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While caffeine can definitely serve its purpose – keeping us awake during the day or helping us stay awake into the night after a busy day because we still have more to accomplish – recovering from its effects enough to get to sleep can be a challenge.
Is it possible to sleep after caffeine? Yes! In this guide we’ll give you all of the things you can do to quickly clear caffeine from your system, allowing you to sleep. From drinking enough water to taking various supplements, there are ways to get to sleep after ingesting copious amounts of caffeine.
How Caffeine Impacts our Bodies and Brains
Anyone who has drunk something containing caffeine knows the kind of boost it can give to your energy levels – or help keep you awake. This is great if you want or need to stay awake but not so good when you need to get some sleep.
Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system, which is why it’s such a great way to achieve a quick pick-me-up. But because of this, it also means we can have trouble sleeping or turning off that energy boost.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s safe for most healthy adults to consume up to 400 milligrams (mgs) of caffeine per day. But some of us consume far more. An eight-ounce (oz) mug of coffee will contain approximately 181 mgs of caffeine, while a 12-oz can of regular cola has 34 mgs. This means if you’re drinking four mugs of coffee and two cans of coke a day, you’re getting 792 mgs of caffeine, almost twice the daily recommended amount.
Energy drinks, such as Five-Hour Energy and Monster, contain high levels of caffeine – as much as 173 mgs in a single serving. Parents should closely monitor the use of these drinks by teens or young adults, as too much caffeine is bad for the developing brain and body. In particular, the consumption of too much caffeine can interfere with the absorption of calcium, leading to weak bones.
Caffeine can also have a negative impact on pregnant women – so should be avoided during pregnancy. High levels of caffeine can results in miscarriage and babies are often born with low birth weights. For the pregnant mom, caffeine can raise blood pressure and heart rate, leading to potential complications.
Caffeine quickly enters the system, and it can take up to six hours for just half of what you’ve consumed to be eliminated. So, a coffee in the morning to start your day likely won’t impact you later on when you’re trying to get some sleep, but drinking caffeine late at night is generally a bad idea.
Recognizing how caffeine consumption is impacting your sleep
The most obvious way caffeine impacts sleep is that it makes it more difficult to fall asleep. But there are other negative impacts as well, including interrupting the natural rhythm of your body’s internal clock and reducing the total amount of sleep you get.
One study has shown that consuming caffeine six hours before you go to bed will result in you getting one-hour less sleep. Over time, this leads to you being sleep deprived and you might drink more coffee to give yourself a boost, starting a vicious cycle of steadily increasing caffeine consumption.
The best way to avoid this is to control when you’re ingesting caffeine; stop all consumption – coffee, tea, soft drinks – a good six hours before you plan to go to bed. Substitute water or decaffeinated beverages.
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms
Symptoms depend somewhat on how much caffeine you ingest. Typical symptoms are tremors, headaches, irritability and low energy.
For someone who already has other medical issues, caffeine can exacerbate negative symptoms. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, drinking a lot of beverages with caffeine is just going to make that worse. The same is true for someone with a heart condition or seizures.
Blocking our adenosine receptors
We all create adenosine – a neuromodulator, which impacts our cells – in our brains. It is necessary for us to feel sleepy and ultimately fall asleep. Once adenosine is created, it binds to adenosine receptors and makes its way into our blood stream, slowing down nerve cell activity and making us drowsy.
Caffeine is the great pretender. To a nerve cell, it looks like adenosine and binds to those receptors. Only the impact isn’t that it makes us drowsy – it actually winds us up and gives us more energy. Caffeine also uses up all the receptors the adenosine would usually require, prolonging the awake effect.
Caffeine and metabolism
Because caffeine helps to increase metabolism, you might think it’s a great way to lose weight. In fact, many diet pills include some caffeine. But is it the great cure for obesity? Not really, as studies have shown.
While caffeine can increase your resting metabolic rate (RMR) by three to 11 per cent, your weight will have an impact on how much that increase helps to burn fat. The sad truth is that an increase in RMR is more likely to have a positive impact on fat burning in already lean people than in those that are obese. In other words, the impact is greater in people who don’t need to lose weight – 29 per cent in those who are lean versus 10 per cent in those who are obese.
The effect of “turning on” fat burning is also more pronounced in younger versus older individuals.
How individual physiology impacts how we process caffeine
Studies have shown that caffeine has a positive effect for those with suicidal tendencies. It has been found to lower by 45 per cent the risk of suicide among those in a study group – because it is mood-enhancing. Studies have also shown that people who regularly consume caffeine have less chance of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia.
For some people, caffeine can have some pretty significant negative side effects. It can raise heart rate, cause confusion and headaches and increase the chance of developing osteoporosis because it prevents bone growth. People who consume a lot of caffeine can experience diarrhea, sweating, increased breathing rate and nausea.
The website caffeineinformer.com has a caffeine calculator to help you determine how much caffeine you can safely ingest and how you might be impacted.
