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When Should You Stop Drinking Coffee? It Depends On a Lot

Caffeine can last in your system for up to 12 hours. The RISE app will tell you the time you should stop drinking it to stop it impacting your sleep.
Published
2022-10-03
Updated
12 MINS
Man drinking coffee and looking at watch wondering when to stop drinking coffee.

Have you ever found yourself in the vicious cycle of feeling tired during the day, so you grab a cup of coffee or two, but then you struggle to sleep come bedtime? You don’t get enough sleep that night, so you feel tired the next day and turn to coffee once more, and the cycle continues. 

If this is you, you may be wondering when you should stop drinking coffee during the day to stop it impacting your sleep at night. Unfortunately, there’s no one single answer to that. 

While caffeine can last up to 12 hours in your system, this number is different for everyone. And how much coffee you drink also has an impact on when you should cut yourself off from it. 

Below, we’ll dive into the science to reveal when you should stop drinking coffee and how you can use the RISE app to get a good night’s sleep with it, and have plenty of energy without it. 

How Does Coffee Work?

Coffee and any other caffeinated drinks like tea, energy drinks, and soft drinks work as a pick-me-up because they temporarily block adenosine from working in our brains. 

Adenosine is a natural compound that builds up all the time we’re awake. We start feeling more and more tired as adenosine levels rise, and eventually, we get the urge to sleep — also known as sleep pressure. 

Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in our brains, stopping the compound from doing its job, and so stopping us from feeling sleepy. 

As well as blocking adenosine, caffeine increases your heart rate and triggers the release of adrenaline, giving you a mental and physical boost. And if you take your coffee with sugar, the blood sugar rush will also perk you up, too. 

This doesn’t last forever, though. Caffeine eventually wears off and we can start feeling the sleepiness effects of adenosine again. We may even feel more tired than before as adenosine has been building up in the background. 

If you drink coffee too close to bedtime, there’ll still be caffeine in your system, meaning you might find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep.  

Research shows caffeine can: 

  • Increase sleep latency, or how long it takes to fall asleep
  • Reduce total sleep time
  • Worsen perceived sleep quality
  • Reduce how much deep sleep you get
  • Increase how often you wake up during the night 
  • Increase how long you’re awake during the night 

All this is a recipe for tiredness the next day. But don’t worry, you don’t need to cut out coffee altogether! You just need to find the right cutoff time for you.  

While some people may experience side effects like getting the jitters and increased blood pressure, coffee may actually have some health benefits. It may decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and even protect you from certain types of cancer. 

When Should I Stop Drinking Coffee?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when you should stop drinking coffee to stop it impacting your sleep. How long caffeine lasts in your system and how exactly it affects you is highly individual.

It depends on things like: 

  • Age: Older adults may be more sensitive to caffeine than younger adults. 
  • Metabolism: Some people metabolize caffeine quicker than others, meaning it leaves their system sooner. 
  • Genetics: The DARPP-32 and PRIMA1 genes have been linked to caffeine sensitivity and caffeine-induced insomnia respectively. Our genetics also dictate how quickly our livers can break down the enzymes in caffeine and how well it can bind to adenosine receptors in our brains. 
  • Whether you’re a regular coffee drinker: If you don’t have a regular coffee habit, you won’t have built up a tolerance to it, so you may feel the effects much more strongly. 
  • Whether you’re taking medication: Oral contraceptives, for example, double the half-life of caffeine.  
  • Whether you smoke: Nicotine cuts the half-life of caffeine by up to 50%. 
  • Your caffeine intake: This may sound obvious, but the effects of one small latte at midday will be different from a whole morning spent sipping double-shot espressos. The more caffeine you have in your system, the longer it’ll take for it to wear off.

According to sleep researchers Dieter Reimann and Christoph Nissen in The Oxford Handbook of Sleep Disorders, a single dose of caffeine has a half-life of three to seven hours. 

So, say you had 100 milligrams of caffeine and its half-life is five hours for you, it would take five hours for that dose of caffeine to reduce to 50 milligrams in your system. It would then take another five hours for it to go down to 25 milligrams, and so on. 

As a rough estimate, it’s thought that caffeine can last in your system for up to 12 hours. So, if you know you want to go to sleep at 12 a.m., and you don’t want any caffeine in your system at all at that time, you want to have your last coffee by 10 a.m. 

That may sound early if you rely on a post-lunch latte to get you through the afternoon, but there are ways to boost your energy without caffeine. More on that soon.

This time will be a rough estimate, but you can use RISE to get a caffeine cutoff time that’s based on your own biology. You may be able to enjoy a cup of joe later in the day than this 12-hour pre-bed cutoff time. 

