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How Drinking Coffee Affects Our Sleep

You know that sleepy feeling you get after lunch? That "wish I could take a nap" urge to crawl under your desk and get a few minutes of shut-eye? What do you do instead? If you're like hundreds of millions of people world wide, you grab a cup of coffee, Maybe you grab a chocolate bar as well, or a muffin, drink of red bull or another high-caffeine soda or sports drink. Anything to give you that little boost.

What is the problem with this?

Well, it can mask your sleep deprivation. And when we don't get enough sleep, we become dangerous drivers, emotionally volatile, worse at remembering things, more liable to make mistakes and less productive. Studies show that just 1 hour of sleep loss below what we need can cause impairment. JUST 1 HOUR! 

How much sleep do we need? For healthy adults the range is 7-9 hours. Yet how many of us are surviving during the week on 6 hours of sleep or less?

When we don't get enough sleep, night after night, this also affects our health. The dangers of not getting enough good quality sleep include making you more likely to suffer from cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, chronic illness and Alzheimer’s Disease. It also makes us more likely to experience depression and anxiety, exacerbates mental illness, and makes us more likely to think negatively and to feel more emotionally volatile and less emotionally resilient.

Just 1 hour of less sleep than we need makes us more prone to accidents in the home, workplace and while driving, thus endangering ourselves and others. Long term sleep deprivation such as shift work can also affect our ability to fall or stay asleep, leading to insomnia. So then even when we are trying to fall asleep, we can't!

So how do we know if we ARE getting enough sleep? Signs of getting enough sleep are feeling alert during the day, having a good amount of energy and being able to focus mentally, without having to prop ourselves up with stimulants.

If you feel you might be going heavy on the coffee, sugar or energy drinks, be honest about how much you consume in a day. How well would you remain awake and without them? If you don’t know, experiment! Try a day limiting or reducing your stimulant consumption. Try going down to half your usual dose to start with. Then if you really want to get real with yourself, try removing your stimulant use altogether. (With caffeine it’s a good idea to taper down gradually to avoid headaches.)

Maybe you’re saying ‘not me’, I only need for or 5 hours and I’m fine. It's true that 5% of people are short sleepers who so need only 5 or so hours to function. They are born like this! My cousin was one of them, and I remember my aunt and uncle telling me how they had to tie a string between their foot and his cradle and they would take turns rocking the cradle at night to keep him happy while the other parent tried to sleep.

Studies have been done on people claiming they are short sleepers and that they only need 4 or 5 hours sleep. However, when tested, the majority of them turn out to be dangerously sleep deprived. In fact, with one night of sleep deprivation, people operate machinery including driving with the same response results as someone who is drunk.

If you’re having sleep issues, I'd recommend cutting out all stimulants after 3 pm. And then use stimulants selectively. A cup of coffee in the morning and one mid-afternoon can help you get through your day while not affecting your sleep at night. But if you’re using coffee or other stimulants to skimp on sleep, it might be time to reorganise your priorities.

Sleep is never a waste of time and the biggest factor affecting your health. For a 50 minute phone or video consultation on how you can improve your sleep, fill out the contact for or email [email protected]

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