Not all individuals have the same response to caffeine and some people actually have sensitivity to it. According to a 2014 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, there are six genetic variants that control how a person metabolizes caffeine. The 120,000 person study revealed that two of these variants involve how caffeine is metabolized, two are associated with how the positive reward we might get from ingesting caffeine and two regulate how fat and sugar in the bloodstream are regulated in response to caffeine. Which of these variants are present in an individual will determine their level of sensitivity to caffeine.
Further, there are three levels of sensitivity: hypersensitivity, normal sensitivity and hyposensitivity. If someone has a hypersensitivity to caffeine, ingesting a very small amount will produce negative impacts, such as increased blood pressure, jitters, nausea, etc. Those with hyposensitivity can consume relatively high levels of caffeine with little impact. Most of us fall in the normal range.
Caffeine can be addicting. If you’ve developed an addiction to high levels of caffeine to get through your day, getting off of it can be a challenge. But there are things to do – read on.
Like any addicting substance, getting rid of a caffeine addiction is likely to be difficult and fraught with challenges along the way. But there are ways to rid you of the need for caffeine.
Breaking the addiction
First, you need to break the addiction. Sounds easy – really isn’t. If you’ve been using caffeine to wake up in the morning and keep you going throughout the day, finding a substitution is going to be difficult, but not impossible.
Unfortunately, heavy consumers of caffeine are going to have a harder time of it than those with a relatively mild form of the addiction. If you regularly consume 1000 mgs or more of caffeine in a day, prepare yourself; it’s going to get ugly.
Not long after you start to detox, you’ll likely experience all or some of the 15 usual symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. These include headaches, irritability, constipation, depression, flu-like symptoms, muscle pain or stiffness and cramping, insomnia, brain fog, dizziness and increased heart rate.
The other bad news is that these symptoms can go on for weeks or even months, depending on how much caffeine you were used to ingesting.
If you’ve had a real dependence on caffeine, weaning yourself off might be the kinder method. This involves slowing decreasing the amount of caffeine you consume each day. Some studies have shown that this can safely be accomplished by decreasing caffeine by 10 to 30 mgs each day until you reach zero – or a level that is more reasonable for you, personally.
The pros to this method are that you’ll avoid most, if not all, of the withdrawal symptoms and you’ll still be able to function. On the downside, this method does take a lot longer than going cold turkey.
Going cold turkey
Like anything addicting, quitting cold turkey is an option – but is less likely to work. Plus, you’re more likely to experience some or all of the ugly symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
Preparing to detox by going cold turkey is something you should do, by starting on a weekend and letting those around you know what you’re about to do so they can support you – and understand why you’re not your usual happy self.
On the plus side, if you go cold turkey, you get it over with more quickly than weaning yourself off caffeine.
If you have a serious health condition that requires you to stop caffeine consumption, first speak with your doctor about how going cold turkey might impact your health.
This isn’t the method we’d recommend for most people since it has a higher rate of failure and is far less pleasant to experience than the weaning method.
Supplements to Counteract the Impact of Caffeine
There is some evidence that the use of certain supplements will help to counteract the impact of caffeine; whether you intend to limit your consumption or plan to continue to ingest it in moderation. If you’ve been using caffeine temporarily as a way to stay awake for a test or work, these supplements can help to get you back into a natural wake/sleep rhythm.
A naturally occurring chemical found in the herb Evodea, Rutaecarpine can be used as part of a caffeine cleanse. It works by increasing the metabolism of caffeine – in other words, how quickly caffeine is broken down and eliminated from the body.
It can be used to help you counteract the impact of caffeine on sleep, helping you get to sleep more quickly after ingesting caffeine.
Rutaecarpine won’t help you escape the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, however, so it’s not much help if you’re planning to detox. Its use is also not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
Tyrosine and Phenylalanine (amino acids) deficiencies
An addiction to caffeine can result in a deficiency in the brain of two important amino acids, Tyrosine and Phenylalanine. These amino acids produce Dopamine – Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that affects your emotions, movements and the sensations of pleasure and pain. Low levels of Dopamine can contribute to depression, an inability to focus and sleeplessness.
So, increasing Dopamine will help to counteract the impact caffeine has that keeps us awake.
Using a Tyrosine or Phenylalanine supplement for just a few days will increase your naturally-occurring Dopamine levels, help restore your regular sleep patterns and may help you avoid all or some of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
How much Tyrosine or Phenylalanine you should take is up for debate, but some experts recommend an initial dose of 1000 mgs twice a day for two days, followed by 500 mgs taken twice a day for an additional two days and 500 mgs taken only once a day for a further two days is best. You want to gradually reduce the amount of the supplement you’re taking and allow your body to take over the task of producing these amino acids naturally. The impact should be the restoration of your ability to sleep without any of the negative symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.
Increasing your natural dopamine
There are other ways you can increase the amount of natural Dopamine you produce. According to Healthline.com, there are 10 ways to naturally increase the amount of Dopamine produced in your brain, including increasing the amount of protein you consume by eating protein-rich foods like meat, certain vegetables and legumes and eggs.
