As we all know, the combination of sleep and caffeine are not a dream team. For those who consistently struggle to fall asleep at night, being aware of our caffeine intake throughout the day is something we must stay on top of. Ideally, you should be avoiding caffeine at least six hours prior to going to bed, but life doesn’t always work like that.
On occasion you may be able to fall asleep after a cup of coffee or caffeinated beverage, however, what do you do when you realize that that one cup of coffee has turned into several? How do you get yourself to actually sleep after drinking too much caffeine? The answer might be more straightforward than you think. You see, the best way to fall asleep during your caffeine high is to play a mind game with your mind.
Because of the chemical reaction that is going on in your brain, you have to take additional steps that will help to counter the side effects of the caffeine.
How to Sleep After Too Much Caffeine
How does one play these mind games, you ask? It’s simple, try these five ways to trick your brain into thinking that it actually does want to sleep when the jitters are telling you otherwise.
1. Do Some Light Exercise
Now that you have this jolt of energy, why not put it to good use? While it’s not a good idea to participate in strenuous activities before bed, a casual walk or swim might help to settle you down. Give yourself 30 minutes and head to the gym to work off some of that energy.
Take note, though, that exercise too close to bedtime is not advised as it can increase your core temperature, which is not ideal for decent sleeping conditions. Many people also report that exercise helps wake them up, so keep it light with stretching or a leisurely bike ride.
Another physical activity you can try is progressive muscle relaxation, which is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation for relaxation. It is a simple exercise that helps to bring attention to different parts of your body while relaxing different muscles in your body where you feel the tension.
2. Try to Relax
It may sound cliché, and you hear it all the time: before you settle down for bed, try some relaxing techniques and activities to help you fall asleep. The reason it is said over and over is that it actually works.
On most nights, having a relaxing night in and drifting blissfully off to sleep sounds like a dream come true, but how can you relax when that third shot of espresso has you bouncing off the walls? On nights like tonight, this is when your mind must take over and rest. Encourage yourself to do things you might not even normally do before bed:
- Meditate – Meditation is the ultimate mind game. It is known to help with slowing the breath and calming the brain. Even 5-10 minutes of sitting silently and focusing on your breathing can help to counter the effects of the caffeine.
- Try yoga – There are a few yoga poses that are good for helping to promote sleep, but the best one you can try, even if you don’t do yoga, is Savasana – everyone’s favorite pose. When you get into bed, lay in “corpse” pose: flat on your back, arms resting comfortably at your sides and let your feet fall open naturally. Don’t try to fall asleep, but rather aim to stay in this position for about ten minutes before you resume your preferred sleeping position.
- Take a bath – If you can, take a warm bath with essential oils, such as lavender. The calmness of the water and effects of the oils help to promote relaxation and can relieve tense muscles brought on by that energy drink. I personally use Body & Earth Lavender Bath Bombs (link to the best price on Amazon) to help me to relax after drinking too much caffeine – they work great!
- Read a book – Grab a good book, or better yet – a generally uneventful one – and settle in to catch up on a few chapters. The physical act of reading can help to tire your eye muscles, leading them to close and rest. It also gives your brain something to work on while it feels so awake.
- Drink non-caffeinated tea – Teas such as chamomile and lavender have sedative effects and can help you feel sleepy.
Incorporating the above habits into your nightly routine will also help you fall asleep easier on your average caffeine intake day as well.
3. Counter the Caffeine
Just because you drank too much caffeine doesn’t mean you can’t try a few tricks to offset the effects. While you can’t entirely remove the caffeine from your body, drinking water will help to flush it from your system. And if you’re feeling dehydrated, you may start to feel more jittery – which is even more of a reason to fill back up on H2O.
Since caffeine can minimize the absorption of some vitamins and minerals as well as speed up their excretion from your body, introducing these vitamins back into your bloodstream can take the control back. Try eating fruits such as oranges, strawberries, and other fruits that are packed with Vitamin C. Broccoli is also said to cut the time short for the life of caffeine in the system.
4. Attempt to Stay Awake Instead
Being unable to fall asleep can become increasingly frustrating. The more you try, the more agitated you become, and the more sleep alludes you. If trying to sleep isn’t working, why not flip the script? Try not to sleep.
It sounds counter-productive, but it’s called Paradoxical Intention, and it actually can work. Rather than stressing about the fact that you cannot fall asleep, mentally reward yourself for being able to stay awake. Think of it as reverse psychology. When you get into bed, instead of cramming your eyes closed and repeating the hypnotist’s favorite word (SLEEP!), keep your eyes open.
“Hooray! I’m still awake. Let me try to stay awake for ten more minutes.”
When you do this, your brain isn’t focusing on your failed attempts at sleep or your intense caffeine regret. After some time, you will likely begin to feel so bored with your awake status, that you’ll drift off without even realizing it.
