The Half Life of Coffee

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Photo by James Fuller on Unsplash

Waking up is great but getting a full night’s sleep is greater

I love my coffee. I only drink espresso these days which, contrary to myth, is not stronger than drip coffee, not even close. And my espressos are the classic Italian style: a two shot cappuccino in the morning with just a bit of steamed milk and a macchiato around eleven. I used to have a shot around three pm, which turned out to be a big mistake.

My mistake was the idea that caffeine is in the system for around six hours after consumption. Which means it should be gone by around nine pm, right? So it would not affect my ability to sleep. Wrong, wrong, wrong, and I was paying for my ignorance, tossing and turning in the misery that is restlessness when you are exhausted.

Coffee has a half life of around six hours (this varies for some, depending on how you metabolize it). This doesn’t mean it’s gone, it means one half of it is gone. In the next six hours, half of that is gone, and on and on, in a mathematical progression. So, caffeine hangs out in our systems for a long time, and that can wreak havoc on sleep duration and quality.

It gets worse. If you are an average American coffee drinker, rockin’ a 12 oz cup in the morning, or more, you are getting at least double the amount of caffeine my double shot espresso provides, and likely more than that. And a lot of it is still in your system late at night, keeping you from getting those 7–8 hours that help you optimize performance and the enjoyment of your day to day life.

One word: Hydrate

As far as I can tell there are only two ways to deal with this clash between our beloved coffee fix and our equally beloved sleep. First, no coffee after twelve noon, ever. Second, drink tons of water. Hydrating with water can dilute the caffeine in our systems and flush it out. You should not do this with bottled drinks: sugar also makes your circadian rhythms go haywire and there is added caffeine in practically every flavored liquid out there.

Be Italian and tell Starbucks where to go

In Italy you have a cappuccino in the morning. Not a bucket of dairy, sugar, and flavoring, a double shot with maybe a half ounce of steamed milk. That’s typically the only time you have dairy in your coffee. Your coffees later in the day are single espresso shots, usually an ounce or so, drunk straight and fast. It’s enough to animate you without turning you into Mr or Ms Jitters. Even if you drink four or five of these babies, you’re still not even close to that giant insulated cup on the desk next to you.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

A good night’s sleep is a precious thing. Professional sports teams hire sleep coaches to help keep their athletes rested when touring and playing day after day. It cuts down on injuries while enhancing performance. Coffee also enhances performance. I can’t write without it and I freely admit my dependence. But coffee should be managed like any other variable in our diet and fitness regimens. Bear in mind: when it comes to quality of life, the Italians are way out in front, thousands of years in front.

Doppio, grazi.

Written by

Novelist, Tech Marketing Writer, Growth Consultant. I have been a professional writer for over 20 years- 8 non-fiction books and 1 novel, many articles, etc.

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