How too much caffeine can lead to sleep deprivation (2023)


7 min


Gift Article

Recently, a 32-year-old patient of mine told me he had driven to work and fallen asleep behind the wheel at a red light. To his chagrin, he was pulled over by an officer who arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He wasn’t.

WpGet the full experience.Choose your planArrowRight

It turns out he was driving under the powerful influence of chronic sleep deprivation, which he thought he could keep at bay with ever-increasing amounts of caffeine. Feeling overwhelmed by the grueling pace of his graduate studies and teaching responsibilities, he decided to shave an hour or two off his sleep schedule and rely on coffee to turbocharge himself in the morning.

The strategy worked well at first and he felt energized and alert. He was highly productive and focused for several months before he noticed that his coffee consumption began creeping up from one to nearly six cups per day to stay alert on just five hours of sleep each night — two hours short of his regular total.

How caffeine fools your body

An 8-ounce cup of coffee provides about 100 milligrams of caffeine. Between 400 and 500 mg of caffeine per day is generally considered safe. Caffeine toxicity, like seizures or an arrhythmia, is common with consumption of 1200 mg or more per day.


(Video) Coffee and its effect on sleep

My patient was unaware that his caffeine-induced sense of alertness was illusory. His brain was deeply and chronically deprived of sleep, and it was fooled only temporarily by his hefty caffeine use. The fact is that no known drug, including caffeine, can effectively reverse sleep deprivation.

The reason has to do, in part, with the circadian rhythm of a chemical called adenosine that plays a major role in the regulation of sleep.

When you awake from a restful night of sleep, the adenosine level in your brain is at its nadir. Throughout the day, it steadily rises and gradually produces the pressure to sleep in the evening. During sleep, adenosine is cleared from the brain, which helps us wake up and stay alert.

Caffeine is a powerful antagonist at adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking the sedating effects of adenosine and making you feel stimulated and mentally sharp.

How chronic sleep deprivation develops

Here’s the problem. If you cut short your normal night of sleep, adenosine is not fully cleared from the brain. With chronic sleep deprivation, adenosine levels continue to rise, creating a persistent sense of fatigue and sleepiness and impairing cognitive function.


The brain adapts to this flood of adenosine by increasing the number of adenosine receptors in an attempt to get you to fall asleep, which of course only makes you feel more tired.

You will probably respond by increasing your caffeine consumption, in an attempt to block rising adenosine activity, which can only be restored by a normal night of sleep — the very thing my patient was trying to cut short.

(Video) Sleep deprivation can lead to a 300-400% increase in being depressed and anxious

Sleep deprivation doesn’t just make you tired. It impairs the brain’s ability to consolidate memory.

During sleep, your neurons are remodeled and change their firing pattern, which helps burn in the memories that are formed during the day.

Too little sleep can also exacerbate preexisting depression and anxiety disorders and make people with no previous mental health problems generally more angry and impulsive. One study found that young people who were deprived of sleep for just five days showed an increased response in their amygdala to angry faces compared to their normal baseline state. The amygdala is a brain region critical to the processing of fear and danger.


Intriguingly, while caffeine can’t eradicate sleep deprivation, it does appear to offset some of the harmful cognitive effects of sleep loss on memory. This may be one of the reasons people think caffeine is working for them: Even if caffeine contributes to their chronic sleep deprivation via its alerting effects, they aren’t (yet) experiencing enough adverse cognitive effects of sleep loss to blame caffeine.

The stress-caffeine-sleep-wake cycle

Few of us are champion sleepers. It’s recommended that adults get seven to eight hours a day of sleep; teens need eight to 10 hours a day; and young children need even more. In fact, 1 in 3 Americans report that they don’t get the recommended number of hours of sleep to feel restored and rested — either because they have trouble falling or staying asleep, or they wake up too early.


The stimulation of modern life doesn’t suddenly vanish the moment you close your eyes in bed. Whether it’s ruminating about what happened during the day or worrying about tomorrow, turning off and relaxing takes a little time.

That’s the normal and near-universal psychophysiologic arousal of everyday life. It’s probably the biggest driving force behind the self-sustaining cycles of morning caffeine and evening alcohol or cannabis, to say nothing about sleeping pills. Sleep medications such as Ambien, Lunesta and Restoril will knock you out but they are best for short-term use — to help deal with unusual stress that makes us very anxious and provokes insomnia.

