Can’t Sleep Because of Caffeine? Here’s the Solution

Written by

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM , Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert
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As a sleep doctor, you probably think I shun caffeine from my life. The truth? Not only do I enjoy coffee every day, but there’s a lot of myths about caffeine and how it affects sleep.

This week, I’ll tell you how I still enjoy my coffee, and how you can too, by dispelling caffeine and sleep myths, establishing a healthy routine, and avoiding the typical mistakes most sleep deprived people make when it comes to caffeine and sleep.

How Caffeine Affects Sleep

While I love the taste of coffee, let’s be honest: most of us, from college students to sleep deprived parents, reach for a cup when we’re facing an energy slump.

Your favorite cup of coffee stimulates the production of both noradrenaline and epinephrine. That in turn starts what you’ve probably heard called the ‘flight or fight response, which raises your heart rate, blood pressure–and alertness.

Are Americans Addicted to Caffeine?

It’s not just college students who need their caffeine. In fact, the age group with the highest caffeine consumption is middle aged men and women!

According to the National Coffee Association, over 60 percent of us drink at least one cup of coffee per day, and while the average person drinks just two cups, more than 21 million Americans drink 6 or more cups on a regular basis.

While there’s room for coffee in most diets, the problem is when it becomes an addiction. Caffeine dependence impacts sleep cycles and increases your risk for sleep disorders.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

For Most Adults

For the average person, a cup or two of coffee shouldn’t impact your health or your sleep–provided you time it right. 200mg to 300mg or two to four cups of coffee is safe to consume. While rare, a caffeine overdose occurs at around 15 mg/L. To put it into perspective, an average person would need to down well over ten cups to reach those levels.

If You’re Pregnant

According to the American Pregnancy Organization, pregnant women should limit their intake of coffee and energy drinks as much as possible: experts have recommended a maximum of as little as 150mg up to 300mg a day.

(Looking for something to replace your morning or afternoon cup of joe? My go to is Pique Tea, with herbal flavors and all natural ingredients).

If You Have Insomnia

Studies have shown that caffeine use and sleep duration are inversely correlated; in other words, higher levels of caffeine may be linked to sleeping less or waking up more.  Because of this, you may need to trim down by a cup or two if you regularly experience symptoms of insomnia.

If You’re Diabetic or Have High Blood Pressure

Those with diabetes need to be careful, because caffeine has been linked to lower insulin sensitivity and increased glucose levels, according to research published in the Diabetes Journal..

How To Sleep, With Caffeine in Your Diet

Now that you know how coffee affects sleep, why it can impact sleep disorders, and how much caffeine is too much, here’s the good news. Not only can you enjoy caffeine and still sleep well, but you can drink coffee in a way that optimizes your mood and energy.

Here are my favorite sleep and caffeine hacks for you to incorporate into your daily routine today.

Time it Right

Exactly when it’s best to drink coffee depends on your chronotype, but there are a few rules of thumb.

For one, resist drinking coffee right when you wake up: as we wake up, our cortisol levels are already high. Allow your body to naturally wake and get about 20 minutes of  sunlight on your face before your first cup. Also, drink at least 16 ounces of water when you wake up to replenish your body from sleeping before you drink coffee.

For most, most people, I recommend cutting off caffeine by 2pm assuming a normal morning wake up and evening go to bed cycle. If you work shift work, adjust your cut off time accordingly.

For a detailed breakdown of when to drink your coffee based on your chronotype, consider enrolling in my comprehensive Sleep Course.

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Take a Nap A Latte

You’ve tried a typical latte, but chances are you haven’t tried my favorite napping hack: a nap a latte.

Brew a cup of coffee; I take mine black, for maximum benefits. Then take a short 20 to 25 nap. Right as you’re waking the caffeine will just be kicking in and you’ll feel even more alert.

Do A Coffee Swap

Not all coffee is equal, especially for caffeine levels. If you feel like you need to lower your intake, consider making some tweaks to your coffee order.

Light roast coffee has higher levels of caffeine than dark roast coffee, and decaf has up to 90 percent less caffeine than regular brewed coffee.

Here’s a handy chart of the caffeine levels in some of your favorite drinks, provided by Eleven Coffees:

caffieine nutritional facts for drinks

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Wake Up Refreshed by Staying Cool

One culprit of waking up in the middle of the night? Becoming hot and sweaty.

Partner and you can’t agree on a bed temperature?

That’s okay. My solution is an affordable bed temperature controlling system like Chilipad — you’ll both stay comfortable and wake up without having to rely on caffeine to feel energetic.

Take a Morning Stroll

Before you grab a cup of coffee, take a walk or run outside. Natural light exposure during the day helps regulate your wake-sleep cycle and just 15 minutes will also provide Vitamin D, which is important for sleep.

About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus, PhD, DABSM, FAASM

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, and Good Night!

  • Position: Combination Sleeper
  • Temperature: Hot Sleeper
  • Chronotype: Wolf

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