Sleep Awareness Week October 1-7

This Sleep Awareness Week the Sleep Health Foundation is turning its attention to the role of caffeine in our society. Therefore we are asking “Could caffeine be masking a sleep disorder”. There can be a great deal of pleasure and positivity surrounding the drinking of caffeine. However there is also evidence to suggest that it’s time to turn the spotlight on caffeine and examine it more closely. Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that affects the brain and behaviour. It can be found in many different drinks and foods. This includes tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drinks (particularly energy drinks) and some medications.

There is no recognised health-based guidance value for caffeine. However, a Food Standards ANZ (FSANZ) Expert Working Group analysed the available literature in 2000 and concluded that there was evidence of increased anxiety levels in children at doses of about 3 mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The anxiety level for children aged 5-12 equates to a caffeine dose of 95 mg per day (approximately two cans of cola) and about 210 mg per day (approximately three cups of instant coffee) for adults.

If you are desperate for shots of caffeine during the day you might have a sleep disorder. This might be sleep apnea, where breathing is paused during sleep, and you are unaware that this is making sleep light and fragmented. Also, high caffeine consumption or caffeine too close to bed may be reducing the quality of your sleep.  This makes you tired the next day, needing jolts of caffeine to stay on top of things.

As well as these links with anxiety there are effects on sleep. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, so it can help us feel more alert during the day but could increased intake be correlated with increased sleepiness? There is a two-way pathway that can present problems for sleep. Too much caffeine can make sleeping more difficult leading potentially to insomnia. Furthermore, the daytime symptoms of sleep apnea, such as sleepiness and reduced concentration, may be masked by caffeine.  Further, restless legs syndrome, which can prevent sleep at night, may be made worse by caffeine and alcohol.

  • The SHF recommends no caffeine at all for children under 12 years old.
  • High doses of caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Some people are more sensitive to caffeine’s effects on sleep quality than others.
  • If you are sensitive to caffeine or have sleep difficulties use caffeine cautiously.
  • As a general rule avoid caffeine in the evening before bed.
  • Understanding and controlling your caffeine use is important for good quality sleep.

 Caffeine and sleep

  • Caffeine promotes alertness by inhibiting chemicals in the brain that promote sleep.
  • Caffeine is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and reaches peak levels within 30-70 minutes.
  • Its effects can then last 3 to 7 hours, but it may take up to 24 hours to fully remove caffeine from the body.

Caffeine can impact on sleep in a number of ways:

1) It can be harder to go to sleep.
2) Your sleep may be lighter and you may wake up more often.
3) You have to go to the toilet more during the night.

If you suspect a sleep disorder find more information here or see your GP.