Sleep Care

Energy Drinks & Sleep

Ever have a restless night?  Everyone does sometimes, and no one enjoys the long day that follows a terrible night.  Many people’s cure of choice is caffeine, which is so prevalent in today’s society.  Caffeine can be found in everything from coffee to medications to chewing gum, but some of the most alarming amounts can be seen in energy drinks.  While the caffeine content is regulated in soda pop, energy drinks are classified as “supplements” and are not subject to the rules.  Until recently, US poison centers did not separately track the occurrences of overdoses attributed to energy drinks because they were lumped in with other caffeine containing products.  Last year they were given an individual tracking code, and since then more than 1,000 overdoses have been reported.

Doctors recommend no more than 200 to 250 milligrams of caffeine consumption per day, and over 500 milligrams (or six or more 8-ounce cups of coffee) is considered excessive.  Energy drinks contain between 50 and 505 milligrams per can or bottle.  Caffeine can have side effects ranging from relatively minor mood alterations to serious cardiovascular health risks.  Caffeine is also known to cause insomnia and sleep disruptions, especially when consumed later in the day.

Caffeine affects us because it is a stimulant that alters the way the brain works, in the same way amphetamines do but to a lesser degree.  It can result in anxiety and jittery feelings that hinder the relaxation that helps lead to sleep.  Caffeine is also a diuretic, which can cause disruptive trips to the bathroom during the night.  It elevates the heart rate and blood pressure, two things that make it difficult to even achieve the first stages of sleep.  Many of the estimated 60 million Americans suffering from insomnia list feeling anxious as one of the primary reasons they are unable to sleep.  The same restless night that leads to feeling the need for coffee or energy drinks can reoccur by drinking those same products, quickly leading to a snowball effect.

No stimulant can replace the need for a good night’s sleep.  The feeling of energy these drinks provide is only a short-term solution since caffeine only stays in the system for about five hours.  Many of these drinks also rely on the energy from calories, primarily sugar.  One eleven-ounce energy drink can contain as much sugar as three or more candy bars.  The rush of sugar raises the blood sugar level, which causes a sudden increase in insulin.  This does give a brief feeling of energy (35-40 minutes) but is followed by feelings of tiredness when the insulin depletes the blood sugar.  Many of the common causes for fatigue stem from factors like lack of exercise, poor diet, caffeine addiction, and sleep deprivation – factors that do not benefit from over-consumption of products like energy drinks.

For most healthy individuals, energy drinks can be consumed in moderation.  Avoid energy drinks after dinner, never use them to replace a meal, do not combine them with alcohol, and make sure you are drinking plenty of water.  Don’t consume more than the recommended dose and discontinue if you notice any unusual side effects.  Children under twelve years of age, pregnant women, and people suffering from heart conditions or any other condition exacerbated by caffeine are advised to avoid them.  But, as always, a healthier option for everyone is good sleep hygiene, a healthy diet, and proper exercise.  Products like this could be masking a number of serious medical conditions or a sleep disorder.  If you are suffering from insomnia or daytime sleepiness, and changes towards a healthier lifestyle don’t help, consider consulting a physician for underlying causes.  Finding and fixing a cause will lead to many more energetic days than anything in a can.

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