(Video) Sleep Expert REVEALS How Caffeine DESTROYS Your Sleep & Productivity! | Matthew Walker

But these hypnotic medications, which increase the activity of GABA (the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter) and produce a characteristic calm, are potentially habit-forming and addictive. They can also cause adverse cognitive effects, in learning and memory, particularly among older people.


How to break the cycle

Caffeine is usually metabolized within four to six hours, though drinking coffee throughout the day can interfere with sleep and drive the use of sedating drugs to turn off. With just a little effort, you can break this cycle.

Given the average half-life of caffeine, it’s best to keep your coffee drinking to the morning and try to avoid caffeine after lunch. Some people are genetically slow metabolizers of caffeine and will have significant sleep-onset insomnia even from early morning coffee; they should probably stick to tea.

The simple truth is that you cannot keep yourself propped up with caffeine indefinitely because the rising tide of adenosine in your brain will become impossible to ignore. When that happens, don’t panic and turn to sleep medication, just give your brain a chance to turn off naturally.


And here’s the most effective trick for falling asleep, which has been studied and shown to be as effective — if not more — than any hypnotic drug.

Don’t do anything in bed except sleep or have sex — no reading, listening to music or anything else. This is so your brain associates the bed only with sleep.

Set a regular time for sleep. If you’re not asleep in 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed and go to a comfortable chair or couch and read or watch something that’s not too exciting. As soon as you feel tired, go back to bed and try again. Not asleep in 20 minutes? Repeat this drill until you are.

(Video) The Shocking Effects of Caffeine On Mental Health

You might spend the first few nights getting in and out of bed. Even if you only sleep a few hours, your “sleep efficiency” — the amount of time in bed that you’re asleep — will be a staggering 100 percent. You will be on your way to breaking the learned association between your bed and insomnia.

Do you have a question about healthy eating? Email and we may answer your question in a future column.

Sign up for the Well+Being newsletter, your source of expert advice and simple tips to help you live well every day

Let us help you eat smarter

This simple diet swap will help you lose weight and lower health risks.

Probiotic supplements may do the opposite of boosting your gut health

These diet changes will help you eat like a centenarian.

The timing of your meals can have striking effects on your weight, appetite and overall health.

Pushing yourself to drink more water? Learn why you don’t need to drink 8 cups of water a day.

Discover the best foods to feed your gut microbiome.

More Well+Being articles about Food


  • How can I avoid eating food with ‘forever’ chemicals?June 6, 2023How can I avoid eating food with ‘forever’ chemicals?June 6, 2023
  • How too much caffeine can lead to sleep deprivationMay 30, 2023How too much caffeine can lead to sleep deprivationMay 30, 2023
  • The CDC wants people to stop eating raw cookie dough. But it’s so tasty.May 25, 2023The CDC wants people to stop eating raw cookie dough. But it’s so tasty.May 25, 2023

(Video) The Ugly Truth About Coffee’s Effects On Your Body


How too much caffeine can lead to sleep deprivation? ›

Caffeine also can reduce the amount of deep sleep that you enjoy. The effects of caffeine can occur even when you consume it earlier in the afternoon or evening. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by 1 hour. These effects also can be stronger in older adults.

How much caffeine causes sleep deprivation? ›

To avoid caffeine affecting your sleep, as a general guide the recommendations are to take particular note of your caffeine consumption in the 1-2 hours before bed. Research shows that doses of 100mg around bedtime reduce the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Does 50 mg of caffeine affect sleep? ›

Caffeine consumption can make you fall asleep later, sleep less hours overall, and make your sleep feel less satisfying. View Source . It can also reduce the amount. View Source of deep, slow-wave sleep you get, which is a critical stage of sleep for feeling refreshed the next day.

Can too much caffeine cause sleep problems? ›

Heavier caffeine consumption, compared with light or no caffeine consumption, will be associated with higher insomnia symptoms and daytime sleepiness; and. A higher probability of experiencing insomnia symptoms will be associated with an interaction between higher caffeine consumption and lower sleep duration.

How long does it take for 200 mg of caffeine to wear off? ›

The half-life of caffeine can be anywhere from three to seven hours. So, if you drink 200 mg of caffeine, you'd still have 100 mg in your system about five hours later, and a quarter of it about 10 hours later. It can take up to 12 hours for caffeine to fully leave your system.

How many hours awake is considered sleep deprivation? ›

Sleep deprivation can occur after just 24 hours of no sleep. However, the longer you spend awake, the more severe — and less tolerable — symptoms become. People need sleep to survive. Sleep allows your body to repair itself and perform essential biological functions.

