Losing Sleep Over Caffeine Woes
Published: Friday, March 15, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 22:03
Caffeine. What a lovely word and how pleasant the memories it elicits of all those early mornings made bearable by a warm cup of joe. All it takes is one breath from deep within a bag of freshly ground coffee beans to awaken your senses and stir up the life you dreamt away in sleep. Lackadaisically, you put in two, three, four, maybe even five heaping spoonfuls of the grounds, thinking of nothing else but the sweet aroma and liquid warmth soon to come.
But maybe it’s time to wake up — a little less artificially this time — and start thinking about what this seemingly innocent morning routine is actually doing within your body. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is an undeniably complex issue, primarily as a result of the numerous research studies out there claiming various different things about caffeine. For example, in looking at the short-term consequences of caffeine intake, many agree that around 300 mg — a little less than a Starbucks grande coffee — is right around the limit that your body can handle without overdoing it on the stimulatory effects to the neurological and cardiovascular systems. Any more and you run the risk of interfering with natural sleep cycles, neurotransmitter production, digestion and even blood pressure.
Of course, long-term research is a little more difficult to perform and susceptible to inaccuracies that would otherwise be negligible in a shorter timeframe. Despite the drawbacks, studies suggest a correlation between caffeine and Type 2 diabetes prevention, inhibition of hepatic cirrhosis and decreased risk for developing Parkinson’s disease later in life — and that’s not to mention the potent antioxidant protection that has also been linked to caffeine.
Scientists may still not know how it all works exactly, but this little wonder molecule is doing some big-time stuff and contributing in a major way to overall well-being.
There is a caveat, however. As with most of the simple pleasures of life, I tend to take the middle road as a proponent of moderation, and caffeine consumption is no exception. It is important to stick to the recommended daily intake of 300 mg of caffeine when seeking that extra boost in the morning, limit the buildup of tolerance by going cold-turkey on caffeine for at least two days a week and pay close attention to the way your body feels throughout the day in order to best gauge your quality of sleep. If you find yourself hitting a wall in the afternoon every day, it could be a sign that the caffeine levels in your blood are heightened above a threshold that is needed for your tired self to enter into a proper state of deep sleep.
A simple fix: Go with the morning coffee routine in order to give your body plenty of time to clear the stimulant from your system before hitting the hay. And lay off the sugar intake, especially in the caffeinated beverages. This two-combo energy punch sounds like the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing in the early evening, but it only spikes your blood glucose levels and leads you back to that dreaded cycle of cravings and energy lows that started the whole process in the first place. Moderate the coffee intake, keep it on the darker side and learn to embrace its naturally bold notes without the sugar dump. Your body will thank you for it — and maybe your grades will too.
David Sterns is a student at Georgetown University School of Medicine. ALMOST-DOCTOR DAVE appears every other Friday in the guide.