The Great Sleep Disruptor

While Caffeine is known to give us a nice jolt to “help” us feel energized during the day its impact on sleep goes deeper and has much larger consequences. Matt Walker, a British scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology, has over 100 published scientific research studies focusing on the impact of sleep on human health and disease stated in his book “Why We Sleep”:

“Caffeine is the most widely used (and abused) psychoactive stimulant in the world. It is the second most traded commodity on the planet, after oil. It’s consumption represents one of the longest and largest unsupervised drug studies ever conducted on the human race, perhaps rivaled only by alcohol, and it continues to this day. It’s also worth mentioning that Caffeine is also the only addictive substance that we feel comfortable giving our children & teens on a daily basis.”

Every animal on the planet sleeps, and when evaluated by brain wave technology the time spent during unimpaired sleep is species specific. Most importantly is that these numbers are never impacted by geography, genetics, or sunlight. They are however impacted by stimulants both found naturally and chemically derived in a lab. Here are some examples of sleep time;

  • Brown Bat = 19.9 hrs

  • Rats = 12.6 hrs

  • Lions = 13.5 hrs

  • Dolphins = 10.4 hrs

  • Chimpanzee = 9.7 hrs

  • Human = 8 hrs

  • Cows = 3.9 hrs

No matter the number of times tested these numbers never deviate. If an animal is not sleeping these amounts above then something is amiss. Time & quality of sleep is one of the best indicators of proper brain and body function.

What governs Sleep

Sleep for all animals is dictated by 2 things;

1) Circadian Rhythm

  • An internal clock. Just as a human heart beats 60 times per minute. Human sleep hormones release once every 24 hours and 15 minutes.

  • Melatonin is one of these hormones. It’s important to realize that Melatonin doesn’t cause you to sleep. It only signals to your body that it should be preparing to sleep. For example, decreasing body temperature, slowing heart rate, etc.

2) Sleep Pressure

  • While awake, a hormone called Adenosine is created and builds in your system. Adenosine flows through your blood vessels and makes its way to your brain. The more Adenosine in your brain the sleepier you’ll feel. Once full, you fall asleep, the brain then becomes clear of Adenosine and the process repeats when you wake up.

Caffeine’s Impact on Sleep Pressure

Caffeine blocks Adenosine from reaching the brain like flood gates stopping the flow of a river. Not only does it stop our ability to create Sleep Pressure, it also causes more and more Adenosine to keep building up behind the jam. When Caffeine is finally metabolized and removed from our system the flood gates are open and all that Adenosine that was building up attacks the brain and causes us to crash. The only option now is to reach for more caffeine to fend off the crash.

This is the reason why most people become dependent on caffeine and tend to drink more and more throughout their day until they finally decide to go through the withdrawal crash when trying to cut back.

How Long Does Caffeine Last

Caffeine lasts longer than you would think. It has a half-life of 6 hrs.

1 cup (8am) = 0.5 cup (2pm) = 0.25 cup (8pm) = 0.125 cup (2am) = 0.06 cup (8am) = REPEAT

Now just think of what happens if you drink multiple cups a day. You’d never be ridding yourself of caffeine and your body wouldn’t know what it was like to ever sleep without a stimulant in your system. Some of us probably can’t remember the last time we slept without a stimulant in our system.

on the look out

Some places to spot Caffeine are;

  • Coffee

  • Certain Teas

  • Energy Drinks

  • Some Soda

  • Dark Chocolate

  • Ice Cream

  • Weight-loss pills

  • Exercise stimulants

  • Pain relief pills such as over the counter NSAIDS

What I Recommend

While I do drink caffeine in the morning myself, I do try to be more mindful about when and how much I’m drinking. Always trying to be self aware of why & when I’m reaching for more.

Trying to get people to change their caffeine habits is hard. I pick my battles wisely, and recommend early consumption of small amounts if needed. Believe it or not, once the body starts to regulate itself without caffeine you won’t find yourself looking for it as much as you were.

I’ll leave you with this. A research study in the 1980s by NASA exposed spiders to different drugs and then observed the webs they constructed. The drugs included LSD, speed (amphetamine), marijuana, and caffeine. The results speak for themselves.

Matthew Walker - “Why We Sleep”

Matthew Walker - “Why We Sleep”

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