Sleep plays a critical role in our daily lives. When we don’t sleep well our productivity, family life, social life, and personal health can be greatly impacted. In my practice, I work with clients on a daily basis to improve sleep quality. In this sleep series I will discuss one problematic sleep habit per post and provide some tips to help you become a better sleeper. My sleep experience comes from a residency I completed with the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Clinic in Winnipeg, Manitoba with Dr. Norah Vincent. Some of the following information comes from a favorite handout of mine compiled by Dr. Vincent.
Yes, I know. We have all heard that caffeine disrupts sleep. Why is that? Research has told us that caffeine consumption can lead to increased night waking, early morning waking, and/or delayed sleep onset (that is, difficulty falling asleep). Caffeine has also been found to interfere with our ability to move from lighter stages of sleep into deeper, more restorative stages of sleep.
What if I just have one cup of coffee per day?
In general, caffeine makes us feel more alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production. Research has found that these effects last twice as long in the body of a poor sleeper relative to good sleepers. Therefore, one cup of coffee may not disrupt your sleep if you are well rested; however, if you are chronically sleep deprived, that one measly cup could have negative implications.
But I don’t drink coffee everyday…
Interestingly, some research has found that a change in your daily caffeine consumption (rather than the actual amount of caffeine consumed) can lead to sleep problems. Varying caffeine by even one cup per day can lead to irritability, dysphoria, and sleep problems that can last for up to seven days!
Caffeine shouldn’t be a problem, I use a sleep aid.
Caffeine can interact with various types of sleeping pills (e.g., benzodiazepines such as lorazepam and clonazepam) and make the sleeping medication less effective.
*If you do try to reduce or eliminate caffeine consumption, remember to taper very slowly.
*Remember that caffeine can be found in other drinks like tea and other soft drinks, as well as in chocolate and some medications.
*Research does suggest that there is a genetic predisposition to being activated by caffeine. This means that if your parents have noticed that they become more alert with caffeine consumption, you are more likely to have a similar experience.