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I'm a programmer and I need caffeine in order to do my job.

But, the paradox is - the same caffeine that enables me to do my job degrades the quality of my sleep, which in return degrades my ability to do my job the next day.

How do I get out of this vicious cycle? How can I cancel caffeine's negative effects on sleep?

I want to be super productive every day; not just every other day.

Note: quiting caffeine is out of the question.

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As a genuine curiousity. Why is quiting caffeine out of the question? – Joe May 13 '13 at 15:00
Unlikely. More likely is that your body (like mine!) has become accustomed to this drug and is now dependent on it and needing more over time. I once quit but it took Two Weeks (and many headaches) to feel normal again without it. I like coffee though so it didn't last. – Michael Durrant May 13 '13 at 15:14
Good point. You may have a medical need. However be cautious, in high school your body is also changing in 100 other ways, so attributing things to one factor may be unwise :) However I will add medical to my answer. – Michael Durrant May 13 '13 at 15:28
It's very unlikely that the primary reason you almost failed in school is that you didn't drink coffee. Facing, accepting, and understanding that seems like a more important first step. – Wayne Burkett May 16 '13 at 17:26
The caffeine was simply covering up the symptom of another major problem. It helped, but the lack of it was not your problem. The problem is almost certainly diet or puberty in general. You may also suffer from clinical depression. Either way caffeine is a masker not a solver of the problem. – Frank B Jul 2 '13 at 14:57

11 Answers 11

The half life of caffeine is around 6 hours for an adult. So if you drink a cup of coffee at 3 PM, half of it will still be in your system if you try to fall asleep at 9 PM. Hence the recommendation to you is to stop drinking coffee well before afternoon.

As you say, you degrade your performance the next day, so drinking coffee extensively really is no good for your overall productivity if you're considering a longer time period. Also, the ambition to be super productive every day may make you overwork yourself, resulting in poor long term results.

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I like the Caffeine Zone 2 app for tracking how much caffeine is still in your system come bedtime. – Jonathan Deamer Nov 24 '13 at 20:57
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Water solved my problem.

I drank about ~1.5l yesterday before bed (had coffee about 3 - 4 hours prior to that), went to sleep and had a good quality sleep (I'm guessing caffeine got flushed out during the night, giving me the ability to get undisrupted sleep).

I'm surprised no one suggested this.

Thanks for all the advices, but unfortunately I think water nails the problem above all other methods because of it's simplicity and no imposed limitations.

UPDATE: 19.6.2013.

After alot of coffee, I ate alot of bananas / raw fruit before bed. It appears as if it really helped my sleep quality and get caffeine out.

Water is still working, but I tend to prefer fruit now.

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Can you do us a favour - in terms of the overall usefulness of the site for other people? Come back in a week or to to let us know if it's still working... one datapoint is not as good as two... – Joe May 19 '13 at 13:56
it just depends on the amount of (plain) water you drink during the day. Especially if you drink mostly sugared sodas and alcohol, then drinking a lot of water in the evening will make you sleep a lot better. However 1.5L is more than the amount you would need in an entire day, so I guess it also works with a lot less. – Yves Jun 10 '13 at 19:53
I'm not sure how much scientifically backed water flushes out caffeine. It might be psychological effect. – Hawk Apr 14 '15 at 7:01
If I was in that position, I would be waking up every hour to go to the bathroom... – Gaʀʀʏ Apr 18 '15 at 4:28

All of these will need a willingness to change current practices and will require willpower:
Note: I drink 4+ cups of coffee a day myself...

  • Set a time limit. No coffee after noon or after 3pm has worked for me. If your wake-up varies, base it on your estimated sleep time, e.g. '8 hours before sleep is expected'.

  • Keep the same schedule. The body sleeps much better if you have the same wake-up / sleep time every day

  • Make weaker coffee. I often make dunkin donuts coffee that's probably 1/3 the strength of Starbucks!

  • Use smaller cups. Makes it more of an interruption to get the same amount.

  • Set a quantity limit, e.g. 2 cups a day and then slowly work to reach it over a few weeks, e.g. 5 cups weeks 1, 4 cups eeks 2, etc. This will have you consuming caffeine but less of it without a drastic change in one go.

  • Use sleeping pills / Alcohol. I personally don't use either or recommend this. But it is an option. Just be aware that it's using one drug to counteract an other...

  • Be aware and regulate your caffeine in other products such as soda, chocolate, excedrin, etc.

  • Consult a Doctor. You may have a medical need for a stimulant which - for some - (perversely) calms you down. Some people in this situation take Ridalin.

There's a lot more on caffeine at Wikipedia

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I have a dynamic wake time so 3PM doesn't mean much to me. How much hours after waking up do you allow yourself to drink coffee? – Tool May 13 '13 at 14:42
After wakeup I allow about 6 minutes before coffee#1. – Michael Durrant May 13 '13 at 14:47
Are you speaking from experience? Have you had the same problems before? – Tool May 13 '13 at 14:58
Except a time limit do you also set a quantity limit? Like 4 or 5 per day. Also does this work for you? You wake up feeling good every day by following these rules? – Tool May 13 '13 at 15:13
Beware: alcohol interferes with the normal sleep process. It might help you nod off, but can negatively effect the quality of your sleep. – Kramii May 16 '13 at 9:16

Sleepy tea just before bedtime and reading a book also helps. I've tried several kinds of teas and I've found that valeriana works the best. There are also pills of valeriana extract and it's a completely natural help, much better than other drugs.

