Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Being one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances worldwide, numerous studies and professional opinions have battled over the proposed benefits and drawbacks of drinking coffee, with no clear insight as to which takes the lead.
According to one small San Francisco-based study, there is indeed no clear winner in terms of benefits, but more so a personal decision based on whether the drawbacks of drinking coffee outweigh its benefits.
After all, most of us rely on our first cup of black gold to help give us the energy and motivation to take the new day head-on, but do we truly know what we’re sacrificing?
The Effect of Coffee on Sleep
It’s not so much coffee that affects the quality of your sleep, but more so the natural active ingredient found within the beans, caffeine, that influences how well we rest.
Caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, which, to put it simply, means that it works by blocking the action of adenosine, one of the neurotransmitters responsible for telling our body when it is time to rest and wake.
By blocking adenosine, coffee can make it harder for you to fall asleep, easier to be jolted awake, and reduce the overall efficiency of your sleep.
Notwithstanding, higher doses of caffeine, or drinking more cups than your body needs, can produce more pronounced effects on sleep.
Despite caffeine tolerance varying between individuals, the general consensus is that limiting your coffee consumption to just two to three cups per day and avoiding coffee or other caffeinated beverages for at least 6 hours before you hit the hay is best.
Can Coffee Help with Sports?
Contrary to its detrimental effects on sleep, caffeine does have some benefits for use as an ergonomic aid to enhance physical performance and endurance.
It’s not new to us that caffeine can give us the energy we sometimes rely on to make the most of the day ahead: it can drive motivation, prompt alertness, and enhance overall energy levels. Likewise, drinking coffee can spur our metabolism and promote weight loss, proving to be an all-around wonder drug for enhancing our physique.
Coffee’s Effects on the Body
However, despite our focus being predominantly on the link between coffee and sleep, we must address the other physiological consequences coffee can have. Despite it being the second most consumed beverage in the world, following water, it can have drastic effects on those who drink it too often:
- Coffee can increase a woman’s fracture risk
- Excess coffee consumption may affect pregnancies
- Drinking too much coffee may affect your heart and induce palpitations
- Symptoms of caffeine overuse can be similar to those of anxiety
Do the Benefits of Coffee Outweigh the Risks?
Alas, the question in the back of our minds is whether the sporting benefits of caffeine outweigh the consequences it has on our sleep.
Ultimately, however, it would depend on individual factors such as your tolerance to caffeine, whether or not intense physical activity is part of your everyday lifestyle, and how well you’re currently sleeping. In short: there is no definitive answer, but instead, we must all take a conscious approach to ensure balance in consumption.
Sleep is (arguably) the single most important health factor. Without good sleep, our metabolism and appetite are disrupted, we lack the energy to be productive, and we put ourselves at greater risk for various psychological and physiological diseases that may have otherwise been avoided with a good sleep routine.
That said, we can’t fault coffee for being a tasty short-term energy boost. For those who do not get adequate sleep each night, or those requiring a little bit of liquid motivation to power through a tedious project, coffee can help. However, given the consequences of excess caffeine consumption on your sleep and overall health, it becomes more crucial to moderate your consumption and limit yourself to drinking fewer caffeinated products as close to your wake time as possible.
Rack Up Minutes to Make Steps Count
Feeling your wrist vibrate as you surpass yet another 10,000-step milestone, granting you an electronic badge insinuating that on that week, you would have climbed Kilimanjaro, is all good in terms of fueling your motivation for physical activity.
But if you can’t give your body the rest it needs to repair and recover, some of your efforts will go to waste.[1,8] By taking the time to focus on your sleep and by adhering to good sleep habits, such as limiting your coffee consumption throughout the day, you’ll give your body a chance to rest and recover so that you’ll start to reap the benefits of a proper rest without the need to rely on caffeine.
- Marcus, G. M., Rosenthal, D. G., Nah, G., Vittinghoff, E., Fang, C., Ogomori, K., Joyce, S., Yilmaz, D., Yang, V., Kessedjian, T., Wilson, E., Yang, M., Chang, K., Wall, G., & Olgin, J. E. (2023). Acute Effects of Coffee Consumption on Health among Ambulatory Adults. The New England Journal of Medicine, 388(12), 1092–1100. https://doi.org/10.1056/nejmoa2204737
- Nehlig, A., Daval, J., & Debry, G. (1992). Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Brain Research Reviews, 17(2), 139–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/0165-0173(92)90012-b
- O’Callaghan, F. V., Muurlink, O., & Reid, N. (2018). Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning. Risk Management and Healthcare Policy, Volume 11, 263–271. https://doi.org/10.2147/rmhp.s156404
- Keisler, B. D., & Armsey, T. D. (2006). Caffeine As an Ergogenic Aid. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 5(4), 215–219. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.csmr.0000306510.57644.a7
- Tabrizi, R., Saneei, P., Lankarani, K. B., Akbari, M., Kolahdooz, F., Esmaillzadeh, A., Nadi-Ravandi, S., Mazoochi, M., & Asemi, Z. (2019). The effects of caffeine intake on weight loss: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 59(16), 2688–2696. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2018.1507996
- O’Keefe, J. H., DiNicolantonio, J. J., & Lavie, C. J. (2018). Coffee for Cardioprotection and Longevity. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 61(1), 38–42. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2018.02.002
- Medic, G., Wille, M., & Hemels, M. E. H. (2017). Short- and long-term health consequences of sleep disruption. Nature and Science of Sleep, Volume 9, 151–161. https://doi.org/10.2147/nss.s134864
- Yang, D. J., Shen, Y., Wu, C. W., Huang, Y., Lee, P., Er, N. X., Huang, W. C., & Tung, Y. T. (2019). Sleep deprivation reduces muscle injury recovery induced by high-intensity exercise in a mouse model. Life Sciences, 235, 116835. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lfs.2019.116835