How Long Before Bed Should I Stop Drinking Caffeine?

If you're working, studying or simply trying to stay awake in the evening -- it's easy to reach for a cup of coffee or a can of soda. Doing so, however, can have a negative effect on your ability to sleep soundly. Although caffeine affects everyone differently, it's safest if you avoid consuming any amount of caffeine after dinnertime.

If you want a restful sleep, skip the coffee before bed. (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Six Hours Is Best

The length of time you should avoid caffeine before bed isn't an exact science, since you might not react to caffeine to the same degree as another family member or a friend. In general, however, it's a smart choice not to drink a caffeinated beverage several hours before bed. A 2013 study published in the "Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine" reported that consuming caffeine six hours before bed can have a harmful effect on your ability to sleep soundly.

Know Your Limit

You should abstain from consuming caffeine between four and six hours before bed if you wish to have a restful sleep, according to Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine. It's important to find the formula that works for you; this formula might be six hours or closer to four hours. Consume a moderate amount of caffeine, such as half a cup of coffee, at a set number of hours before bed and note the quality of your sleep. If you didn't sleep well, then consume your last caffeinated drink earlier.

Skip the Coffee or Soda

When considering your choice of afternoon or evening beverages, remember that coffee isn't the only drink that contains caffeine. Many types of coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks are loaded with caffeine, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. One 8-ounce cup of coffee has 95 milligrams of caffeine and a 12-ounce bottle of cola has 33 milligrams of caffeine. Instead of coffee or caffeinated soda, opt for water, fruit juice or caffeine-free soda.

Heavy Meals Play a Role, Too

Caffeine isn't the only substance that can negatively affect your sleep. Harvard Medical School cautions against consuming substances such as nicotine in the hours before bed. Eating a heavy meal in the evening can also cause insomnia. If you have a craving for food before bed, opt for a dairy product such as yogurt and carbs such as fresh fruit. Avoid drinking an excess quantity of liquids, as this may cause you to go to the bathroom at night.

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