The Pros and Cons of Coffee: Proven Tips On How To Stay Awake & Alert

This is the third installment of the WCT sleep series, where we go over proven methods to improve the quality of your sleep.

In Part 1, The Amazing Benefits Of Deep Sleep [3 Tips To Help You Fall Asleep] we discuss the benefits of sleep and how to determine how much sleep you actually need. 

In Part 2, we cover 8 proven strategies to help you sleep better immediately. You can find it at 7 More Ways To Increase Deep Sleep [Even With A Busy Schedule].

Today’s post will discuss the role caffeine plays in your sleep-wake cycles. 

Is it good for you? Is it bad for you? Should you be drinking it? If so, how much?

Let's get started...

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Caffeine: The Most Addictive Substance in the World

How many cups of coffee do you drink a day?

Are you the kind of person who needs it first thing in the morning? 

There are far too many adults who believe that they cannot function without caffeine.  Just look at the number of people waiting in line at your local Starbucks every morning. 

What if I told you that you can actually survive.. no, thrive, without caffeine.


This post will cover

  • Are There Benefits of Caffeine Consumption?

  • Should You Be Drinking Caffeine?

  • The Dangers of Excessive Caffeine Intake

  • How much Caffeine is Too Much

  • Natural Ways to Stay Energized Without Coffee



Is Caffeine Good For You?

Caffeine is a substance that occurs naturally in many plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoanuts.

Caffeine makes its way to your brain by crossing the blood-brain barrier and imitating a molecule known as Adenosine. Adenosine binds to receptors in your brain and causes you to feel tired as the day goes on. Caffeine blocks this process by binding to the Adenosine receptors.

This causes a change in your perception, mood, consciousness, behavior, and cognition, ultimately promoting a state of wakefulness.

Moderate caffeine consumption has been associated with

-Improved Energy

-Improved Performance in certain Physical Actitivities

-Decreased Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus,

-Decreased Risk of Alzheimer's Dementia


-Decreased Stored Fat in your body (Caffeine has been shown to act on the adrenal glands, which releases epinephrine (aka adrenaline) causing it to cleave fat stores at a very rapid pace, decreasing the amount of stored fat in your body.



But as with most things in life, there is always a trade-off...


Side Effects of Excess Caffeine Consumption

Depending on a person’s metabolism, caffeine’s half-life is about 6 hours. After 6 hours, there is still 50% of the substance circulating in your body. After another 6 hours, there is 25% and so on. 

As a result, caffeine can cause serious issues with your sleep cycles, especially if you drink it within 6 hours of your bedtime.

In addition, the more caffeine you consume, the more your brain will continue to produce Adenosine receptors to induce a state of fatigue. 

As a result, you will need more and more caffeine just to maintain the same levels of wakefulness.


Relying on caffeine on a daily basis creates a dependency reaction, and your body becomes extremely tolerant to it.

Have you ever seen someone get severe headaches and other withdrawal symptoms if they do not get their morning fix of coffee?

Why become dependent on an external source just to do something so basic as being awake?

Exceptions exist, and there are certainly instances where getting a 'boost' is justified, but it should not be a routine practice.  


How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

So where do we draw the line between getting the benefits of caffeine and becoming dependent on it?

Experts recommend keeping caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day.

This equates to about 2-3 cups of coffee a day.

But do you need to drink coffee at all? 

If you are a resident physician (or any other busy professional), drinking a cup of coffee every morning is the norm. 

When I first started residency, I was afraid that I would also be forced to join the caffeine crowd. The thought of working for 24 straight hours was daunting, especially since I had never stayed up that long before.  

Long calls have come and gone, including working 24-hour shifts every 3 days for several weeks, and I have yet to drink any caffeinated beverage. 

Brittany is up every day at 5:30 AM, and bikes to and from work- she has never been a coffee drinker. 

So how do we do it? 


Natural Ways to Stay Energized Throughout Your Busy Day

So, how can you possibly maintain a state of wakefulness without caffeine?


It's simple. 


