How Reducing Coffee Wrecked My Sleep

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I’ve always been jealous of people who say coffee helps them stay awake. I get especially jealous during the late night portions of road trips where you suddenly realize you’ve overestimated your abilities, and there’s no hotel in sight.

Highly caffeinated drinks just don’t seem to work for me – they’ve never had any apparent impact on my personal alertness or awakeness. And it’s not just an issue of my being too addicted to caffeine to tell the difference, either. I’ll routinely go days without any coffee or other caffeinated drinks and feel no worse for the wear with one exception: sleep.

Recent Coffee Cutbacks 

A couple of months ago, my wife decided that our normal, full-sized coffee maker was too ugly for our kitchen. She replaced it with a tiny, weird machine that barely makes enough coffee to fill my Yeti. As a result, I’m drinking a lot less coffee throughout the day. Gone are the days of going back to refill my mug with the rest of the pot, and I’m way too lazy to keep brewing new ones.

By my estimate, my coffee consumption has been cut by more than 50% as a result of this horrible new machine. I’ve also more or less stopped drinking coffee at night as well. This is again due to the small carafe, as there’s nothing left over from an afternoon brew.

While I haven’t had any withdrawal type symptoms, I do feel an acute loss. I just like the experience of drinking coffee. I like the hotness of it, I like the flavor, I like the smell – it’s just a nice feeling all around. But I’ve noticed something else as well: my sleep has been getting progressively worse since swapping out machines. 

This got me thinking: does coffee/caffeine somehow help me go to sleep?

Simple Test: Coffee Before Bed

Last night, I decided to test the hypothesis. I brewed a tiny pot of coffee at about 9PM and drank it down. I went about my night, and ultimately got in bed about 3 hours later. I was out like a light. On top of that, I slept right through the night without any of my recently-regular disruptions.

This didn’t make any logical sense, so I looked to the internet for help. Basically, everyone everywhere says coffee/caffeine, especially consumed within a few hours of going to bed, is woefully disruptive to falling and/or staying asleep, and no one even wants to entertain the idea that coffee could help you fall asleep.

Enter: Adenosine

I wasn’t satisfied with my search results, so I kept digging. This is when I discovered the connection between caffeine and a naturally occurring chemical that builds up in our brains called adenosine.

According to Yale Centers for Sleep Medicine, adenosine is a byproduct of cellular metabolism, and essentially pressures your brain into wanting to go to sleep as those levels build throughout the day. Caffeine, however, blocks the effects of adenosine, which is what helps normal people feel more alert when they drink coffee. HOWEVER, if my non-scientific interpretations of the literature from Yale and the NIH are correct, you can be hit with a wall of adenosine once the blocking effect of the caffeine wears off.

This post-caffeine “crash” can result in sudden onset drowsiness. My guess is caffeine stops blocking adenosine faster for me than other people, resulting in a quicker “crash.”

Does Caffeine Help You Fall Asleep? 

I’m no sleep scientist, and I have no medical training. What I do have is a history of not being properly impacted by caffeine and some unscientific testing with regard to my personal coffee consumption and my sleep.

For me, the answer seems to be “yes.” But I may very well be the anomaly.