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  • Writer's pictureMegan Robert


Here in the United States, the need for coffee is often a joke to many. In this society, the norm is ...shirts that say, "But first coffee." ...a typical response if you have a brain fart before 10AM is to say, "I haven't had my coffee yet!" ...a quote to get you smiling in the morning on the Gram (I think that is what the cool cats call it.) reads something like, "A yawn is a silent scream for coffee."

This joke of "needing" coffee or some sort of caffeine has become less of a joke and more of our reality. Especially in the parenting world, by both parents and professionals who work with families. Often a comment about the need for coffee is one of those sarcastic "I'm joking but really not joking" comments.

Do you rely on caffeine to get through your days? Is the amount of caffeine intake that you rely on higher than what it was a while back?

Well, I have some news for you. That caffeine might be contributing to why you need it to get through your days! It's can be a double-edged sword.

In my last post, Nap time shot because your child fell asleep for five minutes in the car? Here's why, I talked about sleep pressure. In that post, you learned that a chemical called adenosine builds up in your brain while you are awake. The longer that your are awake, the more of that chemical is present, and the more tired you feel. When you have a large sum of adenosine in your system, your brain works hard to tell you to go to sleep and this urge is difficult to fight the longer that you are awake. The adenosine build up is telling areas of your brain used when awake to shut down and areas of your brain used when asleep to turn on.

While you sleep, your brain disposes of the adenosine. For an adult, about eight hours of HEALTHY sleep allows your brain to completely remove this chemical, allowing you to wake feeling rested. If you don't get the full amount of sleep needed or if your sleep is unhealthy (i.e. snoring, mouth breathing, behavioral reasons, etc), you wake up with adenosine still present, causing you to feel groggy.

Now, where does caffeine come into play here? Well, caffeine can play a huge role in this whole sleep pressure game.

When you have caffeine in your system, the caffeine blocks the receptors within in your brain that absorb the adenosine to trigger you to feel tired. Hence, the caffeine tricks your mind to feel more awake.

This does not mean, though, that adenosine stops building up while awake. No, no. It continues to build up the longer you are awake. However, due to the caffeine, our brain is just not able to receive the signal that this chemical is building up and that we should sleep. Hence, when the caffeine starts to wear off, we feel a crash from the adenosine overload.

Now, here is the huge kicker! The next two paragraphs are so important for you to understand!

Caffeine has a half life of 5-7 hours. This means that 50% of the caffeine you consume will be depleted within five to seven hours of consuming. However, it also means that you still have 50% of the caffeine consumed five to seven hours later! And decaffeinated coffees? Well, they still have about 30% the amount of caffeine that a regular coffee has.

And if you have caffeine in your system when you go to sleep? You do not get the healthy sleep required to get rid of the adenosine. Your brain will not be able to dispose of this sleep pressure chemical completely because of the caffeine blocking the receptors.

So what happens to you as a parent who is up throughout the night with your child who doesn't sleep well? You aren't able to get rid of the adenosine within your brain to feel well rested in the morning. Instead, you still have sleep pressure built up after what should have been the time to deplete it.

You feel tired so you have a cup of coffee. That cup of coffee is great at first. But what happens if this night after night, day after day? Eventually that one cup of coffee doesn't cut it anymore. One cup of coffee turns into two cups of coffee, gradually turning into a couple cups of coffee in the morning to being almost the only liquid that is consumed all day.

Do you see what is happening here?!

You aren't getting the sleep you need in the first place regardless of any caffeine to completely rid of the sleep pressure. And on top of that, the sleep you do get might not be performing the magic it could if caffeine is in your system when going to sleep. With these two factors, adenosine continues to build up and the sleep pressure is exacerbated.

If you are a tired parent relying on coffee or, really, just anyone who relies on caffeine to make it through your days, I truly hope this is resonating with you! We live in a society where our social lives are often built around the liquids we consume and we act as if caffeine is some magical fairy liquid to make us super human.

Now, don't get me wrong. I am not saying don't enjoy a good cup of coffee. I still enjoy coffee every morning. However, after learning this fact about sleep, I realized I have to limit the amount of coffee I drink each day and limit the time of day that I can have caffeine. For myself personally, I limit to about two cups of coffee and try to stop the intake by 3PM at the latest with my goal to really be by noon.

So, if you are not feeling rested after a night of sleep, you rely on caffeine, and you want to make a change? I suggest you play around with your caffeine intake. Figure out what your limit is and what time you need to stop consuming it in order to sleep well. Everybody's body is different. One person might process caffeine more quickly than someone else.

Now if you are a parent up all hours of the night because of your child's sleep regardless of your caffeine intake or not, I am here to help you! You need rest. Your child needs rest. If you want to make a change in providing healthy sleep for your child and family, download my pdf that covers the four elements of healthy sleep to make sure your child isn't missing one!


Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, by Matthew P. Walker, Scribner, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2018, pp. 27–35.

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