Whether you're a Grande, Iced, Sugar-Free, Vanilla Latte with Soy Milk or a Triple Venti, Half Sweet, Non-fat, Caramel Macchiato - we all have our caffeinated Achilles' heal. There's the two cups an hour club, the dashing-from-the-station-to-the-office morning grab, and the know-you-shouldn't-but-you-do post-dinner pick me up. And with all manner of milk, strength and calories variations, coffee shops are catering to the health conscious, the animal welfare conscious and the insta-conscious.
With approximately 95 million cups of coffee drunk per day in the UK, caffeine is big business. But it's also the most popular and widely used psychoactive stimulant...or to put it simply, drug.
HOW CAFFEINE WAGES THE WAR ON SLEEP
A pressure to sleep is built up naturally throughout the day, increasing in concentration every minute you are awake. That sleep pressure is actually a chemical called adenosine. The longer you spend awake, the more adenosine will build up. As a result, a desire to sleep usually hits most people after 12-16 hours of being awake.
Now, if you're looking for something to artificially shut down that sleep signal and trick you into feeling more awake - caffeine is your fix.
ALL NIGHT LONG
Your caffeine shot will peak approximately thirty minutes after you drink it (or eat it, as is the case with chocolate).
Unfortunately, it doesn't disappear from your system quite as quickly - studies show that 50% of your caffeine intake can still be circulating your brain tissue 5-7 hours later.
So, if we take the classic example of the after-dinner coffee at, say, 9pm. By 2am, or even 4am, your body will only be half way through the process of cleansing your brain of caffeine. That's not ideal for a perfect, peaceful night's sleep...
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
Many do not make the link between a bad night's sleep and their caffeine intake the day before. They simply do not realise the strength and impact of the nation's favourite drug. Whilst your brain battles against the invasion of caffeine, you're unlikely to fall asleep quickly or smoothly.
In addition, caffeine increases restlessness, irritability and anxiety - classic sleep deterrents. It can even cause hypnic jerks - if you've ever woken up suddenly after experiencing the sensation of falling, you'll know what we mean.
Caffeine can also reduce the amount of deep sleep you clock up. One study has found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime can reduce total sleep time by a whole hour!
DE-CAF IS NOT FREE-CAF
It's definitely the lesser of the evils, but don't be fooled - decaffeinated does not mean non-caffeinated. A cup of decaf usually contains around 15-30% of the caffeine of a regular coffee.
GET CAFFEINE SAVVY
It's a big deal breaking up with Starbucks, we get that. But there's nothing wrong with cooling that relationship down.
Sensitivity to caffeine is a personal thing, so explore your tolerance and use The London Sleep Company's caffeine savvy tips to win the war on sleep:
Stop drinking caffeine at 2pm - this may need to be even earlier for those particularly sensitive to caffeine so see what works for you
Tea drinkers - don't assume you're safe! Tea also contains caffeine, so it's a good idea to give that bedtime cuppa a miss
Try switching your bedtime cuppa for a more relaxing, caffeine free tea blend. Chamomile is the classic, but if that's a bit boring for you why not try Pukka Tea's night-time blend of organic oat flower, lavender and lime flower. Delicious!
Caffeine is cunning - it can sneak into various every day foods such as biscuits, chocolate and sauces. Be vigilant for any pre-bedtime foes masquerading as friends
Reduce your need for caffeine at all by improving your relationship with sleep
If you suffer from that common afternoon slump, switch your caffeine pick me up for a sunshine break. Natural light exposure is a powerful stimulant and can increase energy, focus, productivity, mood and attention span. Studies show it can even be as effective as a short nap for improving some of our brain functions!
When enjoyed in moderation, caffeine may deliver a number of benefits both physically and mentally. But, and it's a big but, sleep is absolutely essential to our physical and mental health and well-being. So if your caffeine consumption is getting in the way of sleep - well then the costs could easily outweigh the benefits.
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NB: This article is for information purposes, and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing difficulty sleeping, or have symptoms which prevent you from sleeping well, you should contact your medical practitioner.