November 14, 2023/Wellness

Is It Bad To Drink Coffee Late at Night?

Depending on your sensitivity to caffeine, a late-night cup may be just fine

person drinking coffee at computer at night

A cup of joe can sound mighty tempting when you hit a wall in the late afternoon and need a pick-me-up to get through the rest of the day. Coffee also pairs nicely with desserts when you’re out for the evening or after dinner.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

But is it bad to drink coffee late at night?

“It depends on how sensitive you are to caffeine,” says registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD, LD. “Some people can enjoy a late-night brew and sleep soundly a few hours later. People more sensitive to caffeine may toss and turn all night and be unable to sleep.”

Here’s how that evening coffee may affect you — and when it might actually help.

How late is too late for coffee?

To figure out how late you can drink coffee and still get a good night’s rest, consider how long it takes your body to clear out or eliminate caffeine.

“It can take two to 10 hours for just half of caffeine’s effects to wear off,” DiMarino explains. “This ‘half-life,’ as it’s known, varies from person to person.”

Research shows that your genes may affect how quickly you metabolize caffeine. Specifically, some people are blessed with two CYP1A2 genes — the “coffee gene” that helps your body break down and eliminate caffeine faster than those who have one copy.

“Someone who metabolizes caffeine slowly should probably avoid evening caffeine if they want a good night’s rest,” DiMarino advises.

Advertisement

The lowdown on coffee and caffeine

An 8-ounce cup of coffee has close to 100 milligrams of caffeine. But DiMarino cautions that the amount of caffeine per cup can vary depending on the type of coffee grounds and the brew. For example, instant coffee typically has about half the caffeine that brewed coffee has. And coffee shop brews often come in larger sizes, which means more caffeine.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that adults limit caffeine to 400 milligrams per day. That’s the equivalent of four to five cups of coffee a day, depending on the coffee type and cup size. Of course, you also need to consider the caffeine you get from chocolate, tea, sodas, energy drinks and other products.

Other factors affect how well you tolerate caffeine, too, including your biological sex and medications you take. People who smoke or use nicotine a lot tend to metabolize caffeine faster, cutting its half-life by up to 50%. Pregnancy, on the other hand, slows your ability to eliminate caffeine, which is why experts recommend no more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day during pregnancy.

What are the risks of drinking coffee late at night?

A bad night’s sleep is perhaps the No. 1 risk of drinking coffee late at night. Insomnia (the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep most nights of the week) affects as many as 1 in 3 adults worldwide. Too much caffeine throughout the day or late at night can make insomnia worse.

One study found that consuming caffeine within four hours of bedtime didn’t affect sleep, but using alcohol and nicotine did. But DiMarino notes that researchers relied on sleep journals and smart watches worn only by a specific demographic.

“Among other concerns, this observational study didn’t track how much or what type of coffee people drank,” he says, “so take these findings lightly.”

In general, he says, a late-night cup of java can affect your sleep in several ways.

1. It messes with your sleep signals

Caffeine is a biochemical that blocks your brain’s production of adenosine, a chemical that induces sleep. Adenosine acts as a nervous system depressant, slowing your brain activity to promote sleep and keep you from waking up at night.

“Adenosine gradually builds in your body throughout the day,” DiMarino explains, “but caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, making you feel more alert and less tired at the end of the day.

2. It changes your body’s internal clock

Drinking coffee late at night when your body is preparing to wind down can also affect your circadian rhythm. This 24-hour internal body clock controls your sleep-wake cycles.

One study found that drinking a double espresso (about 120 milligrams of caffeine) three hours before bedtime throws off your circadian rhythm by at least 40 minutes. That’s like being exposed to 90 minutes of bright light just before turning in for the night. Yikes!

3. It makes you more anxious

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects your brain and nerves — and your nervous system controls your thoughts and feelings (not to mention your heart rate and breathing).

“For someone prone to anxiety, caffeine can make symptoms worse,” DiMarino says. “Drinking coffee late in the evening may contribute to racing thoughts, making it more difficult to shut off worries and relax.”

Nighttime panic attacks may also become more of a concern after a late-night cup of coffee. One study found that consuming five or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day may lead to more panic attacks in people who are already prone to them.

Advertisement

Even if you don’t have a history of anxiety, a late-day coffee can have unwelcome effects like making you feel more jittery or irritable as the evening winds down.

What are the benefits of drinking coffee late at night?

Drinking coffee late at night can help those working late or overnight shifts and college students cramming for exams. The beverage gives you energy, boosts your mood and helps you think more clearly.

Coffee has surprising health benefits, too, regardless of when you drink it, such as:

If you need to make it through a late night, just know that coffee isn’t your only option. There are also other ways to stay awake without caffeine!

Is decaffeinated coffee a better late-night choice?

Maybe. Despite its name, decaffeinated coffee still has small amounts of caffeine. An 8-ounce cup of decaffeinated coffee may have up to 15 milligrams of caffeine.

“If you’re sensitive to caffeine, a cup of decaf late at night may still interfere with your sleep,” DiMarino cautions.

Because everyone’s caffeine tolerance is different, only you can decide when it’s too late for you to drink coffee. You may love your late afternoon or evening coffee and have no problems dashing off to dreamland. But if you’re having sleeping troubles, try getting rid of your nighttime coffee — or having it earlier in the day.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Person drinking from a coffee mug
May 21, 2024/Nutrition
Grounded in Reality: Does Coffee Dehydrate You?

Coffee is made up of mostly water, but it’s the caffeine you have to look out for

Young female teen drinking canned beverage outside
December 26, 2023/Children's Health
The Young and the Restless: Why Kids Should Avoid Caffeine

No amount of caffeine is safe for kids under 12, and kids 12 to 17 should be cautious about how much they consume

close up of green coffee beans
December 14, 2023/Nutrition
Should You Go Green? What To Know About Green Coffee Bean Extract

There’s no evidence to prove this supplement can help with weight loss, and it may come with risks

person holding a cup of coffee with a clock behind them
November 16, 2023/Nutrition
When Is the Best Time To Drink Coffee?

Morning, noon or night — the best time for that cup of joe depends on you

person holding to go cup of coffee
November 12, 2023/Nutrition
Is It OK To Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach?

It’s fine for most, but it can worsen heartburn and ulcers if you’re prone to them

Hot coffee in orange mug with colon outline in background.
May 24, 2023/Digestive
Coffee Enemas Are the Next Hot Trend You Shouldn’t Try

Coffee is better (and safer) ingested than injected

bulletproof coffee with butter and coconut oil
May 4, 2023/Nutrition
Bulletproof Coffee Shouldn’t Be an Everyday Drink

‘Butter coffee’ is super high in calories and saturated fats with almost no nutrients

Top view of a bag of yerba mate tea and the traditional drinking gourd filled with the tea.
April 13, 2023/Diet, Food & Fitness
Coffee Alternatives: Looking Beyond the Bean-Based Drink

Dare to be different with mushroom coffee, matcha tea or even golden milk

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad