Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LDN, LD, CD specializes in nutrition counseling and medical nutrition therapy with a focus on integrative and functional nutrition. She is a frequent contributor to Shape, Livestrong, Muscle & Fitness, Runner’s World, Eat This!, Popsugar, Parents, Martha Stewart, Oprah, Healthline, Forbes, NBC, and Today.com.
Coffee is often used to compensate for a bad night’s sleep – what can we do to sleep better?
Sleep is essential for good health and though coffee may give you a boost, it can’t compensate for lost sleep. To improve sleep, you can start with your sleep environment. Make sure your room is dark and cool. Black out curtains can keep out light from the sun, moon, or street lights. Blue light from screens suppresses the hormone melatonin which is important for sleep, so ideally cut off screen time a couple hours before bed. If that’s not feasible, aim to turn off screens (TV, computers, phone, tablets, etc.) at least 30 minutes before getting into bed. A cool room supports sleep, too. I recommend 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Other strategies include making sure you’re getting enough magnesium in your diet and including foods like tart cherries which have been found to help with sleep.
Can decaf coffee help give us the same boost of energy, even without the caffeine? And would it minimize the negative impacts of coffee on sleep?
The boost coffee gives to energy is largely due to the caffeine. In fact, caffeine is used as an ergogenic aid by many athletes to enhance training and performance. Decaffeinated coffee isn’t void of caffeine and usually contains between 2mg and 15mg per 8 ounce cup compared to regular coffee which typically has between 95mg and 200mg per cup. If you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, you may notice the effects even from decaf. Looking at coffee from a different angle, it’s a source of fluid. Hydration can impact energy levels and so drinking decaf could bump your energy levels because of the extra water intake in addition to the small amount of caffeine, but it won’t be to the same extent as an equal amount of regular coffee.
Since caffeine can disrupt sleep, choosing decaf can minimize the negative impacts it has on sleep. Keep in mind that if your decaf leans toward the upper end of caffeine content and if you drink it too late in the day or in too great a quantity, you may miss out on the improved sleep benefits you may have expected.
How can we enjoy coffee during the day, but still ensure we get a good night’s sleep?
I recommend cutting off consumption of regular coffee by noon to make sure it’s cleared your system before bed time. It’s important to note that different people will metabolize caffeine at different rates, but on average, caffeine has a half-life of five hours. That means if you drink 200mg of caffeine at 8:00 am, you’ll still have 100 mg in your system at 1:00 pm, assuming your body breaks down caffeine at the average rate it would be around 6:00 pm before you cleared your system of caffeine. The later in the day you drink your coffee, the more negative the impact will be on your sleep.
How much is too much coffee when trying to optimize your sleep?
How much coffee is too much will depend on the amount of caffeine in your coffee. Generally speaking, I recommend people keep their total intake to 400mg or less and if you’re working on sleep hygiene, keep it to 200 mg or less. As a rule, that would be one or two 8 ounce cups. Most of us don’t know how much caffeine is in our favorite cup of Joe, but lighter roasts often have more caffeine than darker roasts. If your coffee habit is more about the experience and the flavor, consider opting for decaf brews after your first cup to minimize your caffeine intake while still enjoying your coffee habit.