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Coffee & Health

How Late Is Too Late For Coffee?

Coffee is loved in many places across the world. Many people love coffee for its rich caffeine content. Most working individuals rely on coffee to boost their energy. Existing data and research information shows that at least 85% of U.S. adult population consume caffeine regularly.

Most of them intake coffee as their main source of caffeine. Besides offering a quick energy boost, caffeine is also loved for helping in keeping the eyes open, boosting mood, and keeping the mind alert.

Clock art over coffee 1

Research shows that 40% of Americans hardly get sufficient sleep. That is why many people drink coffee in the morning to help them wake up before heading out to work.

However, nutritionists and dieticians advise that taking coffee early in the morning is not the ideal time to get a quick dose of caffeine, especially when you need it to feel more alert for the rest of the day. In this guide, we will tell you how late you should drink coffee.


Why Not Take Coffee Early in the Morning?

For most people, coffee is part of their morning diet. However, drinking coffee as soon as you wake up can leave you feeling hyper alert and jittery within a short time. Afterwards, you may feel quite tired. Thus, it is advisable to limit your coffee intake immediately after waking up.

One thing you need to know is that upon waking up, the body produces high levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone. It is responsible for both anxiety and alertness feelings. Caffeine increases cortisol levels. Thus, by introducing caffeine into your body early in the morning, you will experience even a higher cortisol level in your body. Whether you are taking rest or mentally stressed, your cortisol levels will elevate after taking coffee.

According to some nutritionists, the combination of caffeine and cortisol can introduce more tiredness as they wear off the body. Research findings show that the best way to feel more awake every morning is to ensure you get sufficient sleep at night. Also, do not drink coffee as soon as you wake up. Take it a little later. So, how late should you have coffee? Keep reading to find out.


How Caffeine Works to Keep You Awake

Before discussing how late is too late for coffee, it will help to understand how coffee consumption keeps you awake and causes sleep disruption. Coffee has many ingredients. Essentially, the caffeine content in coffee works by stimulating the central nervous system. According to Ajay Sampat, M.D., a neurologist, caffeine targets a chemical in the brain known as adenosine.

Neurologists describe adenosine as a molecule made by the brain while awake. Its role is to induce sleep. What this description means is that the longer you stay awake, the more the adenosine levels you will have in your body. Caffeine blocks adenosine, thereby reducing its effects on inducing sleep. That is why you stay awake after having coffee. As such, it is clear that coffee affects brain function.

The way caffeine works is that it kicks in a quick energy boost and stays in the body for a couple of hours long after the quick boost wears off. Its stimulating effect occurs about an hour after drinking it or when it attains peak levels in the blood. Most coffee drinkers feel a quick energy boost about 15 to 45 minutes upon consuming it. Others need more amounts of coffee to reach a point of feeling its effects.

However, it takes several hours for caffeine to leave your body system completely. Its side effects wear off gradually as the body metabolizes it. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), caffeine has a half-life of somewhere between 4 to 6 hours. That means you will still have about half of caffeine in your body 4 to 6 hours after consuming it.

By this time, you will still feel some stimulating effects in your body. If you take a second cup of java at 10 a.m., you will have about a quarter of its caffeine content if you go to bed at 10 p.m. If you drink a cup of joe at 4 p.m., you will still have about half of its caffeine content in your body system at 10 p.m.

Whether or not you will still have some level of caffeine in your body by the time you go to bed, caffeine messes with your sleeping pattern in several ways. Its drawbacks on sleep depend on several factors. Regardless, there is sufficient scientific evidence that caffeine affects the quality and quantity of sleep for many coffee drinkers. Also, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you are already addicted of this beverage.

Essentially, the main effect of caffeine on sleep is that it makes it a little harder to fall asleep at first, a medical condition known as prolonged sleep latency. Also, caffeine can reduce the total sleep time you get by interrupting your sleep. You will find that you are sleeping on and off throughout the night. By morning you will not have had enough sleep.

Caffeine has a side effect of increasing your arousal frequency, which refers to the number of times the brain wakes up at night. Thus, your sleep becomes less efficient. Consequently, you will feel less refreshed when waking up in the morning.

Another negative effect of coffee on sleep is that it interferes with how your body progresses throughout various sleep stages. Caffeine reduces the time you spend in slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest sleeping stage.

Research evidence shows that by consuming more coffee, especially late in the day, you are more likely to have a bad night due to lack of sleep. For instance, researchers at The Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders & Research Center found that high caffeine doses in the evening has a negative effect on sleep duration and sleep routines.


Caffeine Affects Different People Differently

The harmful effect of coffee on sleep affects different individuals differently. For instance, someone may take two double espresso shots but fail to feel any effects on sleep. Another person may feel jittery after taking just one cup of tea, yet black tea has less caffeine content than coffee. Results in many studies show that different people react to caffeine differently.

Genetics is one of the reasons why caffeine affects different people differently. Every person has their unique natural sensitivity to a dose of caffeine. Also, everyone metabolizes caffeine at a unique rate. The genetic variations to caffeine sensitivity are mainly due to variations in adenosine receptors. There are also variations in the liver enzyme that is responsible for metabolizing caffeine, which is known as cytochrome P450. Thus, the half-life of coffee varies from one person to another.

Lifestyle and medical variables also affect caffeine sensitivity among different people. As you drink coffee more regularly, you develop more tolerance and decreased sensitivity. Thus, you would need more of it to feel its stimulating effects.

