Coffee may disguise sleep disorders

If you have a sleep disorder, your coffee habit may be to blame.

As part of Sleep Awareness Week (1-7 October 2018), the Sleep Health Foundation (SHF) is turning its attention to coffee, saying there is evidence caffeine may be affecting our brains and behaviour.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in many different drinks and foods, including tea, coffee, chocolate, soft drinks (particularly energy drinks) and some medications.

No recognised health-based guidance value exists for caffeine, but a Food Standards ANZ (FSANZ) Expert Working Group analysed the available literature in 2000 and concluded there was evidence of increased anxiety levels in children at doses of about 3mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight per day.

The SHF said the anxiety level for children aged 5-12 equated to a caffeine dose of 95mg per day (approximately two cans of cola) and about 210mg per day (approximately three cups of instant coffee) for adults.

The foundation said if people were desperate for shots of caffeine during the day, they might have a sleep disorder.

This might be sleep apnoea, where breathing is paused during sleep, making sleep light and fragmented. Also, high caffeine consumption or caffeine too close to bedtime may reduce the quality of sleep, leading to tiredness the next day and the need for jolts of caffeine to stay on top of things.

The daytime symptoms of sleep apnoea, such as sleepiness and reduced concentration, may be masked by caffeine. Restless legs syndrome, which can prevent sleep at night, may be made worse by caffeine and alcohol.

Key facts about caffeine:

  • The SHF recommends no caffeine at all for children under 12 years old.
  • High doses of caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Some people are more sensitive to caffeine’s effects on sleep quality than others.
  • If you are sensitive to caffeine or have sleep difficulties, use caffeine cautiously.
  • As a rule, avoid caffeine in the evening before bed.
  • Caffeine is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream and reaches peak levels within 30-70 minutes.
  • Its effects can last three to seven hours, but it may take up to 24 hours to fully remove caffeine from the body.

Download Caffeine and Sleep Fact Sheet here.

If you suspect a sleep disorder, see your GP.

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