How Well Does Coffee Keep You Awake?

It's well known that coffee is one of the most popular drinks in the world. More than 83 percent of American adults enjoy coffee in some form, according to 2013 data from the National Coffee Association. Coffee affects its drinkers differently, but a single cup can often help keep you awake for several hours.

A cup of coffee on a wooden table. (Image: vit-plus/iStock/Getty Images)

Avoid Coffee Before Bed

The awake, alert feeling you experience from the caffeine in your coffee can be apparent in as little as 15 minutes after you drink the cup, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Caffeine, a stimulant, stays in your body for several hours, and six hours after you finish your cup, only about half the caffeine has been eliminated. Therefore, caffeine can keep you awake enough to disrupt your sleep if you have a cup fewer than six hours before bed, cautions the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

Keep Your Intake Moderate

The energy-creating nature of coffee affects people differently, but excessive consumption of the drink can provide enough of an energy burst to harm your quality of sleep. Adults should ideally limit their coffee consumption to a moderate level of no more than three 8-ounce cups per day, which is equal to about 250 milligrams of caffeine. If you drink six or more 8-ounce cups, the NSF considers your caffeine intake to be excessive.

Side Effects of Too Much Coffee

If you wish to stay awake, drinking more coffee isn't the healthiest strategy. Excess consumption of caffeine can lead to side effects such as a shaky, jittery feeling, a rapidly beating heart, nervousness or dizziness, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can also develop a dependency on the caffeine, which can lead you to increase your daily consumption. Some people experience difficult symptoms of withdrawal, including headaches, upon stopping their caffeine consumption.

Healthier Ways to Stay Awake

Instead of using coffee to help keep you awake, a number of other simple strategies can provide favorable results without side effects. Healthy methods of a providing an energy boost include getting regular physical activity, reducing your amount of stress or working less, eating a diet that contains several types of low-glycemic foods, such as nuts and high-fiber vegetables, and drinking water throughout the day. The sugars in low-glycemic foods are absorbed more slowly, which provides energy that lasts longer.

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