Caffeine has been shown to have good health promoting effects and to be beneficial for mood, attention and performance, particularly in sleep deprived states. Many of us enjoy starting the day with a cup of coffee, the most popular choice for a dose of caffeine. However, when caffeine consumption interferes with the quantity or quality of our night-time sleep, its effects can become detrimental to our overall well-being.
Constant intake or increases in caffeine consumption can negatively impact our daily sleep-wake pattern, making us feel more tired throughout the following days. As detailed in the associated sleep fact (Caffeine affecting your sleep?) caffeine molecules act directly on the wake promoting system of our brain as an antagonist to the adenosine receptors. With an average half-life of approximately 4 hours (highly variable from one individual to the other), caffeine remains in our system for many hours after consumption.
By consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening it can interfere with both the quantity of our sleep, including how quickly we fall asleep and how many times we wake during the night, as well as the quality of our sleep, notably the amount of restorative deep slow wave sleep. As a result, we feel more tired the next day and will likely resort to more coffee in order to get through the day, thus creating a cyclic interference of our natural sleep-wake rhythm.
A constant consumption can also result in a caffeine dependency in order to feel ‘awake’. This is by an increase in adenosine receptors in response to caffeine. AsapSCIENCE explain this phenomenon well in the following short video: Your Brain On Coffee.
Moderating your caffeine intake, particularly in the afternoon can therefore help you achieve a better night-time sleep. However, a caveat for this is to not cut back your caffeine too drastically or too quickly. Caffeine abstinence can not only make you feel more tired during the day, but can also lead to other withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Decreasing the amount gradually will avoid these symptoms and make for an easier transition.
Additionally, although the more common ways to consume caffeine include coffee and tea, it is also important to be aware of other less commonly known sources of caffeine in your diet. This includes soft drinks and chocolate (specially dark chocolate), but can also be found in prescribed medication as well as in various dietary and performance supplements, such as a pre-work out drink. Consuming these in the late afternoon or evening can also interfere with your sleep.
If you find yourself experiencing an afternoon slump, there are alternative options instead of reaching for a cup of coffee. For example, switching to a tea or decaffeinated beverage can help by providing a smaller dose of caffeine. Studies have also shown that going for a quick walk can help improve energy levels and cognitive functions in a similar fashion to caffeine. Additionally, ensuring good hydration throughout the day will also help avoid the post-lunch slump.
Overall, although caffeine has good and healthy effect on our body and cognitive functions, it is important to be aware of the dose and timing of its consumption as it can interfere with the quality and quantity of our sleep come night-time.