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What Drinks to Avoid Before Bedtime for a Better Quality Sleep?

Sneha Sunny is a medical doctor who enjoys educating and spreading awareness through her writing.

Trouble getting better sleep at night? These two ingredients may be the culprit!

Trouble getting better sleep at night? These two ingredients may be the culprit!

A night of good sleep is a must for a healthy and productive body. There are no exceptions to this fact. We need good sleep — that is both good in duration and depth. Yes, both quality and quantity matter.

However, when we want to increase productivity, our first instinct is to sleep less. We sabotage our sleep so that we can have more time to work.

We use certain substances to increase our alertness and energy levels. But we never ask the question: to what extent do these substances affect our health by affecting our sleep.

What Are These Mysterious Substances That Should Be Avoided Before Sleep?

Well, it is no mystery. The two ingredients that you should avoid before sleeping hours are:

  1. Caffeine: It prevents sleep by blocking the mechanism that induces sleep.
  2. Sugar: This makes you fall asleep quickly, but you should still avoid it before bedtime.

So, the drinks that should be avoided before bedtime are the drinks that are rich in these two ingredients. Some of such drinks that are commonly used are:

  1. Tea: Contain caffeine
  2. Coffee: Contain caffeine
  3. Chocolate and related drinks and desserts (Cakes, hot chocolate, chocolate bar, etc): Contains caffeine (+/- sugar)
  4. Sodas/Soft drinks: Extremely high in sugar and may contain caffeine.
  5. Energy drinks: Extremely high in sugar and caffeine.
  6. Sports drink: Quite often contains a lot of caffeine and sometimes even sugar— depending on the brand. (These are intended to enhance workout performance, and not for casual drinking. But people do drink them casually).
  7. Commercially produced sweet fruit juices: Contains more sugar than fruit. Unsweetened concentrates may be okay, if there are no sugar.
  8. Alcohol is another drink that can hamper your sleep and should be avoided before bedtime for better quality sleep. However, the mechanism for that is different than what is being discussed in this article.

This is just a short list of the things that we commonly consume that can hamper our sleep. But, anything that contains sugar and caffeine will disturb your sleep. So, as a general rule, make a habit of checking the labels of any commercially produced drinks to check whether or not they contain caffeine and sugar, especially if you struggle with sleep issues.

So, you already know that drinks rich in these two ingredients affect our sleep. But how? When should be your last cup of coffee in the day? Are there any better alternatives for energy sources?

Let’s go a step beyond and explore the answers to these questions in this article.

How Does Caffeine Prevent Sleep?

Two things trigger sleep:

  1. The circadian rhythm
  2. Build up of a compound called adenosine in the brain.

The circadian rhythm is our biological clock, and telling us when to sleep is one of its duties.

Adenosine is a compound that is produced in our brain due to metabolism. With more activity during the day, more energy is used by the brain, and more adenosine is produced as a result.

Throughout the day, adenosine levels keep increasing in the brain, and this build-up of adenosine is the other important trigger for our brain to induce sleep. Adenosine binds with its receptor in the brain to let our brain know when to sleep.

Various studies suggest that caffeine acts by interfering in both of these processes.

Caffeine is similar to adenosine in structure. So, once it reaches our brain, it binds with the adenosine receptor and prevents the binding of adenosine with its receptors. No adenosine-receptor binding equals no sleep, as the trigger for sleep cannot act on the brain.

Caffeine also pushes our circadian rhythm back by 40 minutes. This also translates to delayed sleep time.

So, When Should be Your Last Caffeinated Drink of the Day?

It is essential to keep an eye on caffeine intake to get a good quality sleep.

As per studies, the half-life of caffeine is 5 hours. About 5 hours after consumption, the effect of caffeine will start wearing off, but it is still present in the body at this point and can still disturb sleep.

Caffeine is eliminated from the system in 1.5 to 9.5 hours after ingestion. It’s a wide range since it depends on our innate ability to metabolize caffeine. Some people may have a higher metabolism, while others may have a slow metabolism towards caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, restrict caffeine 10 hours before bedtime.

Why Should You Avoid Sugary Drinks Before Bedtime?