Also try to substitute some of the coffee's with tea's...I used to drink about 6 cups of coffee per day (free coffee at work...The worst thing that can happen to you!). And now I've limited to just one in the morning or afternoon depending on how I feel, and one tea.

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Valerian root is very powerful. It definitely works as advertised, I might advise thought that it can be habit forming, you're not supposed to use it for more than a week straight. I might try other types of sleepy tea, or even melatonin (not tea). With any of these though, be cautious of building up a dependence as you have on caffeine. Changing your caffeine consumption pattern as suggested by Michael Durrant is the safest way to go. – Tortilaman May 18 '13 at 4:51

You are likely to find that caffeine just helped you remove a symptom of whatever the real problem is.

Caffeine doesn't make you alert, it just blocks your body's signals of tiredness reaching the brain, so I can think of many causes associated with tiredness that could explain your raise in grades.

While the question may ask how to cancel out the effects of caffeine, you should really look to identify the real causes of your poor performance and tackle them, while reducing your caffeine dependence.

I have had phases in my life where I have been dependent on caffeine - it is the norm in consultancy in the UK - but the problem is that your dependency grows. Each time I have hit 10 coffees a day I have just had to give up. Which is painful for a couple of weeks, but then leaves you feeling amazingly refreshed and energised, and not needing any caffeine to be alert.

But it is easy for it to creep back.

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Did you notice that you have moved yourself into a vicious circle? You need coffee to overcome bad sleeping and you can't sleep because of the coffee.

From that perspective coffee is part of the problem, and the problem is not going away as long as "quiting caffeine is out of the question".

You're asking for a solution but only on your terms.

Any other addict who managed to get off his addiction can tell you in retrospect that that does not work.

Drop the caffeine, manage your sleep. That can be rough initially.

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Decaffeinated coffee might be a solution too. It's possible that your brain has linked productivity with coffee and will function just as well without the caffeine. If you're drinking caffeine constantly, it should probably have less effect anyway, and both the productivity boost and sleep deprivation might be placebos.

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Have you tried yerba mate? Taste is a bit, mh, controversial, but once you get used to it, it might be great booster for your work without downsides of the caffeine. You can drink it hot or cold (it's called terere prepared that way).

I think no one has mentioned yet a physical activity which in my opinion plays great role in having good night sleep. Try to take a walk or jog a little in the evening - among other positive aspects it should help you get rested during night (sex is also great alternative).

Personally, I drink no more than two cups of coffee a day (because I like it) and I try to have it before 3-4 PM. I have also stopped using alarm clock and I'm rarely being late - your body needs to get just enough sleep so you can stay productive.

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As you are doing your work with computers, a typical problem could be that you watch some light emitting screen before going to sleep, for example a Monitor or a Tablet, maybe phone. It is very bad, your body makes hormones that makes you fall asleep harder and makes your sleep inefficient.

Change this habit, you have to stop viewing screens at least 1 hour before going to sleep.

Additional problem with the screens that it may happen to boost your brain as you probably doing your work or reading something interesting. It does not help too.

You should take attention to feel yourself good mentally and physically too. You should do sports for at least 3 times a week for at least 1 hour to make you tired. It makes stress go away and makes you feel much better.

These are all factors that heavily affect your sleep quality and can balance your coffee problems - that was your question.

Anyway, you should start a program to get off caffeine as it may kill you in the long run and being dead or in a hospital is much less efficient than working a bit less or focused ;) - what can be solved by doing sports instead.

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Szundi, I suggest you remove the first paragraph. It is true that light and dark influence levels of several hormones (melatonine the best known one), but the amount of light emitted by a monitor is ridiculously low (250 to 350 cd/m2) compared to daylight (100o0-120000 lux). – Jan Doggen Jun 12 '13 at 10:09
  • Completely stop drinking coffee for some days and drink more water instead. If you really need it for your work do it on week ends. It will help restore your sensitivity to coffee so you can drink less coffee at work (set a time limit as suggested by Michael Durrant) and sleep better at night.

  • Reduce the amount of time you spend on a screen one hour or two before you get to sleep. (Ideally don't use any computer or bright phone or tablet one hour before going to sleep).

  • As an alternative to full coffee when I start feeling the negative effects I sometimes drink a mixture of 40% instant coffee and 60% instant chicory powder instead of coffee for one week. Depending on the country you live in, that kind of mixture can be available in supermarkets. Otherwise you can mix it yourself or drink plain chicory, which is rather bitter. It's very efficient to keep productivity up with a lot less negative effects. Chicory is often used as a coffee substitute for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Compared to coffee it has a rather calming effect (but it doesn't make you sleepy). However the taste is really not the same.

  • Generally drink more water. Dehydratation is an underestimated cause of bad sleep. Your body needs some water to flush out whatever products you ate or drank during the day and regulate their concentrations.

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Try cutting back your caffeine consumption. Drink tea in the evenings.

And if, by the end of your work day (around 6pm or so), you are feeling that you're not going to be able to sleep tonight, then go for a run.

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