Coffee, moderation, and your sleep

07.30.15 |

Striking a balance for your health

For many Americans, coffee has become a critical component to a daily routine.

In the Habits of Health, I wrote that one cheeseburger won’t kill you, but if you eat cheeseburgers again and again, day after day, that habit of reaching for a fast-food staple will add to up to serious consequences for your health. Overdoing pretty much anything—even something good—can be bad for you. Exercise, for example, is essential to creating Optimal Health. It creates countless rewards for your vitality and your longevity. At the same time, over-exercising can in some cases be fatal.

Overdoing pretty much anything—even something good—can be bad for you.

The key then is to strike a balance where you get your recommended amount of daily activity without damaging your joints or overworking your system to the point that it shuts down.

New research suggests that coffee consumption might have a similar middle-ground. Coffee has already been linked to a number of health benefits. According to previous research, it might protect against Parkinson’s disease and even liver cancer, among other potential rewards. But you can have too much coffee. Given the explosive growth of coffee shops in the United States, there is a chance that you might be enjoying more of your favorite morning beverage than you should.
A recent study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that drinking too much (and confusingly, too little) coffee can increase one’s risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a potential risk factor for Alzheimer’s, by as much as 20 percent. If you limit your coffee intake to about one cup of a day, that same coffee could actually help to prevent MCI.

Before my non-coffee-drinking readers rush out for a latte, I want to emphasize that this research is likely more of a reason to reduce your coffee habit than it is to start one, at least until more research is done to fully detail the mechanisms at work here. Caffeine, despite its potential health benefits, can complicate multiple areas of your health. If you feel so well-rested each day that you don’t have the urge to reach for a cup of coffee (or several, as is the case with many Americans), you are likely well-ahead of the pack because you are avoiding not the damaging results of excessive caffeine intake as well as the consequences of too little sleep.

Pay careful attention to that last point. Every time a study about the risks of caffeine is released, I can’t help but think of the ripple effect that caffeine consumption can create and what that can mean for health.

The researchers in the previously cited study say that coffee consumption beyond one cup a day puts consumers at risk of cognitive decline. Who drinks more than one cup of coffee a day? It’s a familiar story: the first cup of coffee gets you started in the morning, but by about 2 or 3pm you start to drag. The work day is almost done, but you need an extra push to get to the finish line. So you head to the breakroom and pour yourself a fresh cup.

And then you go home. Bedtime rolls around, but you can’t sleep. You toss. You turn. You fall asleep too late and have to wake up too early.

It’s a dangerous cycle. That lack of sleep accumulates, and it can trigger overeating, which can lead to obesity. Obesity itself is linked to a slew of health challenges, and a lack of sleep in its own right can impair your thinking and interrupt a number key restorative functions. Sleep is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of health. We push ourselves to do more of almost everything, and our sleep suffers as a result.

This is why I say that you are probably better off undershooting your coffee consumption rather than overshooting it. Your sleep is much more likely to be on track if you are drinking a cup of coffee or less a day. You might not get the immediate benefits of regular coffee intake that research hints at—and as I said before, there is still much more research that needs to be done in this area—but you protect your sleep and all the benefits that come with it.

Tips to follow

If you are going to drink coffee, however, follow these tips:

  • Limit yourself to one cup a day, and no, that doesn’t mean filling up the biggest cup you can find.
  • Avoid drinking coffee in the afternoon or evening so that your system can be caffeine free at bedtime.
  • Simplify your coffee. Fancy coffee shop drinks tend to have an abundance of sugars and additives that equate to an abundance of calories.
  • Coffee isn’t breakfast. Start your day with a Habits of Health friendly meal to keep your blood sugar levels stable and steady.
  • Structure your routine around healthy sleep to make your body less dependent on caffeine.

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion surrounding coffee and your health. If you continue to drink coffee, remember these tips and don’t forget the value of healthy sleep!