Caffeine seems to be constantly in the news. There’s always one or another study about coffee or decaf or caffeine or all three coming out in the press.  So, it comes as no surprise that there is more research on the effect of caffeine on keeping us awake and its limits. Indeed decaffeinated coffee does have its place.

Currently, there is a caffeine epidemic.

The old ways of having a coffee in the morning and then maybe another later in the day is over. People are relying on caffeine as a crutch to keep them awake and alert and working at all times – on the go, in the car, at the office, at home, at cafes. There is a movement towards reducing this caffeine habit with decaf coffee, but that's only the minority currently.

What happens when people sleep less?

A new study by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research studied patterns of poor sleep over multiple days in 48 healthy individuals where their sleep was restricted to five hours over five days.

How did they conduct the study?

So, each person consumed either 200 mg of caffeine or a placebo twice a day.  At the same time, they undertook hourly cognitive tests. Then, after the first five days, they were given three days of recovery sleep.

Then they crunched the number on the cognitive tests and found that after two days of restricted sleep, caffeine could significantly improve alertness and provide a dose of sustained energy.

So, caffeine can help in an emergency for the first two days…

However, after the third day of poor sleep, too much damage had been done.

Lead author Tracy Jill Doty, PhD, said: “We were particularly surprised that the performance advantage conferred by two daily 200 mg doses of caffeine was lost after three nights of sleep restriction. These results are important, because caffeine is a stimulant widely used to counteract performance decline following periods of restricted sleep.”

So, the main conclusion is that relying on caffeine long-term doesn’t negate the effects of poor sleep habits and the risks go beyond just being tired. If you don’t sleep well, you can’t function well, you can have trouble focusing or concentrating on anything for a long period of time. It is also dangerous because there are a lot of sleep conditions that can make diabetes worse and increase heart attack, stroke or congestive heart disease.

In short, insomnia is bad for you and caffeine can only help in limited amounts. Sleep is crucial and underrated. Get to bed earlier! You can also wean yourself off caffeine with decaf coffee.

September 11, 2016 — Guy Wilmot

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