How many hours a night is sleep deprived? ›

The term sleep deprivation refers to getting less than the needed amount of sleep, which, for adults, is at least seven hours.

Is 200 mg of caffeine a lot before bed? ›

Caffeine in doses ranging from 200-400 mg have been shown to be effective and are often utilized to sustain performance in the context of sleep deprivation, sedation, and sleep restriction. Up to 500 mg of caffeine can be found in commercially available 16-oz servings of brewed coffee.

How long does it take for 60 mg of caffeine to wear off? ›

How Long Does Caffeine Last? It takes from 15 to 60 minutes to feel the effects of caffeine. The effects may continue for around three to five hours, though it takes much longer for all the caffeine to leave the body.

How long does 45 mg of caffeine stay in your system? ›

Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours. Someone who consumes 40 milligrams (mg) of caffeine will have 20 mg remaining in their system after 5 hours. When do effects peak? Levels of caffeine peak in the blood within about 15–45 minutes of consumption.

What are 3 side effects of too much caffeine? ›

Some of the signs and symptoms of having too much caffeine include:
  • a rise in body temperature.
  • frequent urination.
  • dehydration.
  • dizziness and headaches.
  • rapid heartbeat (palpitations)
  • restlessness and excitability.
  • anxiety and irritability.
  • trembling hands.

What is a symptom of too much caffeine? ›

If you do eat or drink too much caffeine, it can cause health problems, such as: Restlessness and shakiness. Insomnia. Headaches.

What are 4 side effects of too much caffeine? ›

Nervousness. Irritability. Frequent urination or inability to control urination. Fast heartbeat.

Does melatonin counteract caffeine? ›

Caffeine is a stimulant, and melatonin is a not-a-stimulant that makes you sleepy. So if you take them both at the same time, you're basically canceling each one out. The caffeine will make it harder for you to sleep, and the melatonin won't be able to do its job.

What is the longest caffeine can stay in your system? ›

You notice the effects of caffeine within 15 minutes. The levels in your bloodstream peak an hour later and remain there for several hours. About 6 hours after you consume caffeine, half of it is still in your body. Caffeine may not completely clear your bloodstream until after 10 hours.

Is 2 hours sleep better than no sleep? ›

Sleeping beyond the 90-minute cycle may mean you fall deeper into your sleep cycle and will find it much harder to wake up. The best answer to this question is that some sleep is always better than none. Trying to get in a power nap or achieving that full 90-minute cycle is better for you than no sleep at all.

Is 3 hrs sleep better than no sleep? ›

Ideally, you should try to get more than 90 minutes of sleep. Sleeping between 90 and 110 minutes gives your body time to complete one full sleep cycle and can minimize grogginess when you wake. But any sleep is better than not at all — even if it's a 20-minute nap.

Is 3 hours of sleep better than no sleep? ›

Is 3 hours enough? This will depend largely on how your body responds to resting this way. Some people are able to function on only 3 hours very well and actually perform better after sleeping in bursts. Though many experts do still recommend a minimum of 6 hours a night, with 8 being preferable.

What qualifies as sleep deprivation? ›

Sleep deprivation means you're not getting enough sleep. For most adults, the amount of sleep needed for best health is 7 to 8 hours each night. When you get less sleep than that, as many people do, it can eventually lead to many health problems.

How do you recover from sleep deprivation? ›

Eating a well balanced diet, getting regular exercise, staying mentally active, and keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check will improve sleep as well. You can also tackle any sleep problems by training your brain for better sleep.

How do you test for sleep deprivation? ›

Multiple sleep latency tests measure how quickly you fall asleep during a series of daytime naps and use sensors to record your brain activity and eye movements. A daytime maintenance of wakefulness test measures your ability to stay awake and alert.

How much caffeine before bed is ok? ›

On average, most people should stop drinking caffeine four to six hours before bed. People who are especially sensitive to this stimulant may want to stop earlier in the day or avoid caffeine altogether.

Is 300 mg of caffeine a lot in one sitting? ›

Like many foods, when consumed in moderation, caffeine does not cause adverse effects in healthy adults, Karolin says. A moderate amount per day is 300 mg or less, which is equivalent to about three 8 oz. cups of coffee.

Is 3pm too late for coffee? ›

Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m.

Caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to six hours after consuming it, leading to an hour or more lost in rest, one study found. So if you want to start winding down and going to bed at 9 p.m., drinking coffee after 3 p.m. is a bad idea.

