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The Older You Get the More Caffeine Can Get You

By Jason Wooden, PhD | May 31, 2018

Are you a long-time coffee drinker? Have you lately found yourself having trouble getting to sleep when before it wasn’t a big deal?  Well, here’s a newsflash – your body may be changing.

Caffeinated beverages such as coffee and cola are popular around the world.  Millions use caffeine to offset fatigue or improve concentration during the day.

Traditionally, the advice has been to avoid caffeine later in the day so that it doesn’t keep you awake at night.  In fact, afternoon caffeine consumption has been found to interfere with sleep.

However, we all know those people who can boldly drink coffee in the evening and still fall asleep.  (Although, some might argue their sleep isn’t as restful sleep as it could be).

So, what exactly does caffeine do to the body?

Caffeine interferes with adenosine, a chemical in the body that works as a sleep factor.   Adenosine binds to nerve cells in the brain to slow down their activity and promote sleep.

Caffeine keeps adenosine from doing its job which is what makes you feel more awake and alert.

And now, here’s the latest news on caffeine and sleep…

Based on a recent study in Brazil, you may want to rethink drinking coffee at night even if it currently doesn’t appear to affect your sleep.

In a survey of over 75,000 participants, researchers found that almost a fifth of the respondents became more sensitive to caffeine as they got older and experienced more problems with sleep.

These individuals reported that it took them longer to fall asleep and that their sleep was poorer.

It has long been known that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others.  Many factors have been found to affect caffeine sensitivity – genetics, gender, hormonal changes, but also age.

Okay, so what could be happening as you get older?

CYP1A2, an enzyme in the liver, plays a big role in caffeine sensitivity.  It breaks down caffeine to help the body get rid of it.

CYP1A2 activity has been found to decrease with age which is thought to make older people more sensitive to caffeine.

For those hotshots who are able to consume caffeine in the evening and still sleep, it could be that you hit the genetics jackpot with a better than average CYP1A2 enzyme which helps to protect you from the usual caffeine effect.

What the Brazilian study and other research suggest is that over time things can eventually catch up with you – your enzyme activity drops off bringing you back to the pack.

Nonetheless, even if it seems that the caffeine isn’t keeping you from falling asleep as you get older, it might still be worth cutting back on the caffeine in the evening as you may not be sleeping as deeply as you could.

When it comes to restful and restorative sleep, it’s not just how long you sleep but also how well.

SUMMARY: 5 Things to Remember About Caffeine

1) Caffeine prevents the sleep factor adenosine from doing its job in the brain to promote sleep

2) Genetics, gender, hormonal changes, and age can affect caffeine sensitivity

3) Some people are more resistant to caffeine effects than others, but they can become more sensitive over time due to biochemical changes in the body

4) For better sleep, avoid drinking caffeinated beverages later in the day

The Mayo Clinic recommends you limit your intake to less than 400mg per day (about 4 cups coffee), although smaller amounts are too much for some people.

5) To wean yourself from caffeine, it’s best to slowly cut down your intake in order avoid withdrawal symptoms

Sources:

1. Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 2013, volume 9, issue 11, pages 1195–1200.

2. Distinct sensitivity to caffeine-induced insomnia related to age. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2018, volume 32, issue 1, pages 89-95.

3. CYP1A2 and coffee intake and the modifying effect of sex, age, and smoking. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2012, volume 96, issue 1, pages 182–187.

 

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