On Your Health

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How Caffeine Affects Your Sleep

Today we have a post from our guest blogger, Alix Benear, who is a registered dietitian. She completed the Coordinated Program of Dietetics at Texas Christian University and her Master of Science from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

I get a lot of questions about caffeine intake. Since we're coming to the end of National Sleep Awareness Week, I thought this would be the perfect time to check your caffeine consumption to promote improved sleep.

First though, the medical community is divided on just what health benefits caffeine, and more specifically coffee, does or doesn’t provide. There have been studies that say drinking coffee protects the liver, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and possibly acts as a pain reliever. Coffee is also loaded with antioxidants. Others claim that coffee may prevent a gamut of ailments like stroke, depression, gallstones and dementia.

However, what we choose to add to coffee (such as heavy cream and sugar) can just as easily negate the benefits. Not to mention that coffee beans are highly sprayed with pesticides. Then there are the studies that show caffeine has several negative effects on your body, such as increasing your stress hormones and gut irritation. Finally, if you drink caffeine but what your body really needs is rest and recovery, you might be putting yourself at risk for health hypertension, metabolic syndrome, sleep deprivation and immune system impairment.

So, I'll leave the topic of whether or not caffeine is good for you for another day and another blog post! As for caffeine and healthy sleep, caffeine is most definitely a real drug that has the potential to keep you awake. If you are suffering from insomnia, caffeine could be the culprit.

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system and is often associated with increased alertness. It is found in a variety of beverages like coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks. Don't forget, it's also found in chocolate and some chewing gum.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines encourage consumers to limit consumption to 400 milligrams of caffeine or less each day. This is about 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day, depending on how strong you brew your java. If you notice caffeine negatively affects your sleep, or leaves you feeling jittery,  you should consider consuming even less.

Another thing we know about caffeine: it is addictive. Decreasing consumption may lead to withdrawals that include headache, lethargy and irritability. Here are a few tips to avoid the brunt of these side effects.

  • Slowly decrease your intake. Cut one cup of coffee or soda out of your daily intake each week, until your intake is within recommended limits or you are no longer affected by negative side effects.
  • Drink lots of water. Filtered is best.
  • Switch to decaf. Try replacing caffeinated beverages with its decaffeinated counterpart.
  • Stop drinking caffeine by 2pm each day. This will limit overall intake and should promote improved sleep.
  • Take 1,000 mg buffered vitamin C with breakfast and dinner.
  • Make sure you exercise daily to help fight off fatigue. Even 30 minute of walking is good.
  • Drink 1 to 3 cups of green tea every day.  The small amount of caffeine won’t hurt and the antioxidants will heal.