Are you one of those people that seemingly can’t function in a morning without a cup of tea or coffee? If so, then rest assured that you most certainly are not alone, as there are literally millions upon millions of people in the exact same situation as you. The reason why people find themselves craving and requiring cups of tea or coffee in a morning is not due to the delicious taste, it is due to the fact that the beverages contain caffeine, which acts like a powerful stimulant on the body, making you feel awake, alert, and energized. Whilst there is a great deal of evidence that proves that there are many benefits associated with caffeine, there is also a fair amount of evidence that proves that this stimulant can be harmful and dangerous to a person’s health and well-being. Like most things in life however, when it comes to caffeine, it is recommended that you enjoy it in moderation in order to not only see the best results from this stimulant, but to also ensure that you keep yourself as fit and as healthy as you possibly can. When people talk about the dangers associated with caffeine consumption, one of the first things that tends to be brought up, is insomnia and trouble sleeping. In this article we’ll be looking at the effects of coffee (caffeine) on sleep, how long before bed you should ideal stop drinking the beverage, plus a great deal more info on caffeine and sleep in general.
What is caffeine?
First and foremost, we’ll begin by taking a look at exactly what caffeine is. Caffeine is a natural compound that is found in both, the leaves, and seeds of coffee and tea plants, and it has extremely potent stimulating effects on the human body. The caffeine that is present in these plants however, is not actually intended to function as a stimulant at all. The caffeine that is found in the seeds and leaves of these plants, is actually there acting as a natural defence mechanism for the plant. The reason for this is that the caffeine actually works as a powerful pesticide, which prevents bugs and insects from eating the plants and destroying them. In humans however, obviously it is not poisonous, but what it is, is a powerful stimulant.
How does caffeine work, exactly?
Our brains are miraculous organs that allow us to do a whole variety of different things. They help us to focus, they can help us to change our ways of life, they can benefit us in regards to physical exercise, and much, much, much more besides that. However, as time goes by and our brains work harder and harder each day, a chemical which is known as adenosine begins to build up within our brains, binding to receptors within it. Adenosine leaves the brain feeling tired, lethargic, and it just generally has very little positive effects on it at all. Caffeine however, is beneficial for the brain because it actually blocks adenosine from binding to these receptors, thus helping to keep the brain in a fit and healthy condition. As the adenosine can no longer attack your brain and slow it down, neurons within the brain can fire up much faster, making it sharper and more efficient. The caffeine fires your brain up and makes it work extra hard, which is what gives the caffeine it’s most beneficial effects. You see, as the brain is working so hard, adrenaline and dopamine chemicals are released as it thinks that something pretty crucial is going on in the outside world. These chemicals improve mental focus, stamina, physical endurance, memory, mood, and much more besides. Put simply, they help make the brain an even more effective tool than it already is.
How much caffeine should you consume?
In terms of how much caffeine you should be consuming on a regular basis, that really depends on a number of factors, including: Age, weight, activity levels, medical history, and of course, your overall sensitivity to caffeine. With that being said however, generally there is a rough figure that you should aim for if you’re a regular coffee/tea drinker. On average, a person who drinks coffee each day will consume roughly 250mg of caffeine each day. This is around 2 average sized cups of average strength coffee. Just remember, that caffeine content can vary greatly from coffee to coffee, but generally speaking, the figures above are the average. In order to really benefit from the natural caffeine found within coffee, it is recommended that you actually keep caffeine consumption low, whilst still enjoying the numerous benefits associated with a caffeine boost. This is especially true if you aren’t a seasoned caffeine drinker. This ensures that you get all of the benefits, without consuming too much of the stimulant. As a rough figure for those who are looking to benefit from caffeine, but keep their consumption low, experts recommend taking your weight in pounds, and then dividing it by two to give you the magic number of how much caffeine in mgs you should be drinking. So, if you weigh 200lbs, you would divide that by 2, leaving you with 100, meaning you should drink 100mg of caffeine per day. Alternatively, in KG, you should drink 1mg of caffeine per kg that you weigh. For those who have built up a tolerance to caffeine, you should take this number and multiply it by 5. So, instead of 100mg, you should drink 500mg. This is on the very highest end of the spectrum however, so for best results, why not opt for a middle ground?
What are the benefits of caffeine?
Now we’ll take a look at a few of the main benefits of caffeine, and look at, what it is exactly that makes it so beneficial and popular.
Mental focus – As mentioned, one of the main benefits associated with caffeine is the fact that, as it helps to prevent adenosine from binding to receptors within the brain, it helps keep it sharp and focussed. To make things even better, the additional chemicals such as adrenalin and dopamine, also help to promote mental focus.
Increased energy – Another benefit of caffeine, and arguably one of the main reasons why people tend to drink beverages rich in caffeine, is the fact that it also provides a substantial increase in energy levels. This increase in energy doesn’t last all day, but it does last for a good one- two hours on average, which is why many athletes and gym goers tend to consume caffeine before they workout.
Improved mental health – Another great benefit of caffeine is the fact that, as it has been found to help promote optimal brain health and function, it can also improve mental health and can help prevent conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety.
What are some of the main dangers of caffeine?
So far we’ve looked at caffeine in a largely positive light, so let’s now take a look at a few of the more dangerous and negative aspects associated with this stimulant.
Addiction – One of the biggest problems with caffeine consumption is the fact that it is addictive, which means that the more you consume, the less powerful the effects become, and as the body is craving these effects, it craves more and more. People can often become addicted to caffeine and can feel jittery/anxious if they don’t get it, and some can even experience withdrawal symptoms.
Heart problems – As caffeine is a stimulant, it can increase a person’s resting heart rate, which in turn, can cause problems including: cardiovascular disease, hypertension, or even a heart attack. People with underlying heart conditions are advised to keep caffeine content to an asbolsute minimum.
Insomnia – Finally, another very common problem associated with caffeine, and one which we’ll be looking at in more detail in just a moment, is insomnia. The more caffeine a person has in their system, the more awake and alert they feel, which can lead to trouble sleeping and/or insomnia, which makes life pretty awful.
How long before bed should you stop drinking coffee?
As we previously mentioned, caffeine can cause problems sleeping and can lead to insomnia. The problem here is that, due to the fact that the caffeine kept them awake for most of the night, when they are eventually able to get to sleep, people may find themselves waking up feeling tired and awful, because they won’t have gotten enough sleep. To make them feel more awake and alert, they drink coffee/tea/energy drinks packed full of caffeine, and the whole vicious circle repeats itself again and again. In order to help ensure that the caffeine you have consumed will not affect your sleeping patterns in the slightest, you need to ensure that there is absolutely no caffeine in your system at all. For this reason, experts recommend that you stop drinking coffee at least five hours before you plan on going to sleep. If you enjoy the taste of coffee or tea however, then fear not, because you can still relax in an evening with a hot cup of the beverage of your choosing, as they are available in decaffeinated versions, so you get the same great taste, without the stimulating effects of the caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you may wish to drink your last cup of coffee around 6 or even 7 hours before bed, just to be sure.