The Caffeine-Sleep Connection: How You Can Enjoy Coffee Without Disrupting Sleep

13 min read MAY 16, 2023

You love coffee. More specifically, you love caffeinated coffee.

Your daily cup of enjoyment brings you energy, wakefulness, boosts your brain, and your day.

But, when you enjoy a delicious cup too late in the day, you have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and even worse, you wake up feeling so tired you can barely stumble to your coffee pot to brew your next cup.

What’s worse, enjoying caffeine may be causing disturbances in sleep patterns that you don’t always recognize, and this can lead to consequences that affect the health of your body in ways you may not realize, even leading to heart disease, diabetes, memory loss, and much more.

So, how might your caffeinated cup of joe be affecting your sleep patterns?

And, more importantly, how can you still enjoy that tasty cup without hindering sleep?

Here, we’ll examine all the ways caffeine can affect sleep, why healthy sleep is critical for whole body health, and how you can still enjoy your caffeinated coffee each and every day without negatively affecting sleep.

A Deep Dive Into How Caffeine Affects Sleep

Before we dive into how your daily coffee indulgence, or caffeine intake of any kind, can affect sleep patterns, let’s examine why this happens in the first place.

Caffeine is actually a drug, a stimulant to be exact.

This is why consuming caffeinated beverages can be addicting, and its stimulating nature is also why it causes you to be alert when you consume it.

Typically, you can notice the effects of caffeine quickly, as within 30-60 of consuming this stimulant it reaches peak levels in your bloodstream.

And, it takes between 3-5 hours for your body to eliminate just half the amount of caffeine you consume, which is referred to as its half-life. The remaining amounts can remain in your system much longer.

During the time caffeine remains in your body, it acts as an antagonist, interfering with some of the natural physiological processes involved in sleep, specifically blocking your body’s adenosine receptors.

Adenosine is a neurotransmitter. Your cells use neurotransmitters like adenosine to communicate with other cells in order to perform needed functions.

Adenosine receptors act as doormen, allowing adenosine to enter a cell which sparks those changes needed within the cell to perform specific functions.

Research shows adenosine plays a role in immune function and can reduce inflammatory responses, but it also works to alert you when your body needs sleep.

When adenosine increases, this increases your body’s need for sleep. Some refer to this as sleep pressure or sleep drive. And, your sleep drive helps your body maintain a balance between sleep and wakefulness over time.

If you pull an all-nighter, for instance, your adenosine levels should be very high and your sleep drive should be very strong. This will then signal to your body that you need to doze longer and more intensely the next time you sleep.

Ah, but caffeine. As we mentioned above, caffeine blocks those adenosine receptors, essentially keeping your adenosine doormen from doing their job.

This, in turn, keeps you from feeling sleepy, instead making you feel alert and hyper-awake, even when your body desperately needs rest.

Therefore, when you lie down, hoping to get a good night’s sleep, instead you have trouble falling asleep, you may sleep for fewer hours than normal, and your overall quality of sleep is diminished.

This is due to the fact that caffeine disrupts deep sleep, the type of sleep your body needs to heal and restore itself so you feel refreshed the next day.

As you sleep, your body moves between four main cycles of sleep, and these cycles are made up of unique stages. These stages fall into two categories: REM sleep and non-REM sleep.

The first three stages of sleep are considered non-REM sleep. In stage one, you are drifting off and falling asleep. In stage two, your body physically and mentally slows down, but you can still easily be aroused or awakened.

Then, in the third stage of sleep, your body enters repair and recovery mode. Brain activity during this time slows even further, your muscles relax, your respiratory and heart rate slows, and your body increases the amount of blood it supplies to your muscles.

In a night of sleep that lasts 8 hours, adults generally spend 60-110 minutes in this third stage of sleep, also known as deep sleep.

Within these minutes, your body does a lot of work:

- Within your brain, during deep sleep your memories are consolidated and you process your emotions and all you’ve learned throughout the day. Toxins that build up in your brain are also removed during this time. And, damage caused by free radicals is corrected.

- In other areas of your body, during deep sleep your muscles recover from the work they’ve done through the day. Your blood sugar levels are balanced, and your metabolism steadies.

During this time your immune system is also stimulated and strengthened. Tissues, bone, and muscle all repair and grow during deep sleep as well.

After stage three, your body transitions into REM sleep.
You often dream during this stage of sleep as your brain resumes normal activity. Your heart and breathing rates increase as well, but your muscles remain paralyzed during this time, which is why you won’t find yourself physically reacting to the events that take place in your dreams.