5. Dim All the Lights
One way to help make yourself feel tired when you’re not is to actively trigger your circadian rhythm. The idea here is that when you’ve had too much caffeine, your brain isn’t working correctly to activate its necessary dose of melatonin. Our circadian rhythm relies on a few factors to release this hormone, the main one being light.
If you are sitting at home, brain wired and lights blazing, there is no way that your body will get the signal that it’s time for sleep. Walk around and switch off any unnecessary bulbs. While you’re at it, adjust the temperature so that your room is slightly cooler than usual. A chilled, dark room will give you the feeling of being in a sleepy cave and will help to encourage your brain to slow down for sleep.
Dimming the lights also applies to devices as well. If possible, turn off the TV, and put away your phone or tablet. The endless scrolling on social media or stimulation of the TV will only continue to keep your brain engaged.
Where is Caffeine Found and How Does It Work?
If you’re not a big coffee drinker and can’t quite figure out what you have had that’s giving you the jitters, you might be interested to know that there are many culprits out there that contain the stimulant. Just a few of the sources that contain it include:
- Soft drinks and Energy drinks
- Over the counter medications, such as diet aids and cold/flu medication
Caffeine is a compound that is found in as many as 60 natural plants and can block the chemicals in the brain that induce sleep. It also promotes the production of adrenaline.
When you drink or eat products with caffeine, it tricks your brain into thinking that it is time to be alert by imitating a compound called adenosine. Adenosine’s job is actually to slow your mind down, but to your cell receptors, caffeine looks just like adenosine. The caffeine binds to receptors (in the place of the adenosine) triggering adrenaline, and thus, giving you more energy, rather than slowing you down.
How Much is Too Much?
Keep in mind that caffeine studies have shown that it stays in your system for roughly five to six hours, therefore consuming any amount of caffeine within six hours of bedtime should be considered “too much.”
Because there is no nutritional value in including caffeine in your daily diet, there is no recommended amount of caffeine that you should consume per day. On average, most people have an intake of up to 300mg per day with 500mg or more considered to be an excessive amount.
When trying to determine how much caffeine is a safe amount, individual factors such as weight, age, and general health should be considered. Keeping in mind that some people do have a higher tolerance than others, the average healthy adult will want to have less than 500mg per day.
Since long-term side effects on growth and hormones aren’t clearly known, pregnant women should stick to less than 200mg, and children shouldn’t have more than 100mg per day.
What Are Some Signs of Caffeine Overdose?
It’s likely that you already know how addicting caffeine can be. If you have ever skipped your regular coffee, soda, or candy intake for a day – you’ll understand the withdrawal effects that come from cutting out caffeine. For some, as their tolerance for caffeine builds, so does their intake.
As a drug, it’s important to remember that it is possible to consume too much, or overdose, on caffeine. While most cases will not be life-threatening, the consequences have been known to cause seizures or irregular heartbeat. Other signs that you have consumed too much caffeine include:
- High blood pressure
How to Prevent Future Problems
Okay, so maybe you’ve overdone it this time, but that doesn’t mean you that can’t be more aware and prepared in the future so that you don’t find yourself in this situation again (awake at 1 am with no sleep on the horizon). The obvious answer to prevention is not to consume caffeine at all. But we wouldn’t ask you to do that!
One alternative to coffee that may help you achieve the desired alertness without the jitters and sleeplessness is yerba mate tea. While yerba mate has roughly the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee, it also has soothing and relaxing properties. Meaning you can have that cup in the afternoon, and not have to worry about the lasting effects late into the night. I personally love yerba mate and have recommended it to all my friends. I always tell them to try the variety pack first so they can get a feel for exactly the flavor they like the most. Here is the Yerba Mate Tea Variety Pack that I order off Amazon.
Other methods of prevention can include:
- Limit your caffeine intake in the afternoon. This doesn’t just apply to coffee! Consider soda, energy drinks, and some teas as well.
- Be aware of the food and drinks you are consuming throughout the day, not just the energy drink you had at lunch. Sometimes we may forget which products have caffeine in them, and that bar of chocolate you snuck in wasn’t the only culprit.
- Calculate the amount of caffeine in your foods and drinks. You don’t want to be that person, but you also want to get to bed at night. If you have a sensitivity to caffeine, your best bet is to know which products affect you more.
- Avoid late-night snacks such as chocolate and other candies. Try the fruits listed above instead if you have a night time sweet tooth!
For the women who are on birth control pills or who are between ovulation and beginning of their menstruation, caffeine takes twice as long to process. Keep this in mind when consuming caffeine throughout the day if you hope to get some rest at night.
Remember that losing sleep thanks to drinking too much caffeine may have effects on you tomorrow, such as tiredness or moodiness. To avoid being in this same situation again, and losing even more sleep, try not to overdo it on the coffee tomorrow! Caffeine shouldn’t be used as a replacement for sleep, so be sure to make every attempt at the suggestions above.