You need to sleep right and eat right.  


Humans are designed to go through regular sleep-wake cycles, and this CANNOT be changed, no matter how hard you try. 

If you go long enough without sleep, your body will fall asleep eventually.

We are meant to sleep 6-8 hours every single day, but due to busy schedules, people usually get 4-6. 

What's worse is that many people claim that they 'only need 5 hours of sleep,' yet they go through the day chugging several cups of caffeine.  

If you want to be truly awake and energetic during the day, you must make sleep a priority.  

We have gone over 11 ways to maximize your sleep in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.


In addition, it is important to block off an appropriate amount of time to ensure that you get an adequate amount of sleep. Just because you go to bed at 11 pm and set your alarm for 6 am, it is unlikely that you actually slept 7 hours that night. 


You need to account for the time that it takes to actually fall asleep, as well as the number of times you wake up or are restless throughout the night. 


There are many apps and other devices that can predict how long you've been sleeping based on the quality and quantity of body movements. 


It truly doesn't matter if these devices are accurate or not, just as long as you consistently use the same device and compare your sleep times night after night. 


I personally use a Fitbit tracker to record my sleep progress. I learned that if I block off 8 hours of sleep, the Fitbit tracks approximately 7hrs and 20 minutes of actual sleep time. 

It usually takes me at least 15 minutes to initiate sleep and I tend to wake up several times (without actually remembering) throughout the night.  

Furthermore, after trial and error, I have determined that I only need a little over 7 hours of sleep to function for an entire day and have enough energy left over for a 30-45 minute training session without any caffeine or "pre-workout" supplements.  


Fortunately, it appears that you can average your sleep hours throughout the week.  For example, some nights I may only get 6 hrs and 45 minutes, but if I recuperate and get 7 hours and 15 minutes on a subsequent day, it still averages out to 7 hours per day and my energy doesn't fluctuate much. 


Similarly, If I'm able to manage 8 hours on a given day, I notice that I don't have to sleep for quite as long on another day that week.  


The Effects of Diet on Sleep Quality


Eating the right kinds of foods will also be a critical component to maintaining energy levels.


It is ideal to get a wide variety of vegetables and other high-quality foods throughout the day to maximize


1) Your Energy Levels


2) Your Ability to Fall Asleep


1) Foods to Maximize Your Energy Levels

Eating foods that are high in sugar (carbohydrates) will only lead to a quick spike in energy that is not long lasting.  This is why it is important to consume foods that are high in the other two macro-nutrients: Fat and Protein.

It starts out with consuming a high-quality breakfast. Check out 5 Healthy Breakfast Options for the Busy Professional to learn the best way to get your day started right.

The next thing you need to focus on is hydration. 

Caffeine is a diuretic and therefore has the potential to dehydrate you.  It is absolutely critical that you drink a lot of water to keep your body moving.


2) Foods to Improve Your Sleep Quality

There are also a handful of foods that can help you sleep.

The best foods to help you sleep are ones that are high in Magnesium. These include Spinach, Almonds, Black Beans, and Avocados. Learn more about some of these at 5 Common SuperFoods You Should Consume Every Day.

You should also consume foods that are high in Tryptophan, a precursor to Serotonin. Serotonin has been clinically proven to help treat many conditions, especially insomnia.

Tryptophan-rich foods include Eggs, Salmon, Poultry, Nuts, Bananas, Oats, Quinoa, Chickpeas, and Potatoes.


Higher levels of Serotonin will also improve your mood to help avoid those miserable Monday mornings.

This is why how Selective Serotonin Receptor Inhibitors (SSRIs aka antidepressants) work.


Final Words on Caffeine Consumption

Don't fall into the trap of relying on an artificial energy source to maintain normal levels of arousal. Our bodies are designed to do this process naturally.

Make an effort to get the right amount of sleep each night and to consume the foods listed above. You will be shocked at how amazing you'll feel.  

You can never make up time for lost sleep, so get your zzz's, stop relying on coffee, and regain your wakefulness!


Post your comments and questions below.  



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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here