Caffeine & Sleep

by Tamzin Birch

Chances are, you already know the basics: Caffeine is widely cited as the world’s most pervasive psychoactive drug, and it’s regularly consumed by more than 85 percent of Americans. It’s in your cold brew, your matcha, your soda, and many of the foods you’re eating. Too much of the stuff and you may feel jittery or crash when it wears off - or you might have trouble sleeping at night. 

First, understand that caffeine isn’t inherently bad. It’s an organic compound that occurs naturally in plants - most notably coffee, tea, and cocoa - where its bitter taste discourages pests. When consumed by humans, it has the by-product of temporarily altering certain brain signals, including those essential to sleep. In small doses - say, a piece of chocolate or a few ounces of coffee - the effects are generally mild. But high concentrations can confuse the mind and body, wreaking havoc on our natural rhythm. Ergo, becoming a conscious consumer of caffeine is one easy way to become a better sleeper. Except conscious consumption is difficult. For starters, synthetic caffeine is often added to our ingestible products - some of them obvious (energy drinks), others less so (protein bars, aspirin). There are also disparities in nutritional labeling, and factors like serving size can skew your perceptions of concentration. 

Reducing your intake of caffeinated beverages is a simple concept. Compare a large iced chai with a medium cappuccino and a 40-ounce fountain soda, though, and it starts getting murky. Here, it’s best to moor yourself to some general reference points. According to the FDA, a typical 12-ounce soda contains 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine. The average 8-ounce cup of green or black tea has 30 to 50 milligrams, while an 8-ounce cup of coffee packs closer to 80 to 100 milligrams. The agency also says that decaf coffee is a misnomer, as those varieties still contain 2 to 15 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup (see that chart at right for more info on the amount of caffeine in various products). With these figures as a baseline, use a critical eye when grocery shopping or dining out. Be wary of coffee- and matcha-flavoured foods, like yogurts and ice creams, which can have upwards of 30 milligrams of caffeine per 6-ounce serving. Over-the-counter weight-loss supplements are, in many cases, glorified caffeine pills; a single tablet might contain 135 milligrams, so consider cutting them out entirely. If you’re really looking to cut down, steer clear of products branded “energy”—even bottled waters or chewing gum. Ready to put knowledge into action? Log your caffeine intake over the course of one week in a journal or on your phone. The following week, aim to reduce that figure by a realistic percentage. You may be surprised at how easy it is to trim consumption and the degree to which it positively impacts your sleep.

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