As insomnia becomes a rampant problem among Americans, it is estimated by the US Centers for Disease Control that between 50 and 70 million Americans are deprived of sleep in a chronic manner. Stress, anxiety, work responsibilities, packed family schedules, web surfing, and binge-watching television are just a few of the factors that people tend to lose sleep over. But another major one might be sitting in a cup in your hand right now. It’s coffee!
Does Coffee Cause Insomnia?
While insomnia can be caused by a variety of things such as stress, anxiety, depression or illness, certainly one of the reasons that a person cannot sleep at night can be related to the side effects of substance use or abuse. Namely, coffee! That delicious, aromatic Cup o’ Joe could be sabotaging your life.
Coffee contains caffeine, a strong mind-altering substance that affects the brain and body in a number of ways. In fact, that’s often the very reason that people drink coffee in the first place, is to get the energy boost that caffeine can offer them in a very short time. It’s absorbed into the body within 15 minutes of drinking it through coffee or soft drinks.
On the surface coffee can help to temporarily fight fatigue and low energy, allowing people to become more alert. Some experts have referred to caffeine as the most common drug in the world as it sits in most people’s kitchens and entire multi-billion dollar businesses have been built around it!
Although coffee might seem to be your best friend, it also could be making your insomnia or sleepless nights worse.
How Coffee Causes Insomnia
The caffeine contained in coffee is a stimulant for the body’s nervous system, while affecting the digestive, circulatory and excretory systems as well. It provides an elevation in blood pressure in the short term and (obviously) a boost of wakefulness and alertness. The bad news is that this can ultimately result in a “crash” which leaves you needing more coffee in order to get by.
Drinking coffee not only stimulates the nervous system, but it also releases neurochemicals into the body. One chemical, adenosine, is responsible for making the body sleepy and naturally increases throughout the day. Caffeine blocks the body’s natural release of adenosine and prevents brain cells from triggering tiredness. This is great when you’re trying to work, but once it’s time to go to bed you may experience the inability to fall asleep.
Dopamine is another substance that is released in the brain through caffeine-filled coffee. This pleasure-hormone stimulates the release of this pleasure hormone and may be the part that causes addiction.
Melatonin is a critical substance related to your brain’s sleep-wake cycle that helps your body to tell when it is time to fall asleep at night. Caffeine suppresses the release of melatonin and therefore may be contributing to your inability to sleep.
Caffeine from coffee absorbs into the body very quickly and stays there for quite some time. It can take around six hours for have of the caffeine to be eliminated from the body once you drink it, and the other half still remains for several hours longer.
How to Break Your Coffee Addiction to Fight Insomnia
If you drink several cups of coffee a day (6 or more 8 ounce cups—which is the equivalent of three Starbucks Grande size cups), you may be in danger of being addicted. If this is the case then you are probably better off to cut back your coffee first, rather than cutting it out altogether. If you quit caffeine cold turkey, it may result in headaches, jitteriness, nausea, irritability, and even more insomnia. So slow down first without quitting right away to give time for the symptoms to subside.
Also, don’t forget that caffeine is an ingredient in many soft drinks as well as in chocolate, energy drinks, protein bars, hot chocolate, and even ice cream. Plus, just because coffee is labelled “decaf”, doesn’t mean that it contains no caffeine. It still has some and that should be considered when you’re trying to figure out what is keeping you awake at night.
When it comes to caffeine, not everyone experiences it in the same way so the decisions you make about caffeine and insomnia should be related to your own individual needs. Chances are, however, if you drink a lot of coffee and have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep at night, there is likely a connection between the two. Balance out your caffeine intake and you will likely find that some of the underlying anxiety and wakefulness related to your insomnia may just take care of itself.