffeinated products often contain trace amounts of caffeine, the amount is far less than a caffeinated beverage.
  • Green juices or smoothies: Greens provide natural energy without any reliance on caffeine. Combine spinach, kale, ginger, and other ingredients into a mourning juice or smoothie for a revitalizing beverage that packs a boost without the withdrawal.
  • Brief naps: While long naps can disturb your body’s sleep-wake cycle, brief naps are helpful in fighting fatigue. Instead of more coffee, take a 20-minute nap on a high-quality mattress to recharge your body. This restores natural energy levels without harm to your sleep schedule.
  • Supplements: The right supplements can assist your body in providing additional energy. Consider ginseng, peppermint, or maca root for their energy-improving properties. Consult a medical professional before using any supplement.
  • Cold showers: Taking a cold shower is an effective, if less pleasant, alternative to caffeine. Even splashing cold water in your face can quickly stimulate adrenaline, snapping you back to an alert state.

Hydration is an unspoken hero in preserving energy and maintaining strong sleep hygiene. Particularly if you also consume caffeine, drinking water is vitally important. Hydration helps your body absorb more nutrients, and more energy, from the food you eat. It also prevents dehydration, which is widely associated with low energy, irritation, GI discomfort, and other issues.

How Else Can I Improve Sleep Quality?

Reducing your caffeine intake isn’t the only way to promote a good night’s sleep. It’s also important to follow a regular bedtime routine, one that teaches your body how to wind down and prepare for sleep. Follow a sleep hygiene checklist that includes dimming the lights, brushing your teeth, and creating a comfortable sleep environment. It also means turning off all electronics at least 60 minutes before bed, to prevent blue light exposure that delays melatonin production.

Keeping a sleep journal is another great way to improve the quality of your sleep. Write down your thoughts about recent sleep patterns, consistency, and longevity. Record any issues you’re experiencing in falling asleep or staying asleep. Don’t be afraid to capture any other thoughts you might have about sleep, your evening routine, or life in general.

There’s one more easy solution that can instantly improve your sleep hygiene: upgrade your mattress. If you’re going to spend 33% of your life asleep, it’s important that you enjoy the experience. This means finding a mattress that works for you — since your ideal mattress should match your personal sleep needs.

Mattress Warehouse has heavily invested in the quality of your sleep. Our bedMATCH process demystified the sleep process, helping you identify the right mattress according to measurements in your height, weight, and common pain points. Take our bedMATCH quiz to quickly identify the roadmap to your best night’s sleep, whether you need a plush mattress, firm mattress, or anything in between.

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