Also, some medications interact with caffeine. Cytochrome P450 enzyme is also responsible for metabolizing other types of drugs. Thus, taking coffee together with drugs that interact with caffeine means that this liver enzyme will be busy processing another drug as you sip your cold brew, latte, espresso shot, French press coffee, or any other caffeine-rich brew. Thus, the caffeine content in your blood will wait its special turn to be metabolized. Thus, it will take a little longer to feel the effects of coffee and to eventually wear off.

Also, the effect of coffee in the body system tends to change over time. For many people, caffeine sensitivity tends to increase with age. For example, if your evening cup of coffee starts affecting you negatively with age, it means you have become more sensitive to caffeine over the years. That is why many research findings show that older people are more likely to experience harder times falling asleep and staying asleep after drinking coffee. In addition, the stimulant effects offered by coffee are more felt with age.


How Late Should I Drink Coffee?

By now, we have answered many questions in your mind regarding coffee and sleep. Now that you know how coffee keeps you awake and why it affects different individuals differently, it will be easier to answer the question of how late you should drink coffee. If you are among the people who drink coffee throughout the day and during dinner, and still sleep deeply without any issue, then you do not need to be concerned yet. For you, feel free to drink coffee any time you wish, but keep your consumption to the recommended levels of about 400mg of caffeine per day (about 4 cups of coffee).

However, if you feel that you are staying awake when you should be sleeping after taking coffee, it means coffee is making you develop insomnia. Melissa Chu, a writer, describes insomnia as habitual sleeplessness. So when should you take your last cup of coffee for the day? Doctors recommend that most people should have their final cup of coffee not less than 8 or 10 hours before sleeping.

Experts at Mayo Clinic put it at 8 hours before bedtime. That way, coffee will have two half-lives to completely break down. Researchers at Wayne State College of Medicine found that consuming coffee 6 hours before bedtime did not affect the sleep of the study participants.

Going by these calculations, the rule of thumb is that you should have your last cup of coffee anywhere between 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Dr. David Perlmutter M.D., a neurologist, advices that you should not have coffee after noon.

Another article published by authors in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine suggests that caffeine consumption should be avoided after 5 p.m. to prevent wakefulness at night. Even when friends or family members visit later in the day, avoid serving them coffee at all costs, regardless of how much you urge to feel the aroma in its steam and the flavors in the drink.

Also, avoid drinking coffee late in the day, even on special occasions. Additionally, you should avoid having it alongside your evening meal or late afternoon foods and snacks. It will leave you awake most of the night rather than getting its nutrition benefits. Most importantly, do not give coffee to your baby, even to taste it. It can have adverse consequences on kids.

Thus, for most people, the latest they can take their last cup of coffee is 2 p.m, which is around lunch time. At the same time, it does not mean you should consume excessive coffee before this time. As a matter of fact, if you take excessive coffee, it will take longer to break it down, which is proven by science and will have negative effects on your wellness.


Is It Possible To Flush Caffeine Out Of Your Body System?

Having excessive caffeine in your body can lead to various health issues such as insomnia, headaches, irritation, and jitters (nervousness and anxiety). Probably, you have not tracked the number of cups of coffee you have drunk for the day for one reason or the other, and you are now regretting it. Is it possible to flush out the caffeine from your body system?

The best way to flush out excess caffeine is to use water. Water is better than milk for this purpose. Drink plenty of water for the best results. You can drink herbal tea to fasten the elimination process of the coffees and sugar you consumed. By flushing out caffeine, you will feel less jittery and possibly have better sleep quality at night.


How to Enjoy Coffee without Affecting the Quality of Sleep

Although coffee has an impact on sleeping patterns, it does not mean you should cut it off completely. The idea of quitting coffee altogether should only happen if caffeine and any product containing caffeine impacts your health negatively.

Nevertheless, drinking coffee offers numerous health benefits when done moderately. It helps many people to wake up and feel more alert, especially in the morning. However, it will help to manage your coffee intake to ensure you do not experience trouble sleeping (insomnia) and other side effects.

But how can you enjoy coffee without affecting your sleep? Well, there are certain things you need to do. They include:

  • Set a daily cut off time- You need to set a strict cut off time for your favourite coffee drinks and any other caffeinated products. Have your last cup of coffee about eight to ten hours before the time you normally sleep. That way, you will have enough time to get rid of it completely before bedtime. You will enjoy better sleep and not get mad when the alarm starts beeping.
  • Limit your daily coffee intake- Health experts advice that adults should drink a maximum of 400mg of caffeine per day, which is about 4 cups daily. If it is your choice to drink a higher amount than that, you may experience symptoms like anxiety and irritability. Just like how drugs are administered in dosage, limit your coffee intake the same way. If you roast coffee beans at home, remember to limit the amount you brew so as not to find yourself drinking anything beyond the recommended amount.
  • Reduce your caffeine intake- For most people, coffee is something that benefits them after waking up by making you feel less tired. However, do not drink more of it before bedtime. If you must drink more coffee a few hours before bedtime, preferably switch to decaffeinated coffee. Decaf coffee has very minimal caffeine content and still offers numerous health benefits, such as being rich in nutrients, vitamins, antioxidants, helps in weight loss, and reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes.


Final Thoughts

For most people who are sensitive to caffeine, they should not take coffee later than 2 p.m. Since different people are affected by caffeine differently, the time may vary from one person to the other. Thus, you can know the approximate time you should take your last cup of coffee through trial and error over a couple of days. You can use a sleep monitor to track your sleep. Overall, the best way to get quantity and quality sleep is by reducing your coffee intake. Also, shift the time you take your last cup to some few hours earlier until you find the best balance.