Morning Jolt of Caffeine Might Mask Serious Sleep Problems

Released: 30-Nov-2007 1:00 PM EST
Source Newsroom: Houston Methodist
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Newswise — With the holiday season's hustle and bustle in full swing, most of us will race to our favorite coffee shop to get that caffeine boost to make it through the day. However, that daily jolt that we crave might be the reason we need the caffeine in the first place.

"Many people won't get enough sleep during the holidays and will drink numerous cups of coffee or high energy drinks so they will have enough energy to finish shopping and attend numerous parties," said Dr. Joshua Septimus, an internist with The Methodist Hospital in Houston. "Most will use caffeine to push their bodies to the extreme, when they could get just as much energy from good night's sleep."

Caffeine is a stimulant that is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants, and affects the central nervous system. It makes most people feel more energetic, alert, and productive, until its effects wear off. Heavy doses of caffeine (between 500 and 600 milligrams or about four to seven cups of coffee) will not only cause difficulty sleeping, but can also increase your heart rate, cause muscle tremors, and headaches. Doctors recommend drinking no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine (about two cups of regular coffee) a day.

"Put it this way, having more than 20 ounces of coffee in one sitting is already too much caffeine for one day, and many of us have two or three a day,"

Septimus said. Those of us who rely on caffeine to stay awake need to find out why we are having problems sleeping. Some 12 million people in the U.S. have obstructive sleep apnea and are not aware of the problem. This condition, which is an obstruction of the airway, causes people to stop breathing during sleep. Most people wake up from a deep sleep hundreds of times a night, and when they finally get up in the morning, they are exhausted, and head straight for the caffeine drinks to make it through the day.

"Obstructive sleep apnea is becoming an epidemic in this country, and many people are living with it instead of being evaluated and seeing how they can change their sleep patterns," Septimus said. "This condition has been associated with sudden cardiac death, strokes, and sleep deprivation so it's best to check with a physician sooner than later."

Sleep deprivation has been associated with car accidents, and can lead to serious health conditions such as depression, high blood pressure, and memory loss if not properly taken care of.

"Most people don't realize how much more productive and vibrant they would feel if they could get eight solid hours of sleep a night," Septimus said.

"Masking your bad sleep habits with high energy caffeine drinks or multiple cups of high priced coffee, while it might provide a short-term spark, will do nothing to cure the underlying problem, and make you feel better in the long run."

For more information on The Methodist Hospital, log on to http://www.methodisthealth.com.


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