Each cycle of sleep lasts between 70-120 minutes, and during the first part of the night, most of this time is spent in non-REM sleep. But, during the second part of the night, you most likely spend this time in REM sleep.

Why is this important?

Your body needs to spend appropriate amounts of time in each of these stages of sleep every night for proper healing and proper hormone production.

When your sleep cycles are disrupted, your body can’t produce adequate amounts of a hormone called melatonin, and this specific hormone is tasked with promoting and regulating sleep.

Can you see a potential viscous sleep cycle storm brewing here?

When caffeine disrupts sleep, your body doesn’t produce adequate amounts of melatonin. Without melatonin, your body’s sleep cycles are negatively affected, and the result is a double whammy when it comes to getting good, quality sleep.

Sleep also regulates cortisol, a hormone often linked to stress. Aside from being released during times of stress, cortisol levels also rise periodically during times of wakefulness to help you feel more alert.

When you get healthy sleep, these two hormones work in conjunction with one another in the following manner:

You wake up, and cortisol levels increase to help you feel alert. Melatonin levels decrease during this time to ensure you’re feeling refreshed. Then, periodically throughout the day, cortisol levels rise again to renew this sense of wakefulness.

Towards evening, as the sun sets, your cortisol levels decline, and melatonin levels increase to help you feel sleepy, essentially preparing your body for a night of rest.

But, caffeine suppresses melatonin production, making it difficult for your body to prepare for sleep, feel sleepy, fall asleep, or stay asleep.

Then, caffeine causes an increase in cortisol secretion as it stimulates the nervous system.

So, between the interference of adenosine receptors, suppression of melatonin production, and stimulation of cortisol secretion, caffeine can truly wreak havoc on sleep.

Of course, in rare cases caffeine can seem to have the opposite effect on some people, making such individuals feel sleepy instead of alert.

And, there are a few theories as to why this occurs:

- For some, excessive use of caffeine can lead to sleep deprivation. And, as sleep time and quality is diminished, people often feel the need to overcaffeinate to combat the tiredness they feel. This can then lead to a vicious cycle of tiredness, prompting the consumption of more caffeine, which deprives you of sleep, and the cycle continues until the intake of caffeine in daytime hours eventually has lost its invigorating effect.

- For others, daytime tiredness, despite the consumption of caffeine, may be a result of caffeine tolerance. This occurs when a person has built up a tolerance to caffeine over time, making the body less susceptible to its alerting effects.

Overall, the effects of caffeine on sleep can unfortunately lead to many health problems.

Sleep Disturbances And Your Health

We’ve seen how caffeine consumption can affect your ability to get a quality, restful night of sleep, but let’s briefly examine what can happen when sleep eludes you on a regular basis.

When you routinely have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and spending much needed time in deep, restorative sleep your health can suffer.

Obviously, when you don’t get quality sleep, you will notice that you feel overly tired throughout the day.

You lack energy, your reaction times are likely slower, you may not be able to concentrate well, and your mood is probably not the best.

But, these common symptoms only scratch the surface when it comes to experiencing the effects of sleep deficiency.

Without restful sleep, stress and anxiety levels also increase, which in turn prompts the release of cortisol, interfering with sleep in greater ways.

Your memory also suffers without adequate rest, and your ability to make healthy decisions decreases.

For those who drink a lot of caffeine, this consumption may even be hiding these surface symptoms of sleep deprivation, making you unaware of problems that may be brewing internally due to a lack of restful, restorative sleep.

And, over time, sleep deficiency can cause imbalances in hormones which can worsen the effects of sleep deprivation entirely.

Long term symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Depression
  • Cognitive decline
  • Immunodeficiencies
  • Pain (overall, throughout the body)
  • Decreased fertility
  • Psychiatric disorders

This is why it is imperative to get quality, restful sleep each night.

And, this likely sparks some concern for coffee drinkers, as an 8 ounce cup of coffee contains an average of 80-100 milligrams of caffeine.

Thankfully, you don’t have to ditch your daily cup, or cups, of joy (aka coffee) to still get a good night’s sleep!

5 Ways To Enjoy Caffeine Without Disrupting Sleep

Thus far today, caffeine has gotten a pretty bad rep. But, through all of the information we’ve looked at regarding how caffeine negatively affects sleep, this actually gives us a clear lens to view both when and how we can consume this stimulant without disturbing sleep patterns.

In fact, for all its potential negatives, caffeine actually has many benefits!

