Caffeine and Sleep
I recently spoke with several sleep experts about caffeine and sleep. These wonderful sleep professionals were very giving of their time and knowledge, and I thank them immensely. It is because of their willingness to share their time, thoughts and friendship that I can share this information with you.
In what ways does caffeine affect sleep, and are there benefits to using caffeine as a way to increase alertness and/or reaction time?
Dr. Jaques Reifman, Ph.D., senior research scientist, U.S. Army:
Caffeine binds to brain receptors (adenosine receptors, which, when activated by adenosine, promote sleepiness and suppress arousal). Hence, when caffeine, instead of adenosine, binds to these receptors, it inhibits the slowdown of neural activity and reduces your feeling of sleepiness. Therefore, caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system, promoting alertness and reducing reaction time.
What are your thoughts on “caffeine naps” where a person drinks coffee prior to a short nap? Sometimes referred to as a “nappuccino.”
Dr. Ian Dunican, Ph.D., MineEng, MBA, GCASSc, BA, sleep and performance expert:
I think it is good. What we have seen is it’s recommended a lot here in Australia where people have to drive long distances, and there are lots of problems with people experiencing micro-sleeps, or driving long distances such as 30 hours or more. This gets back to the pharmacokinetics where the caffeine kicks in after the nap of 20 to 30 minutes, and it will help to negate the sleep inertia.
How does caffeine detox affect a person? Do you recommend cold turkey or gradual withdrawal?
Dr. Marta Maczaj, AASM Board certified sleep physician; co-director, St. Charles Sleep Disorders Center, Port Jefferson:
Death before decaf! Just kidding! I would not recommend rapid detox. The individual will develop headaches. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, and removing caffeine causes vasodilation and can lead to headaches due to the vasodilation. The person can also feel much drowsier during the day and may have drowsy driving. I suggest a gradual withdrawal. Consider half caffeine and half decaf for all your cups of coffee for a few days, then decrease to one-third caffeine and two-thirds decaf for a few days, then one-quarter caffeine and three-quarters decaf for a few days, and then all decaf.
You can read the whole article in the Q3 issue of A2Zzz.
Check out the AAST course “Technologist Fundamentals Course: Normal Sleep” where caffeine is discussed.