If coffee is your co-pilot, you're not alone. I've been drinking coffee since I was 12 — hey, it was the '90s when kids were totally unsupervised. Up until my mid-20s, I could drink coffee all day long and still fall asleep at night. Now, I'm searching for the best caffeine drinks for better sleep because if I drink coffee after 3 p.m., I'm not going to sleep at all. As it turns out, there's actually a few pretty solid reasons for this.
"Caffeine enters the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine and can have a stimulating effect as soon as 15 minutes after it is consumed," the National Sleep Foundation explained on its website. Once in the body, caffeine will persist for several hours: it takes about six hours for one half of the caffeine to be eliminated." This means that after six hours, half of the caffeine you consumed is still in your body. But that's not the only reason caffeine can wreck your sleep.
If you, like me, used to be able to drink caffeine all day and sleep fine and now you can't, this is because caffeine is processed more slowly in the bodies of adults, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reported. But not all caffeinated beverages are created equal, which means some can mess with your sleep more than others. If you follow this logic, drinking a beverage with less caffeine could reduce the negative effects of caffeine on your sleep.
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine also noted that coffee accounts for 54 percent of caffeine consumption in the U.S., while tea is responsible for another 43 percent. In fact, the U.S. is the most caffeinated country in the world, with Americans consuming three times as much caffeine as the international average. (This says a lot about our over-worked and under-rested society, but that's a topic for another time.)
What's more, if you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages late in the afternoon, it can actually reduce the amount of sleep you get by at least one hour, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found. "The finding that sleep was disrupted even six hours prior to bedtime adds to our current knowledge of caffeine effects on sleep and suggests that larger doses will have an important impact even during daytime hours."
So, if you're a Lorelai Gilmore-level coffee drinker and you're having trouble sleeping, it's best to ditch the java at least six hours before you go to bed. If you're super sensitive to caffeine, because half of what you consume may linger in your body after six hours, you might want to cool it even sooner.
In addition, CNBC reported that switching your coffee schedule could help you get a bigger boost of energy. For example, if you normally go right for the coffee upon waking, wait until you've been up for three to four hours, which sounds easier than it is. If this is your idea of torture, opt for drinks with less caffeine instead.
On its website, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine provides a helpful table that outlines the average amount of caffeine in the most popular caffeinated beverages. Energy drinks have the most caffeine followed by coffee, tea, and soda. Even decaf coffee contains some caffeine. The only drinks on the list with no caffeine are herbal tea and caffeine-free sodas.
If you're drinking enough caffeine that it's disrupting your sleep, you could fall into a vicious cycle. When you're tired, you might drink more caffeine, which means you'll get less sleep. If you continue this routine for a month, you could lose 30 hours of sleep total. Keep it up for a year and you lose a minimum of 365 hours of sleep! The only way to break this habit is to give yourself a caffeine cutoff time at least six hours before you go to bed. In addition, after your morning cup of coffee, choose beverages with less caffeine and see if you sleep better after 30 days.