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  • Joanna Shtrosberg

Most adults love their caffeine – usually in the form of a hot cup of tea or coffee.  For working adults, it can get them through that late night at work, and for new parents it can perk them up the morning after a disrupted night.  Yes, caffeine does wonders at pushing aside tiredness and exhaustion…at least for a short while.  But have you thought about the effect of caffeine on your sleep and the timing of your caffeine intake?

The half-life of caffeine

Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours.  This means that five hours after you drink your cup of tea or coffee there is still half the amount of caffeine in your body.  And another five hours later, a quarter still remains.   So, if you drink a cup of tea or coffee at 3pm, you still have half the amount of caffeine in your body at 8pm and a quarter still remains in your body at 1am.  Would you ever choose to wake up at one in the morning, drink a quarter of a cup of coffee and then expect to fall asleep easily? Is it any wonder then that caffeine can disrupt our sleep?

How does caffeine affect sleep?

Caffeine has been shown to interfere with both our ability to fall asleep at night and our sleep quality too.  This is because it turns on the “mute” button on our body’s sleep pressure signal.  Sleep pressure, known as adenosine, will help influence the timing of sleep.  As your sleep pressure builds gradually during the day, it eventually reaches a level where you feel so tired that you will want to go to sleep.  But caffeine mutes this signal and therefore stimulates the brain preventing that natural tiredness from setting in.

Caffeine remains in the body for a long time and can affect our nighttime sleep.

Decaf is not the same as caffeine free

People often mistakenly think that decaffeinated drinks contain no caffeine.  However, one cup of decaf coffee usually contains around 15-30% of a regular coffee, so drinking it in the late afternoon or evening can be just as damaging to your sleep.  Thankfully there are lots of delicious caffeine-free and teas and herbals available as an alternative.

Don’t panic about your caffeine intake

Whilst caffeine has been proven to disrupt sleep, there are genetic differences, with some people more able to clear it from their system compared to others.  If you are struggling to fall or stay asleep at night, I would recommend that you simply try a few caffeine-free days and see if this makes any difference to your sleep quality or ability to fall asleep in the evening. But remember that if you are a heavy coffee drinker, you might get withdrawal symptoms from ditching the coffee suddenly. Decreasing it gradually is probably better and then have a clean caffeine week to see how your body responds. After that, you can decide what works for you.

My personal preference is to ditch the caffeine after lunch. I find that this practice gives my body time for the caffeine to get through my system before bedtime.  Every individual is different so take the time to work out what’s right for you.

How can caffeine affect my child?

Whilst you are unlikely to give your child tea or coffee, you might innocently offer them a piece of chocolate cake. Yet, chocolate also contains caffeine and can have the same disruptive effect on their sleep.  So once again just consider the time of day that you offer chocolate to your child and maybe bring it forward a little earlier in the day where possible.

Chocolate contains caffeine which can affect your child's sleep

If you are struggling with your child’s sleep, Sleep Superstars can help you and your family.  We offer sleep welfare packages looking at sleep holistically.  To find out more about us see here or read how it works.

Joanna Shtrosberg
Joanna is a certified level 6 holistic sleep consultant and founder of Sleep Superstars. Her vision is to help parents navigate the challenges of parenthood by helping them and their children get the sleep they need. Before setting up Sleep Superstars, Joanna graduated from Cambridge University and the College of Law after which she practised in the legal profession for several years. She is also a mother to two young boys so fully understands the difficulties in balancing a career with family life.