At the same time, reducing the amount of saturated fats in your diet will have a positive impact on Dopamine levels, as will getting enough regular exercise.
Engaging in activities that stimulate the pleasure centres in our brains is also a good way to increase Dopamine; listen to music or meditate. And get enough sunlight. This can be a challenge in some parts of the world where daylight is limited in the winter months but supplements like Vitamin D can help.
Other supplements, which increase Dopamine production, include Vitamin B6, iron, niacin and folate.
Ironically, getting enough sleep also helps with Dopamine production, so breaking a caffeine addiction can have more than one positive effect on your body.
Build Healthier Sleep Habits
So, how do you help yourself to get better and longer sleep? If you’ve relied on caffeine to get through your day, breaking that addiction is the first step. Whether you choose to go cold turkey or wean yourself off caffeine using some of the techniques we’ve outlined above, once you’ve accomplished that, you’ll be more able to build good sleep habits.
Routine is key
There’s a reason pediatricians encourage new moms to develop a nighttime routine for their babies; having a regular routine can definitely help you to fall asleep more quickly and have a better night’s sleep.
For some people, this involves some personal care tasks – like washing and cleansing your face, brushing your teeth – followed by some time with a good book. For others, this might include some gentle yoga, meditation or deep-breathing before falling asleep.
Experts recommend you use the bedrooms for sleep and sex only. This helps to trick your brain into recognizing, “ok, this is where we sleep.”
Role of exercise
Tiring out the body is important – along with clearing the mind – to achieve a good night’s sleep. As we’ve already mentioned, exercise can increase the levels of Dopamine occurring naturally in your brain, helping it to rest. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the fact our bodies tend to reduce their core temperature after exercise may promote falling asleep. And exercise obviously impacts the way our bodies feel tired and more ready for sleep.
A study released in 2011 in the journal, Mental Health and Physical Activity, showed that just 150 minutes of exercise a week helped participants to sleep better and longer. Participants also reported they felt more alert during the day.
One of the study’s authors, Brad Cardinal, a professor of exercise science at Oregon State University, told the journal, “Physical activity may not just be good for the waistline and heart, but it also can help you sleep. There are trade-offs. It may be easier when you are tired to skip the workout and go to sleep, but it may be beneficial for your long-term health to make the hard decision and get your exercise.”
Exercise can also help to reset our natural body clock – our circadian rhythm. Figuring out the best time to exercise during the day to reset your clock is a bit of a case of trial and error but worth the effort if you are able to accomplish it.
Natural Sleep Aids That Help Counter the Effects of Caffeine
Is a naturally occurring amino acid that promotes relaxation and helps to counter the effects of too much caffeine by calming the jitters. It is very similar in structure to glutamate, a chemical that is naturally produced in the body in for the transmission of nerve impulses. This calming effect comes from the blocking of the glutamate and creates this sense of ease and inducing of sleep.
Consuming caffeine produces a sensation like a stress situation, such as the fight or flight one experiences in dangerous situations. A low dose of caffeine would be a mild stimulant that produces alertness, as where a larger dose can over stimulate and cause jitters, which and thus becomes taxing to the body and mind.
Ashwagandha, an adaptogen herb, helps in the adjustment or “to cope” with the daily stress in life or the over consumption of caffeine. It’s an herb that has been utilized for several aliments from anxiety, ADHD, Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), back aches, and fibromyalgia just to name a few.
For some people, it helps them to think clearly. It is certainly a herb that goes beyond countering the effect of caffeine.
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
GABA is a chemical naturally produced in the brain that binds to the synapsis that helps to control the fear or anxiety when the neurons are over excited. GABA has numerous functions in the body from lowering stress to regulating muscle tone in the body.
Gaba is also produced prior to and during REM sleep. It is also found in several foods such as green and black teas, as well as some fermented foods. While fish, shrimp, sunflower seeds, citrus, tomatoes, berries, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, cocoa, and beans, nuts, beans and lentils help the body to produce more GABA.
Mild consumption of caffeine, blocks some of these receptors and creates a sense of alertness as a result. Clinical studies have shown that supplementation with Gaba seems to counter the effects of the caffeine binding effects to the synapsis and produces the calming and drowsy feeling before sleep.
GABA taken with L-theanine has also been shown to be very powerful in inducing and maintaining a sleep. 5-HTP (L-5 hydroxytryptophan) and GABA mixture has also been proven as a potent mixture to get to sleep. You can check out the study here.
Knowing the impact caffeine has on your body and brain might help you to make a decision about whether or not consuming it is your best option, depending on your circumstance.
So, is it possible to sleep after caffeine? Of course – just understand how you can undo the effects of caffeine and pick which method works best for you.
If you really need the boost and it’s only temporary, there’s nothing wrong with using caffeine as an energy booster. It only becomes problematic if you end up addicted to caffeine or it’s seriously impacting your ability to sleep and function.