Can you flush out caffeine faster? ›

Water can help flush caffeine out of your system and keep you properly hydrated. Indications of caffeine withdrawal include drowsiness, headaches, irritability or trouble concentrating, but symptoms should last only a few days.

How long does it take to detox from caffeine? ›

The duration of caffeine withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person, but caffeine withdrawal usually lasts at least 2 to 9 days . Someone who abruptly stops caffeine intake after regular use will usually feel withdrawal effects between 12 and 24 hours after stopping.

Does caffeine build up in your system? ›

Extra caffeine doesn't get stored in your body either. It's processed in the liver and exits through your urine. This is why you might have an increase in urination shortly after having caffeine. If you have experience stomach problems, like acid reflux or ulcers, ask your doctor if it's okay for you to have caffeine.

How long will 400 mg of caffeine keep me awake? ›

cups of coffee in a row, taking in about 400 mg of caffeine, you'll still have 100 mg of caffeine in your system after 10 hours—enough to keep you pretty buzzed. Any amount of caffeine in your system about 50 mg may be enough for you to still feel some effects.

How long does caffeine anxiety last? ›

Symptoms are likely to begin around 12 to 24 hours after you last ingested caffeine, and they can last between two and nine days. Make sure you don't take painkillers containing caffeine (a common addition) to help with symptoms as this will maintain your dependency. Keep hydrated.

How long does it take for 75% caffeine to leave the body? ›

The half-life of caffeine is 3-6 hours and it can take 10 hours to leave your system completely.

What organ does too much caffeine damage? ›

In high, toxic doses, caffeine can have severe effects on brain, heart and muscle function but has not been linked to clinically apparent liver injury. In contrast, there have been several reports of liver injury linked to use of caffeine rich energy drinks.

What foods counteract caffeine? ›

Eating may slow the release of caffeine into your bloodstream. Opt for slow-digesting, fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, beans, lentils, starchy vegetables, nuts, and seeds ( 1 ).

What organs does too much caffeine affect? ›

It can affect your sleep, digestion, blood pressure, and heart rate. Children should be careful, as well. Too much caffeine can damage a child's developing heart, blood vessels, and nervous system.

What are the warning signs of addiction to caffeine? ›

One of the most telltale signs of caffeine dependency is an inability to perform daily activities of life without caffeine. So, if you're unable to function without your daily cup of coffee in the morning and you “have to have it,” you may be dependent on caffeine.

What is the most caffeine ever consumed? ›

Gus Comstock, the Minnesota legend who drank 85 cups of coffee in a day.

How common is caffeine toxicity? ›

Caffeine overdose is very rare, but it is often related to energy drinks or caffeine supplements that can contain very high levels of this stimulant. Children and adolescents have a lower tolerance for caffeine and a higher risk of overdose than other people.

How long can caffeine overdose affect you? ›

An individual withdrawing from caffeine because of a chronic toxic overdose may experience symptoms of withdrawal including headache, nausea, nervousness, reduced alertness and depressed mood. These symptoms are most acute during the first 20-48 hours, but they may persist for as long as 7 days2.

What neutralizes caffeine? ›

How to counteract caffeine.
  • Drink water.
  • Move your body.
  • Eat fiber-rich foods.
  • Take supplements and adaptogens.
  • Meditate or practice breathwork.
Oct 16, 2020

Can caffeine cause anxiety? ›

Caffeine's jittery effects on your body are similar to those of a frightening event. That's because caffeine stimulates your “fight or flight” response, according to a 2006 study, and research from 2018 has shown that this can make anxiety worse and can even trigger an anxiety attack.

How do you break a caffeine cycle? ›

To keep your body from going through withdrawal, it is best to gradually wean yourself off caffeine over a 2 to 3 week period. Switch to low caffeine options such as decaffeinated coffee or teas, which can help your body slowly get used to functioning without caffeine.

What happens if you take melatonin every night? ›

Melatonin is generally safe for short-term use. Unlike with many sleep medications, with melatonin you are unlikely to become dependent on it, have less response to it after repeated use or experience a hangover effect. The most common melatonin side effects include: Headache.

Is 10mg of melatonin too much? ›

Doses of 10 milligrams or higher can cause side effects like drowsiness and headache. Other symptoms of melatonin overdose. View Source include changes in blood pressure, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and vivid dreams or nightmares.

