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The Stimulating Effects of Caffeine

Do you love your afternoon cup of coffee, or your can of soda? You love it, it loves you (by giving you that great boost) and life is good.

Be careful though.

Long-lasting effects

Caffeine could be keeping many of us awake at night because its effects are more long lasting than we realize. Sleep experts recommend cutting off caffeine at least seven hours before bedtime. Not everyone responds to caffeine in the same way, so it's important to pay attention to how you feel. To play it safe and avoid having caffeine disturb your sleep, give yourself a 2 p.m. caffeine curfew, and switch to decaf drinks for the remainder of the day.

A powerful stimulant

It's 3:30 in the afternoon. You're feeling lethargic, and it's getting harder and harder to concentrate. If you're like a lot of people, you find yourself craving a jolt of caffeine in the form of coffee or soda. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that 80 percent of Americans consume caffeine on a daily basis. And more than half of Americans reach for a caffeinated drink during the day to help stave off sleepiness, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Caffeine works as a stimulant to help us stay awake and alert by blocking sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and increasing adrenaline production.

If caffeine helps us get through the day with a temporary boost of energy, where's the problem?

Afternoon caffeine, nighttime disruptions

Caffeine's effect on sleep lasts longer than many of us realize. Research has found that even moderate doses of caffeine consumed six hours before bedtime can have a significantly disruptive effect on sleep. So it's altogether possible that your afternoon cup of java may still be keeping you awake at night.

A sleepless cycle

Even when you finally do fall asleep, caffeine can increase the number of times you wake up during the night and deprive you of deeper or more restorative sleep. When caffeine causes insomnia or fitful sleep, it often creates a cycle of caffeine dependence. You're tired so you turn to caffeinated coffee or soda for a lift. All that caffeine makes it harder for you to sleep that night. You feel even more tired the next day, which makes you even more reliant on energy-boosting caffeine drinks.

Scale back slowly

Caffeine is no substitute for a good night's rest. If you find that caffeine is inhibiting your sleep, rest assured, it is possible to break the caffeine cycle. It is best to taper your caffeine intake gradually, to avoid the uncomfortable symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Reduce your daily intake of caffeine by one cup of coffee every few days, until your sleep has improved.

The result is a win-win. Less caffeine can lead to better sleep.

And better sleep means you'll need less caffeine.

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Note: S+ is not a medical device. If you are seeking information on how to treat a sleep disorder, you should talk to your healthcare provider.