Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and sleep - What to avoid and when
Sleep is the single most important lever available for us to influence our health and happiness, but a lot of us don’t get enough of it. Why is that? There are almost too many culprits to count, but one of the primary drivers of poor sleep today is the consumption of substances that negatively impact the sleep cycle. I’m looking at you caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
Before you think I’m going to moralize for the rest of this post let me say that there are many reasons to use each of these at the right times and in the right places. The goal isn’t abstinence. Rather, the goal is the knowledge to make the best possible decisions for yourself. Sometimes that decision is a few beers with your best friends. Other times it’s avoiding alcohol to get the best sleep possible before that job interview. Knowledge is your friend.
Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine can affect our sleep patterns in different ways depending on how much and when we use them. Here’s the skinny on how these compounds effect your sleep along with the when and what you should avoid to get the best sleep possible.
Caffeine is great. I’m a big fan. It provides energy boosts on demand, alertness, and mood enhancing chemicals. But it can also screw up our sleep if we’re not careful. Caffeine can make it harder for us to fall asleep, reduce the amount of deep sleep we get, and make us wake up more often during the night. Fun fact: caffeine has a half-life of approximately six hours meaning it can still be in your system 12 hours after your last cup of coffee. So, if you want to sleep well, you should avoid caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. For me, that means no coffee after noon. Find the right cutoff time for you and stick to it. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you might want to limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee or tea in the morning or early afternoon.
Alcohol is tricky. It can make us feel relaxed and tired, but it can also ruin our sleep quality. Alcohol can change the way we sleep, reduce the amount and quality of REM sleep (the dreamy kind), and make us wake up more often and snore more. Alcohol can also make sleep apnea worse, which is a condition where you stop breathing for short periods during sleep. So, if you want to sleep well, you should avoid drinking alcohol close to bedtime, or at least three hours before. If you do drink alcohol in the evening, stick to one or two drinks and drink lots of water to stay hydrated.
Nicotine is a stimulant that can increase our heart rate, blood pressure, and alertness. Nicotine can make it harder for us to fall asleep, reduce the amount of deep sleep we get, and make us wake up more often during the night. This compound can stay in our system for up to four hours after last consumption. Bottom line: avoid nicotine at least four hours before bedtime. If you’re a regular smoker or vaper, you might to consider quitting or cutting down on your nicotine intake for your sleep and overall health. Just saying.
Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are some of the most common things that we consume on a daily basis. But they can also have negative effects on our sleep if we use them too much or too close to bedtime. To improve our sleep hygiene and get the best sleep possible, we should be mindful of how much and when we consume these things. By doing so, we can enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep for our body and mind.