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Can I Drink Coffee Before Bed?

Anyone publicly drinking coffee after 3:00 p.m. has heard some nag say, “Coffee now? Wow, you’ll be up all night!”

The idea seems reasonable. Many people drink coffee for the caffeine punch that boosts their energy levels and keeps them moving at work. Drinking coffee at night seems like an easy way to ensure tossing and turning in bed, restless sleep, and exhaustion the next day. As Jimmy MacDonald from the 1940 comedy Christmas in July might say, “If you can’t sleep at night, it’s not the coffee, it’s the bunk!” (The line is funnier in the movie, trust us.)

So does coffee keep us up at night? The answer, like many complicated answers, is a yes, no, and it depends. The complexity stems from the fact that caffeine, like many substances, can affect different bodies in different ways. Weight, metabolism, and tolerance can all have bearing on how a cup of coffee may influence a person’s sleep. Someone who drinks large amounts of caffeine daily may not notice a single cup late in the day, whereas someone who rarely drinks anything stronger than herbal tea may find themselves feeling wired after a single cup.

Caffeine is a stimulant that arouses the central nervous system. As a result, caffeine produces a sense of alertness, energy, and focus. This is why so many people prefer to drink coffee in the morning or early afternoon, to fight off fatigue or sleepiness. The key here is dosage. The more caffeine you consume, the more alert you will likely feel. While a cup around 3 p.m. is unlikely to cause sleep trouble for most people, drinking several cups at 9 p.m. almost certainly will.

The more caffeine consumed, the longer its effects may be felt. This is because caffeine has a half-life of about three to five hours. This means that five hours after drinking a cup of coffee, half of the caffeine consumed remains in the body. Five hours after that, the amount of caffeine in the body is halved again, leaving a quarter of the original amount consumed. Because of this half-life effect, the amount of caffeine a person drinks is as important as the time they drink it. Drinking two cups of coffee five hours before bedtime may lead to similar sleep disturbances as drinking one cup just before tucking in for the night.

As caffeine dosage is the most important part of the equation, the type of coffee you drink matters. While espresso has a reputation for being especially strong in caffeine, it may be a wiser choice than a full cup of black coffee in the evening. Espresso contains more caffeine per ounce than black coffee, but black coffee is rarely consumed a single ounce at a time. While one shot of espresso contains 64 milligrams of caffeine, a 12 oz cup of black coffee contains approximately 150 milligrams. That’s more than twice as much caffeine in the “weaker” drink.

This explains why many cultures, such as the Italians, may prefer espresso after dinner. A quick shot of moderate amounts of caffeine can fight off the heavy feeling that follows a large meal, while quickly drinking it allows it to wear off in the hours between dinner and bed. In three to five hours, the amount of caffeine in the bloodstream after a shot of espresso is roughly equivalent to the amount you could consume in a cup of tea.

If insomnia is a frequent visitor in your life, adjusting the timing and total amount of caffeine you consume during the day may help. While it may be tempting to drink large amounts of caffeine in the morning, that caffeine may still be present in your bloodstream at night. Learning to moderate the total dosage you take in during the day and tapering off caffeine in the afternoon can help prevent restless nights.

Regardless of all the talk of dosage and half-lives, the most important consideration for drinking coffee near bedtime is how it makes you feel. Does coffee make you feel restless at bedtime? Do you wake up feeling fatigued the next day because you didn’t sleep well? Or do you drink a cup of coffee at 8 p.m. and fall asleep without issue at 9 p.m.? Some people find that a hot cup of coffee with milk and sugar helps them relax in the evening, which, in turn, facilitates sleepiness. Whatever the case, you are most in tune with your body, so do what feels right for you.

Products like our Downward Dog Decaf can ward off the nighttime jitters while still delivering all the pleasure of a high-quality cup of coffee. The best part? Downward Dog Decaf is a coffee that supports animal rescue. It’s how we make a paws-itive impact on the lives of animals. This is true for all of our products; from decaffeinated blends to cold brew coffee packs, our products make a difference. That’s how we sleep at night. We hope it helps you too.