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Caffeine and Sleep: To Sleep, or Not to Sleep, That is the Question

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For many years even thinking about having a coffee before bed or late evening would leave even coffee fanatics gasping with shock at such a statement. But you won’t be able to sleep tonight! You’ll be lying in bed, shaking with a caffeine buzz! These are similar thoughts that I would feel if someone mentioned a coffee before bed to me. However, I had nothing to back any of this up with, and I’m sure most people don’t. So, today, we’re exploring whether having a coffee before bed will indeed affect your sleep.

I must admit there have been plenty of times I’ve had a late coffee when I’m up writing, and I can’t recall a time I’ve complained about not getting to sleep, but, then again, I may not remember that many nights as I’m typing this. Surely, there must be some science out there around this?

How Soon Before Bed Can I Drink Coffee?

A lot of studies online link into the fact that the link between sleep and coffee will be heavily determined by how much coffee you manage to drink during the day and close to your hours of sleep. A 2016 study found that consuming coffee as much as 6 hours before bed significantly reduces the amount of sleep but also the quality of sleep you’ll receive.

There was another study that said many Italians would have an espresso-based drink after a heavy dinner as part of a tradition, and after tests, they found little to no evidence that this changed sleeping patterns. It seems it is based on you personally; some people drink coffee late and don’t have any difficulty sleeping.

At this point in my research, I was near done as clicking on a new study gave me conflicting results, which can be very frustrating. How can that be possible on google? I was about to give up until I saw a study conducted by Harvard University, surely, I can trust what those super-intelligent minds had to say on the matter.

A Reliable Study by Harvard University and Florida Atlantic

The study: US-based researchers from Florida Atlantic University and Harvard Medical School monitored 785 people for a total of 5,164 days and nights, recording how much caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine they consumed.

The research teams went on to compare their consumption to results gathered in sleep diaries and from mechanical wrist sensors that recorded the patient’s sleep duration, sleep efficiency, and it monitored how quickly patients were able to wake up after sleep.

Does Coffee Really Effect my Sleep?

The study found that while alcohol and nicotine did, in fact, disrupt sleep with a pre-bed cigarette taking around an hour off total duration of sleep, the study showed that caffeine seemed to have no effect on sleep.

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A journal launched named ‘Sleep,’ which includes a Dr. Christine Spadola of Florida Atlantic mentioned above, said that up “until now relatively few studies have thoroughly investigated the association between evening substance use and sleep parameters.”

Here is a crucial statement made by Dr. Christine Spadola for all our coffee-loving readers: “We did not observe an association between ingestion of caffeine within four hours of bed with any of the sleep parameters.”

The scientists who conducted this experiment were surprised by the results but mentioned it is in line with previous evidence on the effect of caffeine on sleep.

It’s all Down to You, Man.

The key take-away statement for me that the scientists made was that caffeine would have a different effect on everyone individually. Some people can drink the ocean’s worth of caffeine and not have any sleeping effect, whereas someone who is sensitive to sleep and/or caffeine may find caffeine will affect their sleep.

So, there you have it, all my nights staying up writing making more coffees than I can count were probably followed by some great, caffeine fuelled sleep. The problem with debates like this within the industry is that there is a lot of gossip and myths around what happens, and everyone thinks their right. With this study from Harvard, it seems to be the nail in the coffin once and for all. Drink up, coffee drinkers, for we will sleep!

FAQs Around Coffee and Sleep

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Does Coffee Make you Sleepy?

This is surprisingly a common problem amongst some coffee drinkers, they feel tried around drinking coffee. One of the key reasons for this is that coffee blocks adenosine, this is a chemical in the nervous system that controls your sleep-wake cycle. Caffeine in coffee blocks the brains receptors for this but doesn’t stop the production of adenosine, this means when your caffeine hit has worn off, that adenosine build up is waiting to send you off to sleep.

How Long Does it Take for the Effect of Coffee to Wear Off?

If you’re worried that you’re someone who can’t drink coffee before bed, then listen up. 99% of caffeine is absorbed in about 45 minutes and the effects of said caffeine will last anywhere from 4-6 hours on average. You may find that the coffee wears off after 3 hours and you’re good for a nap.
It’s very hard to judge when coffee has fully worn off, you should start to feel tired. If you are still panicking about when to stop drinking coffee be safe and don’t have coffee up to 6 hours before you go to bed.