Why Caffeine Is Only A Temporary Solution For Sleep Deprivation!
Caffeine consumption to deal with sleepiness is one of the most common and normalized forms of drug use in society today. Consumed by the culture of working hard and always being productive, people heavily rely on caffeine to get them through the days after a night of staying up late. Caffeine isn’t an actual solution to our issues of lack of sleep but it’s effects can feel like it is. Understanding how caffeine doesn’t completely help with lack of sleep can step you in the right direction of avoiding caffeine abuse and further sleep deprivation.
How does caffeine work in our bodies?
Caffeine is a stimulant that promotes wakefulness by blocking our brains from recognizing our sleep pressure. Sleep pressure is the urge we have to sleep that increases throughout the day and is regulated by the chemical adenosine. When caffeine is consumed it binds to the binding sites of adenosine and therefore blocks adenosine from letting our brain know how sleepy we actually are. The effect is that our bodies urge to sleep is ignored and replaced with alertness that lasts for a while since it can take our bodies up to 10 hours to metabolize caffeine. Caffeine has an average half-life of 5 hours, meaning after 5 hours our body has only eliminated about half of the drug’s concentration. This is important to consider because this means that after the initial peak of alertness there can still be a fair amount of caffeine in our bodies that continues to prevent us from sleeping.
Caffeine’s effect on sleep
Even though it is blocking the sleep pressure chemical adenosine from binding, caffeine is not permanently removing the urge to go to sleep. Sleep is an important biological requirement of our bodies and caffeine is only strong enough to temporarily pause our bodies from recognizing this urge. While caffeine is blocking adenosine’s binding sites, the chemical continues to build up in our brain and when our body finally finishes metabolizing the caffeine, a strong urge to sleep will be felt. This sudden sleepiness is known as a caffeine crash and it’s what happens as a result of caffeine pausing the urge to sleep and not eliminating it. This idea of pausing and not eliminating sleep pressure is key to realize that although we may feel alert, our body is still missing out on the sleep it needs.
Consuming caffeine by drinking coffee or tea to ignore our sleepiness is much like procrastinating on a very big important project from school or work. For the project you may be procrastinating to work on it because it feels overwhelming, while you may be sleeping less and drinking caffeine because you stayed up late working or hanging out with friends. After procrastinating on such big projects, we find ourselves even more overwhelmed because we still have the same amount of work to do, except we gave ourselves less time to do it. Getting insufficient sleep and then relying on caffeine to keep us awake is like this because our body still needs its required amount of sleep and we are not giving it enough time to get it. In the end, we end owing our body hours of required sleep, which is called sleep debt, and this can be an overwhelming amount of time sleeping needed to catch up.
If you find yourself constantly having to rely on several cups of coffee to keep you alert and get you through your days, you are ignoring your body’s biological need for sleep that would keep you feeling refreshed each day. It’s important to recognize here the root of this issue is lack of sleep and this can often be helped by addressing common habits of poor sleep hygiene. It’s possible you can improve the amount and quality of your sleep if you consider how your daily habits may be disrupting your sleep. Check out this blog for more information.
Blog written by Mabelin Garcia
- Foley, L. (2021, January 22). Caffeine and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep
- Heffron, T. M. (2013, August 1). Sleep and Caffeine. Sleep Education. http://sleepeducation.org/news/2013/08/01/sleep-and-caffeine
- Walker, M., PhD. (2018). Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. Scribner.