Late afternoon and early evening caffeine can disrupt sleep at night

A new study shows that caffeine consumption even six hours before bedtime can have significant, disruptive effects on sleep.

“Sleep specialists have always suspected that caffeine can disrupt sleep long after it is consumed,” said American Academy of Sleep Medicine President M. Safwan Badr, MD. “This study provides objective evidence supporting the general recommendation that avoiding caffeine in the late afternoon and at night is beneficial for sleep.”

Results show that 400 mg of caffeine (about 2-3 cups of coffee) taken at bedtime, three and even six hours prior to bedtime significantly disrupts sleep. Even when caffeine was consumed six hours before going to bed, objectively measured total sleep time was dramatically reduced (more than one hour). However, subjective reports suggest that participants were unaware of this sleep disturbance.

The study is in the Nov. 15 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, which is published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

“Drinking a big cup of coffee on the way home from work can lead to negative effects on sleep just as if someone were to consume caffeine closer to bedtime,” said lead author Christopher Drake, PhD, investigator at the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders and Research Center and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich. “People tend to be less likely to detect the disruptive effects of caffeine on sleep when taken in the afternoon,” noted Drake, who also is on the board of directors of the Sleep Research Society.

Late afternoon and early evening caffeine can disrupt sleep at night Drake and his research team studied 12 healthy normal sleepers, as determined by a physical examination and clinical interview. Participants were instructed to maintain their normal sleep schedules. They were given three pills a day for four days, taking one pill at six, three and zero hours prior to scheduled bedtime. One of the pills contained 400 mg of caffeine, and the other two were a placebo. On one of the four days, all three pills were a placebo. Sleep disturbance was measured subjectively with a standard sleep diary and objectively using an in-home sleep monitor.

According to the authors, this is the first study to investigate the effects of a given dose of caffeine taken at different times before sleep. The results suggest that caffeine generally should be avoided after 5 p.m. in order to allow healthy sleep.

Caffeine consumption is a daily occurrence for many people around the world. From the morning cup of coffee to tall glasses of iced tea for lunch and chocolate desserts after dinner, most of us have no idea how much caffeine we ingest each day. Here is some information about the use of caffeine that will help to put the average consumption into perspective.

The daily intake of caffeine varies somewhat from one country to the next. Much of this variance has to do with the rate of coffee and tea consumption within a given location. For example, coffee is easily the single most popular caffeinated beverage among adults in many parts of the world. This accounts largely for how much caffeine is consumed on a daily basis by adults in the United States and Canada. In those two countries, the average consumption per adult is just under 250 mg. However, these figures pale in comparison to reports from Sweden and Finland, where the average daily caffeine intake of caffeine is cited as being in the range of 400 mg for adults over the age of twenty-one. In all instances, coffee is cited as the main source of this daily intake of caffeine.

In other countries, coffee slips down the ladder as the main source of caffeine. In the United Kingdom and many other areas formerly in the British empire, tea is the beverage of choice and provides the major source for daily consumption of caffeine. Some studies indicate that the average caffeine intake for citizens of the UK is in the 300 mg range. While tea accounts for most of the presence of caffeine in the daily diet, coffee, soft drinks, and chocolate treats are gaining ground.

For children, it is often estimated that in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom that soft drinks and sweets account for the main sources of caffeine in the diet. The breakdown of how much caffeine children consume on average is usually in the range of 150 to 200 mg per day. Along with soft drinks and sweets, other beverages such as sports drinks appear to be driving up the daily average of how much caffeine our children are taking in each and every day.

Some experts feel this is a clear indication of widespread caffeine addiction in our society. While many stimulants are recognized as being addictive, many people think little or nothing about caffeine. The average person gets the best effects from about 50 to 300 mg of caffeine, though this varies from person to person. Being aware of how much caffeine surrounds us and choosing to limit our daily intake is the first step toward avoiding a potentially addictive situation, while still being able to enjoy all the foods and drinks we love.


Lynn Celmer
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American Academy of Sleep Medicine

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