The stimulant caffeine could well be the most popular drug in the world. It is found naturally in more than 60 plants, including cocoa pods, tea leaves and coffee beans, and is readily available to consumers in the form of coffee, tea, chocolate, some soft drinks and some over-the-counter medications. Our streets are full of chain and independent coffee shops, and “grabbing a coffee” is a common activity for Canadians of all ages.

Most people find that one cup of coffee or tea can help increase their energy levels first thing in the morning. The effects of caffeine can be felt within 15 minutes of consumption and can last several hours. Because of this lasting effect, drinking a caffeinated beverage even in mid-afternoon can make it difficult to fall asleep. Inadequate sleep leads to fatigue the next day and continues the cycle of poor sleep and caffeine dependence.

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, your body may have become accustomed to certain levels of caffeine. If you quit the habit, you may experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, depression and mood changes in the first few days without caffeine.

Caffeine temporarily increases levels of alertness by producing adrenaline and suppressing the production of melatonin, the chemical that our brain produces in the late evening to help us fall asleep. It is the combination of these actions that make it difficult to sleep when there is caffeine in your system. Therefore, it’s best to avoid caffeine in the afternoon, evening and especially in the four hours before bedtime. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers take twice as long to fall asleep as those who choose non-caffeinated beverages throughout the day.

While coffee is here to stay, there are things you can do to minimize the negative impact caffeine has on your sleep patterns:

  • Restrict yourself to one caffeinated beverage in the morning.
  • If you enjoy the taste of coffee or tea, opt for de-caffeinated coffees or herbal teas at other times of the day.
  • Ensure that you have a healthy sleep routine that allows you to feel rested in the morning, so you won’t feel the need to turn to caffeine as a stimulant.
  • Make sure to have a healthy breakfast. This will allow your body to gain energy from nutritious foods rather than caffeine.

It’s important to remember that caffeine can have positive health effects in small doses, but that larger amounts can disrupt the healthy sleep routine that’s essential for your overall health.