What happens if you take melatonin and don't go to sleep? ›

Most people overdo it with melatonin by taking upward of 10 milligrams or more prior to bed and then claim it doesn't work. Taking too much melatonin can actually cause rebound insomnia —either rendering the supplement ineffective or worse, exacerbating your already sleepless nights further.

Can caffeine keep you awake for 24 hours? ›

How long a dose of caffeine affects the body can vary according to a number of factors, including tolerance, genetics, and physical health. In most cases, however, the effects last about five or six hours.

Can caffeine keep you awake 12 hours later? ›

Coffee is the second most widely consumed drink globally, only after water, and one of the main reasons for that is its high level of caffeine. But, depending on your caffeine tolerance, a cup of coffee can keep you awake anywhere from 4-5 to 12 hours.

Can caffeine withdrawal last years? ›

Caffeine withdrawal can last anywhere from two to nine days. The number of symptoms you get and how severe these are can be worse if you're used to having a lot of caffeine each day.

How much caffeine per hour to stay awake? ›

Be strategic with your coffee or energy drink and you'll get an extended boost in alertness. Most people need about 100 milligrams (mg) to 200 mg of caffeine, depending on their body weight, Rosekind says.

Can small amounts of caffeine keep you awake? ›

While there's plenty of research showing that caffeine disrupts sleep, only one study has examined how the timing of caffeine intake affects sleep. The study results showed that having caffeine even as early as six hours before bedtime can impact sleep, even if you don't actually notice the disruption.

How much caffeine for 5 hours of sleep? ›

If you log five hours of sleep a night, you may need to drink the equivalent of two cups of weak coffee when you wake up, followed by another two cups four hours later.

How much caffeine is fine before bed? ›

On average, most people should stop drinking caffeine four to six hours before bed. People who are especially sensitive to this stimulant may want to stop earlier in the day or avoid caffeine altogether.

Will 110 mg of caffeine keep me awake? ›

Less than 200 mg of caffeine (1 or 2 cups of coffee) can make you more alert, put you in a better mood, and make you feel less tired. It can also improve physical work and your thinking. Small amounts of caffeine might make your blood pressure to go up, increase your heart rate, and make you pass urine more.

How long will 50 mg of caffeine last? ›

The levels in your bloodstream peak an hour later and remain there for several hours. About 6 hours after you consume caffeine, half of it is still in your body. Caffeine may not completely clear your bloodstream until after 10 hours.

What helps if you had too much caffeine? ›

What you can do to feel better
  • No more caffeine. Don't consume any more caffeine today, not to state the obvious. ...
  • Drink plenty of water. Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that you need to drink extra water to make up for what you're peeing out. ...
  • Replace electrolytes. ...
  • Take a walk. ...
  • Practice deep breathing.
5 days ago

What are the symptoms of a caffeine crash? ›

A caffeine crash is characterized by symptoms like headaches, excessive tiredness, an inability to concentrate, and irritability.

Will I be able to sleep if I drink coffee at 5pm? ›

Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m.

Caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to six hours after consuming it, leading to an hour or more lost in rest, one study found. So if you want to start winding down and going to bed at 9 p.m., drinking coffee after 3 p.m. is a bad idea.

Can caffeine cause sleep apnea? ›

A couple of studies have looked at the potential connections between caffeine use and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). One study showed that caffeinated soda use may be associated with more severe sleep-disordered breathing, such as OSA .


1. What Happens To Your Body When You Stop Drinking Coffee (Minute by Minute)
(The Infographics Show)
2. New study shows that lack of sleep can lead to overeating
(CBS Mornings)
3. How caffeine and alcohol affect your sleep | Sleeping with Science, a TED series
4. Rethink Your Energy Drink: Beware of Extreme Caffeine
(Mayo Clinic Health System)
5. Sleep Expert REVEALS How Caffeine DESTROYS Your Sleep, Focus & Productivity | Matthew Walker
(Dr Rangan Chatterjee)
6. Effects of Caffeine on Sleep | How it Creates a Vicious Cycle
(Wellness Bubble)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Nicola Considine CPA

Last Updated: 10/02/2023

Views: 6702

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Nicola Considine CPA

Birthday: 1993-02-26

Address: 3809 Clinton Inlet, East Aleisha, UT 46318-2392

Phone: +2681424145499

Job: Government Technician

Hobby: Calligraphy, Lego building, Worldbuilding, Shooting, Bird watching, Shopping, Cooking

Introduction: My name is Nicola Considine CPA, I am a determined, witty, powerful, brainy, open, smiling, proud person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.