Caffeine is a widely consumed stimulant that improves alertness, focus, and physical performance. While caffeine is great for a quick boost during the day, if you’re really serious about performing at your best in sport you should be using caffeine.
However, excessive caffeine intake or consuming it too close to bedtime can negatively impact your sleep quality and duration.
Therefore, it’s important to understand how to reduce caffeine’s impact on your sleep, so can perform better during the day and sleep better at night.
How Does Caffeine Affect Your Sleep?
When consumed, caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a chemical in your brain that promotes sleep and relaxation. Caffeine also increases the activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and adrenaline, which can improve your mood, alertness, and cognitive performance. Unsurprisingly, these changes make you feel more awake and less likely to fall asleep.
The effects of caffeine can vary depending on the individual and can take up to 45 minutes to take effect and can last up to six hours.
In healthy people, caffeine has a half life of about 5 hours, however it can vary from 2-8 hours depending on your genetics, lifestyle and if you take certain medications.
For an average healthy person, consuming 200 mg of caffeine at 12 pm will mean they’ll still have around 100 mg in their system at 5 pm and 50 mg in their system at 10 pm, which for some people is enough to negatively impact their sleep.
So having a small Americano from Costa (185 mg caffeine) at 3 pm would leave you nearly 50 mg caffeine in your system at 1 am, that’s only 15 mg less caffeine than if you had an espresso shot right before bed!
This is why it’s important for you to use high doses of caffeine sparingly and to consume caffeine further from your bedtime.
Caffeine’s effects can vary based on your genetics, for example, there are variations in the CYP1A2 gene, which influence how fast you metabolize caffeine, slow metabolizers take more time to remove caffeine from the bloodstream, therefore they’d need to use caffeine even further from their bedtime to ensure their sleep is not disrupted. Read one of our previous blogs “Should You Use Caffeine In Sport?” to find out more about how your genes affect how you metabolize caffeine.
Tips to Reduce Caffeine's Effect on Your Sleep
Don't Exceed Your Daily Caffeine Limit
Adults can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day without negative effects, which is roughly the amount in four cups of coffee. Excessive caffeine intake means the body takes longer to clear all the caffeine from your system, making it more likely that you’ll have higher levels of caffeine in the blood at bedtime.
Aim to use your lowest effective dose so that you can still benefit from caffeine without suffering from negative effects on your sleep.
Only Use Caffeine When You Need It
Consuming high amounts of caffeine on a regular basis causes you to build up a caffeine tolerance. The evidence is mixed regarding whether you stop receiving the beneficial effects of caffeine with an increased tolerance, but you will certainly feel less of a “buzz” when consuming lower doses. This tends to lead to a gradual increase in caffeine consumption to chase that buzz you get after a strong coffee.
Try to save caffeine for days or tasks in which you require intense focus and alertness, or for your harder exercise sessions that require improved physical performance. Only using caffeine when it’s needed reduces your reliance on it and stops you from developing a high caffeine tolerance, allowing you to sleep better on a consistent basis.
Don't Use Caffeine Within 6-10 Hours of Bedtime
There is evidence to suggest that fast metabolisers don’t experience reductions in sleep quality or duration when consuming caffeine close to bedtime. However, if you know that’s not the case for you, it’s important not to consume caffeine within 6 hours of your bedtime, to allow enough time for the effects to wear off before trying to sleep.
The latest time you can take caffeine will vary depending on if you’re a slow or fast metabolizer. Slower metabolizers should not consume their last caffeine dose within 10 hours of their bedtime.
Opt for Chewable Caffeine Sources If It's Late
If looking to consume caffeine later in the day, it can help to consume a caffeine source that still provides benefits, but leaves your system faster. The effects of caffeine typically last up to six hours when consumed via traditional sources such as coffee or pills. But when chewed, caffeine peaks in your blood 3 times faster. This is because the caffeine is absorbed through membranes in the mouth and bypasses the stomach, leading to faster delivery into the bloodstream.
Because chewed caffeine enters the bloodstream faster, it also leaves your system faster, making it less likely to negatively affect your sleep. So by chewing caffeine, you can get a faster onset of benefits without it lingering and keeping you awake at night. Each Mint Caffeine Bullet contains 100 mg of caffeine (the same as a decent cup of coffee) and is absorbed as you chew, making it ideal if you need a rapid caffeine boost without compromising your sleep.
How to Improve Your Sleep Quality
Following proper sleep hygiene habits can improve your sleep quality and duration, reducing your reliance for caffeine to keep you going in the morning. Below are the current sleep hygiene best practices from the sleep foundation and recommendations from sleep expert Dr Shona Halson:
- Establish a consistent sleep schedule – this means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment – this includes keeping the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet, and avoiding electronic devices for at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Practice relaxation techniques – this can include deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, or reading a book.
- Avoid certain foods and drinks before bedtime – this includes caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals.
- Avoid naps during the day – this can disrupt the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. The exception to this is when you’re extremely sleep deprived and struggling to function, but still limit your nap to a maximum of 30 minutes.
- Be physically active – regular exercise can help improve sleep quality, but it’s important to avoid vigorous activity close to bedtime. (link to training plans)
- Manage your stress levels – stress and anxiety can impact sleep quality, so it’s important to find ways to manage stress and relax before bed. If you find yourself overthinking at night, keeping a journal to write down stressful thoughts can help put your mind at ease and help you sleep better.
- Calculate how much sleep you really need – track how much sleep you’re getting per night and assess how you feel about an hour after waking up (without using caffeine), if you still feel tired then it’s a good indicator you need to get more sleep.
By understanding how caffeine affects your body, monitoring your intake, reconsidering your caffeine source and consuming it strategically, you can get the most out of caffeine while minimizing its negative effects on your sleep. The best way to get the most out of caffeine is to sleep well and use it to enhance your performance when needed, instead of using it to mitigate the effects of poor sleep.
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