Coffee Before Bed: Is It Such a Terrible Idea?
I was travelling through some tiny town at 6:30pm and all I wanted was a latte, but all the coffee shops closed at 5pm.
I might have thrown a coffee-deprivation-induced temper tantrum, but it seems the locals had already answered a question I had yet to ask myself: “Is drinking coffee before bed such a great idea?”
Is coffee healthy overall?
There are many documented health benefits of coffee.
Studies have indicated that drinking a moderate amount of coffee regularly has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, digestion, and may even help prevent certain forms of dementia like Alzheimer’s Disease (1).
But other studies suggest that drinking caffeine late in the day can actually cause sleep disorders, which negatively influence your health.
The Link Between Caffeine and Insomnia: Does Coffee Make You Sleepy?
As it turns out, ingesting caffeine during the day is actually pretty bad if you can’t sleep at night. Your body is made up of cells, each with their own circadian rhythm. The gears are humming along, and as the sun goes down they start to shift to prepare the body for rest.
Unbeknownst to your cells, you have a date at the local coffee shop at 7pm. You order a large Americano because you’re bold and daring but want to enjoy your drink for longer than a couple straight shots of espresso.
As the delicious liquid now floods your body, it passes by each cell and wakes it back up. So for the next few hours or so, your cells are back to work, keeping you awake and providing you all the nutrients you need to stay awake.
But now it’s 11pm and you’re back from your date and ready for sleep. Your cells are wide awake, so once you get to sleep it will not be the deep, restorative kind that leaves you rested and prepared for the next day.
Thus begins the cycle of drinking caffeine all day to stay awake because you drank caffeine too late the day before.
Does coffee make you sleepy? Not really, it just disrupts your body’s natural sleep pattern.
What Does the Research Say?
Scientists love to study coffee. Who can blame them? Coffee is liquid gold, and the best research topic ever.
Never fear! None of the research suggests giving up caffeine entirely, although one research found that coffee consumption 0, 3, and even 6 hours before bedtime can diminish the quality of sleep: (2)
The present results suggest the common practice of afternoon consumption of caffeine should at a minimum be restricted to before 17:00, particularly with regard to the moderate-large doses of caffeine commonly found in increasingly popular premium coffees and energy drinks.
Another research study (3) showed “A double espresso three hours before bedtime delayed the production of the sleep hormone melatonin by about 40 minutes, making it harder to nod off.”
Suggestions for enjoying caffeine without disrupting sleep usually involve limiting your intake past 2pm, or just after lunch if you are sensitive to stimulants or struggle with insomnia.
Hope For the Night Owls
Researchers are also paying attention to differences in individual sleep patterns.
In a ground-breaking study (4) conducted with college students from Stanford University, researchers have helped validate the night owls.
The findings suggest caffeine ingested later in the evening had more negative effects for people who wake up early than for those who naturally tend to stay up late and sleep in anyway.
More research will be done to dig further into the exact reasons: what makes someone a “morning person” or a “night owl”?
Can caffeine have a positive influence on circadian rhythm?
What options do you have for a satisfying beverage after the 2pm cutoff? Actually, there are several choices available. If you are struggling with insomnia or just don’t want to risk your beauty sleep, be mindful that decaf coffee still contains between 0-13.9mg of caffeine (5).
Naturally decaffeinated products are becoming more popular, and thankfully they are actually taste good. Teeccino is a brand of herbal tea made with chicory and dandelion root, and created properly can taste an awful lot like coffee.
For newbies, I suggest the variety pack, which contains 10 “tee-bags” each of chocolate, French roast, hazelnut, and vanilla nut. Personally, my favourite flavour is vanilla nut, which is a medium roast. Teeccino is naturally gluten-free and acid-free.
Capomo is another caffeine-free alternative. Based in Seattle and made from the Maya nut, Capomo is a rich roast just like coffee, but without the caffeine content. The Maya nut is also extremely healthy, so take a sip and enjoy benefits not found in coffee, like vitamins A, B, C, and E, along with zinc, potassium, and calcium.
For a more authentic coffee shop experience, be sure to prepare both of these in your French press and use frothed milk.
Make the Switch for Your Sleep
So, should you drink coffee before bed?
Test what works for you! Not everyone responds the same to caffeine, some people are more sensitive than others to its stimulant effects.
- Drink less than 400mg of caffeine per day
- Test drinking coffee at a different time of the day
- If you are a morning person, try the above alternatives for a tasty evening drink, and don’t drink caffeine up to 6 hours before you hit the hay
- If you are a night owl, you might want to consider caffeine-free options to see if it affects your sleep quality
Are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you limit your caffeine intake?
Let us know what you think in the comments. And if you know someone who might like this article, please share it!
Yep, having coffee at night is bad for you, especially on a regular basis. It diminishes the quality of sleep (2) and delays the release of the sleep hormone melatonin (3), thus, delaying your body’s circadian clock. However, caffeine consumption at night has been seen to have more negative effects on morning people than those who wake up later in the day.
Since caffeine intake 0 to 6 hours before bed time has been found to affect sleep quality (2) and delay the body’s melatonin release (3), we recommend limiting your coffee take past 2pm especially if you sleep around 8pm. However, if you normally sleep later in the evening – say around 12am – you may still drink coffee around 6pm.
On average, the effects of coffee last from 4 to 6 hours. In fact, half of the caffeine could be gone from your system within that timeframe. Also, please note that the effects of caffeine peak within 30 to 60 minutes of consumption (6), so it is therefore recommended to adjust your coffee drinking schedule according to your normal bedtime.
- Eskelinen, M. H., & Kivipelto, M. (2010). Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20182054/
- Drake, C., Roehrs, T., Shambroom, J., & Roth, T. (2013, November 15). Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/
- Burke, T. M., Markwald, R. R., McHill, A. W., Chinoy, E. D., Snider, J. A., Bessman, S. C., . . . Wright, K. P. (2015, September 16). Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro. Retrieved from https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.aac5125
- Rettner, R. (2012, March 01). Caffeine Disrupts Sleep for Morning People, but Not Night Owls. Retrieved from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/caffeine-disrupts-sleep-f/
- McCusker, R. R., Fuehrlein, B., Goldberger, B. A., Gold, M. S., & Cone, E. J. (2006, October). Caffeine content of decaffeinated coffee. Retrieved From https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17132260/
- Cherney, K. (2018, November 6). How Long Does Caffeine Stay in Your System? Retrieved From https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-caffeine-last