Coffee is one of the most popular drinks in this country. Most people rely on the pick-me-up, especially in the morning. Some people also drink it throughout the day or in the evening. But isn’t it harmful to drink coffee late?
The best time to drink coffee varies from person to person. In general, however, it is not recommended to drink coffee too late. But is it really harmful to drink coffee late at night? Registered nutritionist Anthony DiMarino addresses this question in an article from the Cleveland Clinic (USA).
Sensitivity to caffeine
Is drinking coffee at night harmful? “It depends on how sensitive you are to caffeine,” says DiMarino. “Some people can enjoy coffee late into the night and sleep soundly a few hours later. People who are more sensitive to caffeine may find themselves tossing and turning all night and unable to sleep.”
How late is too late for coffee?
To figure out how long you can drink coffee and still sleep well, consider how long it takes your body to eliminate caffeine. “It can take two to 10 hours for even half of the caffeine effects to wear off,” explains DiMarino. “This so-called ‘half-life’ varies from person to person.”
Research shows that genes can influence how quickly caffeine is metabolized. “Someone who metabolizes caffeine slowly should probably avoid caffeine in the evening if they want a good night’s sleep,” advises DiMarino.
Facts about coffee and caffeine
A cup of coffee contains almost 100 milligrams of caffeine. However, DiMarino points out that the amount of caffeine can vary depending on the type of coffee and how it is prepared. For example, instant coffee typically contains about half as much caffeine as brewed coffee.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends adults limit caffeine consumption to 400 milligrams per day. Depending on the type of coffee and cup size, this corresponds to four to five cups of coffee a day.
Other factors also affect how well you tolerate caffeine, including your biological gender and the medications you take. People who smoke a lot or consume nicotine tend to metabolize caffeine more quickly, shortening its half-life by up to 50%.
Pregnancy, on the other hand, slows down the ability to eliminate caffeine, which is why experts recommend not consuming more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day during pregnancy.
What are the risks of drinking coffee late at night?
Poor sleep may be the No. 1 risk of drinking coffee late at night. One study found that consuming caffeine within four hours of bedtime did not affect sleep, but consuming alcohol and nicotine did.
However, DiMarino points out that the researchers relied on sleep diaries and smartwatches that were only worn by a specific population group.
And: “Among other concerns, this observational study did not record how much or what type of coffee people drank,” said the nutritionist. In general, he says, a cup of coffee late at night can affect your sleep in several ways:
Coffee disrupts your sleep signals
Caffeine is a biochemical that blocks the brain’s production of adenosine, a chemical that promotes sleep. Adenosine has a depressant effect on the nervous system and slows brain activity to promote sleep and prevent you from waking up at night.
“Adenosine builds up gradually in your body throughout the day,” explains DiMarino, “but caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, so you feel more alert and less tired at the end of the day.”
Coffee changes your body’s internal clock
Drinking coffee late at night, when your body is preparing to relax, can also affect your circadian rhythm. This internal 24-hour clock controls your sleep-wake cycle.
A study has shown that drinking a double shot of espresso (about 120 milligrams of caffeine) three hours before bed disrupts your circadian rhythm by at least 40 minutes.
Coffee makes you more anxious
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects your brain and nerves – and your nervous system controls your thoughts and feelings (not to mention your heart rate and breathing).
“For someone prone to anxiety, caffeine can worsen symptoms,” explains DiMarino. “Drinking coffee late in the evening can cause racing thoughts and make it harder to switch off from worries and relax.”
Nighttime panic attacks can also become a bigger problem after a late-night cup of coffee. A study found that consuming five or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may lead to more panic attacks in people who are already prone to them.
Even if you don’t have anxiety in the past, drinking coffee late in the afternoon can have unwanted effects, such as making you feel more nervous or irritable in the evening.
What are the benefits of drinking coffee late at night?
Drinking coffee late at night can help those who work late or night shifts and students who need to prepare for exams. The drink gives you energy, boosts your mood and helps you think more clearly.
Coffee also has surprising health benefits no matter when you drink it, such as:
- Antioxidants that protect against cell damage
- B vitamins such as riboflavin, which reduce the risk of migraines, vision problems and certain cancers
- Potassium to lower blood pressure
If you need to get through the night, know that coffee isn’t your only option. There are other ways to stay awake without caffeine too!
Is decaffeinated coffee a better nighttime choice? Possibly. Despite its name, decaffeinated coffee still contains small amounts of caffeine. “If you’re sensitive to caffeine, a cup of decaf coffee late at night can still affect your sleep,” warns DiMarino.
Because everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different, only you can decide when it’s too late for you to drink coffee.
Maybe you love your coffee in the late afternoon or evening and have no problem escaping to dreamland. However, if you have trouble sleeping, skip your nighttime coffee – or drink it earlier in the day. (ad)