Caffeine is the world’s most-used drug in everything from chocolate to pain meds and a routine step on most Americans’ path to rising and shining.
The jolts of energy it provides benefit us, both on its own and as a component of healthy drinks. Yet many people find themselves in a tug-of-war between alertness and fatigue throughout the day fueled by coffee or energy drinks, leading to afternoon crashes and struggles to sleep at night.
There are a few reasons for this and a few ways to avoid the ups and downs of this merry-go-round:
Sources & Benefits
Most natural sources of caffeine are found in the beans and leaves brewed into coffee or tea. Coffee has a higher caffeine level, and there’s variation within different brands and types.
The standard figure used is around 95 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup of regular brewed coffee, but it can range from 65 mg to nearly 200 mg, or more in some cases. Brands with names containing words like “insomnia” generally are trying to tell you something about what to expect.
“Decaf” coffee usually does have a little “caf” — about 3 to 15 mg per 8 ounces — but some brands are considerably higher, so check the label if you’re trying to stay below a certain level.
Unblended black tea can rival regular coffees, with its caffeine levels anywhere between 40 and 120 mg per 8-ounce cup, while green tea has lower levels around 25 mg. Most herbal teas have little to none of it.
Dark chocolate contains smaller amounts of caffeine per ounce, but it can add up when you have a lot in one sitting, with one popular brand’s 86% cacao product containing roughly 130 mg per 3.17-ounce bar.
Coffee and tea (with nothing added) are calorie-free. They contain many antioxidants that calm inflammation and can lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and some forms of cancer. Research finds some of these benefits are tied to caffeinated rather than “decaf” varieties of these drinks.
Dark chocolate also has many of the same nutrients, but also contains higher calories and some added sugar. Caffeine is also added to artificially produced sodas and energy drinks, which have little to no nutritional value.
How much caffeine is too much? The answer can vary widely.
Most people can consume up to 400 milligrams per day (about four 8-ounce cups of coffee) without feeling jittery, anxious or experience racing heartbeats as a result, but some can feel these effects after drinking much smaller amounts. Known as “hypersensitivity” to caffeine, this can be influenced by genetics, age and other factors. Those falling in this category should avoid or greatly restrict their use of caffeine.
Everyone else should be aware of how much they consume, from all sources.
It’s best to stop by the early afternoon to ensure you get an adequate amount of sleep each night as well as adopt routines that encourage better slumber, such as waking up and going to bed at the same time every day and keeping the bedroom dark, quiet and cool.