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Is coffee really that bad for your sleep? A neurophysiologist answers

Coffee is arguably one of the most popular drinks in the world; in 2020/2021 approximately 166.63 million (!) bags of coffee of 60 kilograms were consumed worldwide. And that’s not surprising: the caffeine in a cup of coffee gives a feeling of energy. It can help you perform better during the day because you can focus better.

But what exactly does caffeine in coffee do to you? Sleep expert and neurophysiologist Leo van Woerden answers what exactly coffee does to our body and whether it is true that coffee is really that bad for your sleep.

Caffeine and coffee

The thing is, your brain produces waste during the day. Eventually, the accumulation of these wastes makes you sleepy. Your brain therefore sends out a signal that it is time to ‘cleanse’ the brain, explains van Woerden.

Sleep is then the solution. During your sleep, your brain clears the waste. But here it is: Caffeine blocks the feeling of sleepiness and signals that your brain can go on without sleep for a while.

An example

Just an example to clarify the effect of caffeine. High CO2 emissions are a major problem on Earth. We burn our fossil fuels with the result that we produce excessive CO2 as waste. In general; if something burns, it creates waste.

Humans burn calories all day long. Your brain weighs only 1.5 kg (less than 2 percent of your body weight) but 20 percent of our total energy consumption is accounted for by our brains! When you burn calories, you create waste products, including the substance Adenosine.

Adenosine, among other things, will make you feel sleepy. Caffeine in coffee prevents Adenosine from exerting its effect. As a result, you will feel less tired while you use a lot of energy. Caffeine does not actually give you more energy, but suppresses the sleepy feeling.

Caffeine does not clear away waste, it just ensures that you do not give in to the natural process in your brain. Namely: sleep to clear your waste. Extensive analysis of studies indicates that daily caffeine consumption does not demonstrably improve your memory or thinking ability. Other research also shows that caffeine has a strong negative effect on your sleep.

Nice during the day, not at night

During a busy working day it can be nice to stay awake well, but at night you want to be able to sleep well. Research shows that caffeine, to the extent that it is still present in your body at night, can shorten your sleep time and reduce the quality of your sleep.

You sleep less deeply. While a good deep night’s sleep is important for your health. Another additional disadvantage: your brain tries to compensate for the chronic caffeine intake. Your brain is becoming more and more sensitive to this ‘sleepy’ substance.

So you need more and more caffeine to counteract the feeling of sleep. However, your brain continues to produce waste products and during the day the Adenosine just continues to accumulate in your brain. When the caffeine has worn off, the proverbial man with the hammer will give you your huge afternoon dip.

Listen to your body

It is important to listen carefully to your body. A sleepy feeling is therefore a warning from your brain to take it easy and go to sleep. If you ignore this signal or mask it with a cup of coffee, it eventually results in the need to sleep even more and longer.

Drinking too much coffee at night can cause sleeping problems, which makes you need more coffee the next day. A vicious circle for which there is a solution! Listen to your body and do not drink caffeinated products in the afternoon and evening. Keep in mind that from a double espresso, there is still an espresso in your blood after 6 (!) hours.

In short

Caffeinated products can give you a feeling of energy. It can help you achieve better performance. But… the caffeine that is still in your body in the evening ensures that you sleep less well and less deeply. This is a problem for your health and energy level the next day.

Therefore, make sure that you stop consuming caffeinated products as early as possible during the day so that your body is free of caffeine when you go to sleep at night. Sleep is one of the most important processes to get your brain in optimal condition for the next day.

After a good night’s sleep you have more energy, your memory works better and you perform better. Sleep gives you more energy than caffeine!

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Is coffee really that bad for your sleep? A neurophysiologist answers



Is coffee really that bad for your sleep? A neurophysiologist answers
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