People of our country can workout wonders when they have a cup of coffee in their hand. School/college students stay awake almost the entire night before exams and working individuals work continuously for more than 20 hours drinking cups of coffee to keep them awake. This is not only prevalent in the IT industry (but quite famous as we all talk about no other industry) but lorry drivers who travel through the night, our security guards who safeguard our homes/offices/ATMs by keeping awake throughout the night and even family/friends who attend to the hospitalized patient stay awake by drinking coffee/tea. The question here is, when a cup of coffee can help an individual stay awake why do people keep refilling their coffee mugs at regular intervals? So, there is a time duration up to which caffeine acts upon our body and loses power after the stipulated time!
Coffee and tea contain caffeine, a natural substance extracted from coffee/cocoa beans and tea leaves. Caffeine in beverages is not a natural energy-producing substance but a smart worker! All it does is to block the body substance (adenosine) that promotes sleepiness in all of us. Caffeine is an ‘adenosine receptor antagonist’, a ‘stimulant’ and a type of drug that promotes alertness.
We use the complex word ‘drug’ to describe caffeine as it stimulates the central nervous system. Once this substance enters our body it raises blood pressure and heart rate, spikes up energy levels and improves your overall mood. All these changes might happen immediately in a matter of minutes and it is not a hard-written rule that every person experiences the same feelings and body changes soon after consumption. Every person experiences the effects in different ways and caffeine has a longer effect on some people compared to the rest depending on how long the substance remains in the body.
The important question here is how long does the effect of caffeine last? Few minutes, hours or days? Let’s find out! Before that we need to understand the concept of half-life.
Half-life is the time required for a quantity to reduce to half its value. This concept can be used in any field/area where the quantity/strength of something decreases over time. Biologically speaking, half-life is the time taken for a substance to lose half its effects. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, caffeine has a half-life up to five hours (Essentially between 3 and 5 hours). For instance, if you have consumed 20 mg of caffeine, you would be left with 10 mg of caffeine after five hours which can stays in your body for a longer time. Caffeine is a substance that starts acting very quickly on your body reaching its peak level in your bloodstream within 15 to 45 minutes. During this time many people might feel jittery, might wish to urinate (due to caffeine’s diuretic effect) and feel suddenly overpowered with energy. That’s why drinking a cup of coffee makes us feel rejuvenated and sleepless within 10-15 minutes after drinking it.
Just for clarity, we can compare overconsumption of caffeine with antibiotics. Antibiotics resistance is an ever-growing problem these days as people are taking more and more medications and physicians are increasing dosage and days to combat the power of antibiotics resistance. Likewise, overconsumption of caffeine minimizes its effects greatly. We call caffeine as a drug and when people regularly take this drug (caffeine) on a daily basis its effects become barely noticeable. On the contrary, people with caffeine sensitivity might feel symptoms for several hours or even a few days after consumption.
Sleep specialists have also been bothered about the effects of caffeine on sleep patterns and a study by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has found that caffeine consumption even six hours prior to bedtime can disrupt sleep routines extensively (sleep time is reduced by more than one hour). Based on these results, if your regular sleep time is around 10.30 P.M., you must forego drinking coffee after 4.30 P.M. This might sound impossible as we take a coffee break at work around 4.30-5 p.m. or the first thing we do after coming home is drink some coffee. But, at least let’s try to advance our coffee timings as much as possible to enable our body to get a good night’s sleep. After this, if you still feel like you require some caffeine to boost your energy during late-evenings, go for some black tea (it has half the caffeine quantity of coffee) or green tea (this has only 1/3rd caffeine compared to coffee).
Coffee accounts for almost 54% of caffeine consumption and tea for 43%. Caffeine can have both positive and negative effects on our body depending on the quantity consumed. Restricting caffeine to less than 400 mg is good for you and it serves your purpose when the beverage is consumed on an intermittent basis. Consuming 500-600 mg of caffeine can make your body build up tolerance toward this drug and reduce its potential advantages. It can also lead to diarrhea, sweating, nausea, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and muscle tremors. The way you prepare your coffee or tea can also affect the caffeine quantity in it.
Limiting Caffeine Intake
If you wish to restrict caffeine consumption don’t do it all at once. Slowly reduce the intake quantity and gradually bring it down to your desired quantity. Otherwise you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as headache, depression, anxiety, fatigue or drowsiness within 12-24 hours of your last caffeine consumption. The symptoms go away within 48 hours. Find out the quantity of caffeine present in different beverages and try reducing your caffeine levels (if you wish to) by substituting these beverages or reducing their intake quantity with the help of details from the website www.firsteatright.com.
Drink a hot cup of coffee/tea and enjoy its effects! Happy drinking!
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.