Having trouble falling or staying asleep? Be careful with that last late cup of coffee

During an afternoon meeting I took part recently, the host kindly asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee. And instead of just saying an automatic “yes”, as I used to do in the past, I first looked at the time, thought for a second and then I kindly declined. It was 2:50 PM and it was too late for a cup of coffee.

However, about 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have said “no” to a cup of coffee in the afternoon. The coffee bar next to the cafeteria of the corporation I was working for was closing at 3 PM. Pretty much every working day, together with my fellow project manager colleagues, I was rushing before 3 PM to grab that last “good” coffee, after I already have had at least two coffees, one in the morning and one just after lunch. From the coffee bar, I was usually taking a latté or a cappucino, which tasted 100 times better than the version of the coffee machine located on our floor. Little did I know back then about the side-effects of late caffeine intake on sleep and on my overall well-being. (By the way, back then I was not lactose intolerant.)

Photo Credit: Pexels

Having been confronted meanwhile with severe sleep disorders, meaning even chronic insomnia due to a mix of health issue but also life and work style, I became very interested in ways to improve my sleep. And one of the first culprits of the deterioration of my sleep over the time was the high consumption of coffee, beside chronic stress, working during unsocial hours and unhealthy sleep hygiene.

I used to think that the answer to fatigue, sleep deprivation due to long working hours and productivity enhancement was the most fashionable adult dring – the coffee. I used to think that coffee was the fuel that would run on my inner engine, whenever I was missing out on sleep or whenever I needed to be productive and “energetic”. It never occured to me that beside healthy food, I also needed a healthy sleep. And high consumption of coffee, despite being so trendy at work, is very detrimental for your sleep and thus your overall health and well-being.

Drinking coffee used to be some kind of badge of honour at the office, next to being stressed. It meant that you were working so hard and so long (including doing overtime, during some nights), thus, you were a dedicated, good and responsible employee.

What you don’t know about coffee

What I did not know back then and perhaps you don’t know either is that it takes between 5 to 7 hours for your body to remove half of the concentration of the ingested cafeine. If you drink a coffee at 3PM, it is like to have eliminated from your body half of it by 10 PM. And the rest will be eliminated during night. Do you have trouble falling asleep or/and staying asleep? It may be due to that last late cup of coffee that you had.

In “Why we sleep“, Matthew Walker, the renowned neuroscientist and sleep researcher, presents coffee in a new light:

  • Half of shot of caffeine is still plenty powerfull, and much more decomposition work lies ahead throughout the night before caffeine disapears. Sleep will not come easily or be smooth throughout the night as your brain continues its battle against the opposing force of caffeine.”

  • “If you are trying to stay awake late into the night by drinking coffee, you should be prepared for a nasty consequence when your liver successfully evicts the caffeine from your system: a phenomenon commonly known as a “caffeine crash”. Like the batteries running down on a toy robot, your energy levels plummet rapidly.”* It will be very difficult for you to function and concentrate and you will feel extremely somnolent.

  • Aging also alters the speed of caffeine clearance: the older we are, the longer it takes our brain and body to remove caffeine, and thus the more sensitive we become in later life to caffeine’s sleep-disturbing influence.”*

  • Caffeine is not a food supplement. Rather, caffeine is the most widely used (and abused) psychoactive stimulant in the world. … The consumption of caffeine represents one of the longest and largest unsupervised drug studies ever conducted on the human race, perhaps rivaled only by alcohol, and it continues to this day.“*

  • Caffeine – which is not only prevalent in coffee, certain teas, and many energy drinks, but also in foods such as dark chocolate and ice cream, as well as grugs such as weight – loss pills and pain relievers – is one of the most common culprits that keep people from falling asleep easily and sleeping soundly thereafter, typically masquerading as insomnia, an actual medical condition.“*

  • De-caffeinated does NOT mean NON-caffeinated. One cup of decaf usually contains 15 to 30 percent of the dose of a regular cup of coffee. …Should you drink three to four cups of decaf in the evening, it is just as damaging to your sleep as one regular cup of coffee.“* So next time you want to have a late cup of coffee, even if it’s decaf, think twice.

And if you are concerned by your overall well-being, be it physical, mental, emotional, social or work related, feel free to reach out and book a 60 minute free coaching session. It will be your safe space of exploration. https://gabrieladspencer.com/coaching/

*excerpts from “Why we sleep. The New Science of Sleep and Dreams” by Matthew Walker, Part 1 “This thing called sleep”, chapter “Sleep pressure and caffeine”, p.27-29

Read also


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Author: Gabriela D. Spencer

I support you to Balance your overall Well-being, be it physical, emotional, relational or social through Life Coaching and Laughter Yoga. My aim is to ‘support you to help yourself’ as you are the only expert of your life. My interests include positive psychology, body-mind balancing techniques, stress management, well-being and connecting with one’s inner child. I am a Multi-potential and an ISFP (according to the latest tests, but who knows). I write and express myself whenever my mind is bursting with thoughts and emotions. Read me mostly in Romanian and sometimes in English.

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