Anyone who has ever had a bit too much coffee can tell you that it makes falling asleep difficult, but recent research recently unveiled a compelling link between caffeine consumption and the body’s internal clock called the circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is responsible for timing many of your body’s functions including falling asleep and waking up.
Your circadian rhythm is partially regulated by light in your environment. Light, perceived by your eyes, sends a message along nerves to an area in your brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus (SCN). In response, your SCN tells a gland called the pineal gland to release a hormone call melatonin. When melatonin levels in your body are high, you feel sleepy. When melatonin levels are low in your body, you feel alert.
Researchers at the University of Colorado and the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge discovered in a study of 49 adults that when participants consumed the equivalent of two espresso’s worth of caffeine three hours prior to their habitual bed time, peak melatonin levels were delayed by 40 minutes. In comparison, peak melatonin levels in participants who did not consume caffeine but who were exposed to bright light for three hours before bedtime were delayed by 85 minutes. The researchers hypothesized that delayed melatonin peaks set back the participants’ circadian rhythms resulting in chronic fatigue. Moreover, previous studies have linked circadian rhythm disruptions to cancer, heart disease, and depression.
If you regularly reach for a cup of coffee in the afternoon to perk yourself up, reconsider. A multitude of treatable health issues could be underlying your afternoon drag, and consuming caffeine in the afternoon might ultimately be making you more sleepy. You could be disrupting your body’s natural clock, making it harder to sleep, harder to wake up, and harder to stay awake tomorrow! The providers at Celebrate Primary Care can help you find ways to improve your energy level and start enjoying life even more, so give us a call to set up an appointment today.