Cut Back on Caffeine to Sleep Better

5 Top Tips to make it Easier to Reduce your Caffeine Intake

Sleep is vital to our physical and mental wellbeing. However, a huge percentage of the population struggle to enjoy good quality, refreshing sleep on a regular basis. Here are a couple of worrying statistics:

  • Nearly half (48%) of adults and two thirds (66%) of teenagers agree that sleeping badly has a negative effect on their mental health
  • 36% of UK adults struggle to fall asleep at least on a weekly basis. Almost 1 in 5 have trouble falling asleep every single night

There are several reasons why we might sleep badly. Today, I want to focus on one particular reason why so many people may struggle to get off to sleep and why they may also experience poor quality sleep. This reason is Caffeine.

On average in the UK we drink 100 million cups of tea a day (40mg caffeine per cup) and 95 million cups of coffee (60mg caffeine per cup).

A scientific study in 2013 demonstrated that even a moderate dose of caffeine at 0, 3 or 6 hours before going to bed each have significant effects on sleep disturbance relative to placebo.

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a common stimulant found in tea, coffee, cola, energy drinks, caffeine tablets e.g. pro plus, some medication and chocolate. For many people, in small doses, it can be useful in helping them to feel alert and focussed. For many more people though, it may be causing them symptoms such as headaches, dehydration, high blood pressure and insomnia.

Why does Caffeine cause insomnia?

One of the chemicals produced naturally in the body which is essential to getting our bodies ready to sleep is called Adenosine. Levels of Adenosine build up during the day, locking into adenosine receptors in the brain. As the level of adenosine in the adenosine receptors builds up, we become sleepier. Our bodies are very cleverly designed so that this level should peak at around the time we want to go to bed and to sleep.

Caffeine is absorbed very quickly through the stomach into the blood stream which enables it to travel throughout the body. When the caffeine reaches the brain, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and blocks the adenosine receptors so that adenosine cannot get into the receptors. As a result we remain alert and awake.

How long does Caffeine continue to work in the body?

Caffeine has a ‘half-life’ of 4-6 hours. Many studies use 6 hours as a guide so I will stick to this. This means that after 6 hours, half of the caffeine you consumed is still actively working in your body. After a further 6 hours, half again is still active. So, if you consume a cup of coffee containing 60mg of caffeine at 4pm, at 10pm you still have 30mg caffeine in your system, at 4am you still have 15mg caffeine in your system.

Therefore, if you have a coffee at 12 noon, 30mg of caffeine will still be in your system at 6pm, 15mg by midnight. Don’t forget the cumulative effect of any prior cups of tea/coffee you have had earlier in the morning which are also still in your system.

This is why it is generally recommended that you avoid caffeine after lunch if possible. Ideally avoiding it after about mid-morning.

Can I just stop consuming caffeine?

No. It is not advisable to suddenly stop consuming caffeine unless you consume very little already.

Stopping, or suddenly, significantly reducing your caffeine intake can cause unpleasant withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Muscle pain
  • Irritability

It is therefore, always best to reduce your caffeine intake slowly, and gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms and maximise your chances of success.

So what are those Top Tips you Promised?

These are my 5 top tips for successfully reducing your caffeine intake.

1. Swap one drink at a time for something different. What you choose to drink instead will depend on what you currently drink, your reasons for switching, any other goals (e.g. if you are trying to lose weight don’t start drinking sugary drinks, but if you already drink cola you could swap this for a different caffeine-free soft drink) and your own personal preferences. You could switch to decaffeinated alternatives (although please be aware that these do still contain some caffeine so try to avoid them in the evenings), fruit/herbal teas, hot water, non-caffeinated soft drinks or water.

2. Leave a few days between each drink that you swap to allow your body to adjust. Even if you are feeling fine and not experiencing any withdrawal symptoms it is important to take it gradually. The cumulative effect of reducing too quickly can be unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Reduce slowly and steadily if you want to succeed.

3. Drink plenty of water in order to make sure you stay hydrated and reduce the risk of headaches due to dehydration. Water also naturally flushes caffeine from your body.

4. Aim to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption over a 2-3 week period. This will allow your body to adjust. If you consume caffeine in other forms such as pills or in medication, you can reduce these gradually too.

5. Break up your day. If you find yourself feeling tired or struggling to concentrate, have a drink of water, and take a few invigorating, deep breaths (ideally out of doors). A short burst of physical activity will also help……a brisk walk around the block, jogging on the spot, or a few star jumps could help refresh your body and mind.

For further information about how I can help you to improve your sleep send me an email to margaretwebster@escapetoshanti.co.uk and we can arrange a time to chat.

References

https://www.drugwise.org.uk/caffeine/     [Accessed 13/6/22]

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