We have plenty of studies that suggest that sugar makes you fall asleep quickly, but you should still avoid sugar before bedtime.

Sugar helps you fall asleep rather swiftly because it inhibits a substance called Orexin— which is the chemical that keeps us alert.

However, the quality of sleep you get after drinking sugary drinks is poor.

Studies have shown that refined sugar disturbs sleep quality and reduces the number of hours you sleep well at night.

So, if you drink a lot of sugary drinks before bedtime and have a sleep-related issue, it is probably due to the high sugar intake from the sodas and energy drinks. Limiting these drinks should be the first step to improving your sleep quality.

When Should be Your Last Sugar-Rich Soda of the Day?

Your last no-caffeine, sugar-rich drink should be at least 2 hours before sleeping. It takes about 1–2 hours for the insulin to bring the blood sugar levels back to normal. Again, this is for a non-caffeinated drink.

If your drink is caffeinated then your last can of drink should follow the half-life of caffeine, which is as mentioned above.

How Does Sleeping Less Affect You?

Every organ system is affected by a lack of sleep. But some of the common issues it may result in are (apart from feeling tired and being a sour-puss) :

  • disturbed focus, attention, judgment, and cognition,
  • difficulty handling stress,
  • anxiousness,
  • mood swings, and
  • excess release of cortisol-- which results in hyperglycaemia, increased sweet cravings, and therefore weight gain.

What You Should Avoid and What are the Alternatives for Energy

What Should You Avoid?

  • All brands of energy drinks contain both sugar and caffeine. They are energy drinks, so it makes sense why they contain sugar and caffeine. But that also makes them a potent sleep disruptor. So, these are the first things that should go out your window.
  • Tea and coffee are the two popular drinks — both of which indeed have numerous health benefits when consumed in moderation. But they are also a common source of caffeine and should be limited for better sleep.
  • Decaf of anything is also not a good option. It is a common belief that decaf does not contain caffeine. But this is not true. Decaf contains 2–20% of the caffeine content the regular coffee has. It is less, but it is there.
  • Sodas and fizzy drinks — extremely rich in sugar, if not caffeine.
  • Avoid anything that contains chocolate. It is a delight, but unfortunately, a source of caffeine. So, you can enjoy your favorite chocolate during the evening, but not close to bedtime.
  • Avoid commercially bought, sweetened fruit juices. They are also usually processed with sugars.
  • Avoid other forms of junk foods or food rich in simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta). They also cause a sudden spike in blood sugar levels.
Healthy foods and drinks are a better source of energy.

Healthy foods and drinks are a better source of energy.

What are the Alternatives?

First and the most important thing is you have to sleep well if you want to feel energetic throughout the day. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping well at night will cut down the need for additional substances to keep you awake.

The second important factor is that you must provide a constant supply of glucose to your brain. When the brain gets enough energy, it will remain active, maintain focus, and function well. You will not need energy drinks and caffeine if you eat well. Healthy food will provide you the same energy surge that energy drinks will, in a more healthy fashion.

Milk, fruits, high-protein foods, unsweetened fruit juices, or fruit concentrates are some of the great options for the constant energy supply to the brain without hampering sleep.

Apart from this, drink a lot of water. While water is not a source of energy, even mild dehydration can make you feel tired and out of focus. There are cognitive consequences when you are not well hydrated. So, grab a glass of water if you want to feel refreshed and focused.

The Bottom Line

An average human needs 6–8 hours of sleep each night to function effectively.

When we do things that hamper our sleep, we may be increasing our working hours for the day, but we are also unknowingly decreasing our lifespan.

Instead of training or forcing ourselves to stay up late and work more, we must learn ways to upgrade our time management skills to perform better during working hours. Sleeping less is not the answer to being more productive.

Staying up late sometimes is okay, but it is a problem when it becomes a routine.

For this reason, we should:

  • optimise our schedules in such a way that we do not have to compromise our sleep to get more hours to work, and
  • optimise our eating habits so that our brain is not disturbed when it is supposed to rest.

A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.

— Unknown

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This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2021 Sneha Sunny