The caffeine component of coffee is responsible for:

- Increases in energy which have proven beneficial for both academic and athletic performance as this stimulant boosts alertness, improves concentration, increases endurance, and reduces how you perceive exertion

- Slowing the type of cognitive decline associated with aging as well as boosting memory and is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases

- Supporting the excretion of bile, improving liver and colon health and may decrease the progression of liver disease as well as the risk of liver cirrhosis

- Protecting the skin against certain types of cancers due to its potential ability to prevent UV damage

- Potentially preventing the development of kidney stones

- Reducing the risk of certain cancers including mouth, throat, breast, head, neck, prostate, and endometrial cancers

- Weight loss and management as caffeine can suppress appetite and stimulate fat burning effects

- Improving eye health by protecting against eyelid spasms and cataracts

So then, how can you enjoy caffeine (and all its benefits) without negatively affecting your sleep patterns (and overall health)?

The most conservative estimations by experts insist you should stop drinking caffeine 8 hours before sleeping, but most scientific advice suggests 6 hours will suffice.

Studies have proven a 2-3 pm cutoff time for caffeine has little to no effect on sleep patterns for those that turn in for a night of sleep around 9 pm.

But, before we close today, we’d like to break this down to a few more scientific specifics regarding healthy caffeine consumption.

1- Examine Your Morning Coffee Routine

Remember when we discussed caffeine’s effect on hormone levels? Well, ensuring that your love of coffee doesn’t disturb your sleep patterns starts as soon as you wake in the morning.

Since cortisol levels are highest first thing in the morning, naturally prompting your body to feel alert, see if you can skip that immediate morning cup of joe, and instead reach for a glass of water first thing.

Your body naturally loses nearly a liter of water while you sleep, so hydrating with high quality H2O first thing in the morning is vital. And, allowing your cortisol levels to naturally awaken you can ensure you’re not disturbing your body’s hormonal secretion rhythm.

So, hydrate with water first, and reach for a tasty cup of coffee a few hours post wake-up time. In fact, experts suggest having that first cup between 9-11:30 am when cortisol levels naturally decrease.

2- Use Caffeine To Its Fullest

Utilize the energizing effects of caffeine by getting in a workout post coffee-consumption.

The caffeine component of coffee can not only increase your energy levels, but it’s been shown to improve fat burning, increase athletic performance, and make you feel less fatigued in the middle of your workout, which allows you to push for a longer period of time.

And, getting in a good workout helps to improve your quality of sleep later that night.

Research suggests even 30 minutes of exercise in a day can improve sleep the same night.

Studies show regular exercise can decrease insomnia, increase your body’s demand for sleep, and enhance your overall quality of sleep.

3- Watch Overall Caffeine Intake

We get it. Coffee is life. But, enjoying life to its fullest requires moderation, even when it comes to coffee.

So, to ensure your tasty coffee doesn’t give you sleep troubles, seek to cap your intake at 400 milligrams per day.

At 80-100 milligrams per 8 ounce cup, this still allows you to enjoy (and reap the rewards of) roughly 4-5 cups of joe per day.

Simply seek to cut off the caffeination train 6-8 priors to bedtime.

4- Monitor For Sensitivities

Maybe you’re saying, hey…wait a minute, cutting off coffee by 3 pm doesn’t work for me, because I’m still having trouble falling asleep. Or, perhaps having a cup a little past 3 is perfectly fine for you.

Seek to journal or monitor how your body reacts to caffeine. This will give you the best, personalized judgment for which cutoff times work best for you.

But, don’t neglect to realize that caffeine may be affecting how your body cycles through the stages of sleep throughout the night, so look for how you feel the next day as well.

And, simply use common sense. In other words, if you’re having a fully caffeinated cup of joe at 10:00 pm, falling right to sleep, and seemingly staying asleep all night, but you need caffeine just to function the next day, you may not be getting as much quality sleep as you think you are.

Journalizing or keeping track of how you feel with caffeine cutoff times can help you know the perfect time for you to scale back.

5- Switch To Decaf In The Evening

Switch To Decaf In The Evening

If you know your sleep patterns are being disrupted by your evening or late day coffee consumption, but you simply can’t imagine cutting out this late night joy from your life, consider swapping that evening cup out for decaf.

While some decaffeinated coffee varieties can lack flavor, here at Lifeboost we utilize the healthy Swiss Water Method when it comes to removing caffeine from our coffee beans.

This method refrains from using the chemicals commonly associated with caffeine removal, instead using only water in this process which results in the removal of 99.9% of coffee’s caffeine content while retaining all its flavor and antioxidant benefits.

Enjoying decaf in the evenings allows you to savor all the flavors you love from your brew without disturbing these vital patterns of sleep.

Check out Lifeboost Coffee Medium Roast Decaf.

Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Charles Livingston nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement or lifestyle program.


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