How to Find Out Your Individual Caffeine Cutoff Time?

RISE app screenshot showing you what times to limit caffeine.
The RISE can tell you when to stop drinking coffee.

Your caffeine cutoff time is the time of day you should stop having caffeine to give your body enough time to break it all down by bedtime. You can, of course, simply count back about 12 hours from your desired bedtime and stop drinking coffee at this time. But as we’ve explained, this time is different for everyone. 

To take the guesswork out of it, the RISE can work out your caffeine cutoff time based on your circadian rhythm, or your body’s internal clock. Your circadian rhythm runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle and dictates things like when you feel awake and when you feel sleepy. 

There’s a time of night when your brain’s rate of melatonin production will be at its highest. We call this roughly one-hour window of time your Melatonin Window. Melatonin is the natural hormone that primes your body for sleep, so if you head to bed during your Melatonin Window, you should find it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep all night. 

Your Melatonin Window can change daily based on things like how long you slept for the night before. RISE predicts its timing and then will remind you 10 hours before your predicted Melatonin Window each day to stop drinking coffee. 

You can opt to get this reminder further away or closer to your Melatonin Window, depending on how caffeine sensitive you are. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

How Can I Get Enough Sleep Even If I Drink Coffee?

RISE app screenshot showing you when to have your last large meal of the day.
The RISE app can tell you when to stop other sleep-disrupting behaviors.

Love coffee, but hate how it keeps you up at night? You don’t have to give it up, you just need to drink it responsibly. Here’s how to drink coffee and get a good night’s sleep. 

  • Honor your caffeine cutoff time: The most important step is to find out when you should stop drinking coffee each day and start honoring that time. Use the RISE app to get an exact time. Enjoy a morning cup of coffee or two and then opt for caffeine-free drinks in the afternoon and evening.
  • Watch out for hidden caffeine: It’s not just coffee that can keep you up. Watch out for other caffeinated beverages like green tea, black tea, and certain soft drinks. Decaf coffee may have a lower caffeine content than regular coffee, but it’s still in there. 
  • Watch your coffee intake: Even if you avoid caffeine after your cutoff time, drinking large amounts of caffeine can still keep you up way past bedtime. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says to limit caffeine intake to about 400 milligrams a day.  
  • Watch out for other sleep disruptors: Beyond caffeine, things like light exposure, large meals, exercise, and alcohol too close to bedtime can disrupt your sleep. If you drink coffee, you want to be sure that the combination of caffeine and other sleep disruptors doesn't add up to a bad night’s sleep. RISE can work out your unique cutoff time for these things, too. 

Avoiding the sleep disruptors above is a part of good sleep hygiene, the set of healthy sleep habits you can do daily to fall asleep easier and wake up less often during the night. Getting the timing of these behaviors right is important — it makes the habits more effective to help you get the sleep you need. 

RISE can not only guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits, the app can tell you the ideal time for you to do them based on your circadian rhythm each day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

How Can I Get Energy Without Coffee?

Now you know when to stop drinking coffee, you may be wondering how you’ll get through the rest of the day without it. That’s where caffeine-free energy boosters come in. 

We’ve covered 20 ways to wake yourself up here (just skip over the coffee suggestion), but here are a few to get you started: 

  • Get some exercise: Get your heart pumping and endorphins flowing with a workout. You don’t need to do an intense gym session, though. Research shows even low-intensity exercise can improve fatigue and a 10-minute walk can boost your energy more than a sugary snack. 
  • Take a nap: A 10-minute nap can improve fatigue and vigor. Just be sure not to nap too close to bedtime or you may find it harder to fall asleep later. RISE can tell you the best time to take a nap each day. 
  • Drink some water: Mild dehydration can make you feel tired and the very act of drinking water can make you feel more alert. Plus, dehydration has been linked to short sleep duration, so staying hydrated may help you get better sleep each night, and therefore more energy each day. 

Quick pick-me-ups are great, but to improve energy long term you need to think about keeping sleep debt low and living in sync with your circadian rhythm. Sleep debt is the measure of how much sleep you owe your body. In the RISE app, we measure this over the last 14 nights. 

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night for you (and catching up when you miss out on that sleep), syncing up your sleep and wake times with your body clock and keeping a regular sleep schedule

You can learn more about these things and how to get more energy here.

You Can Enjoy Coffee and a Good Night’s Sleep 

Coffee may keep you up at night, but that doesn’t mean you need to cut it out altogether. You may just be drinking it too close to bedtime, and the time you need to have your last coffee of the day may be much earlier than you think. 

To get an exact caffeine cutoff time based on your unique biology turn to the RISE app. RISE predicts your circadian rhythm and tells you when your last coffee should be, which is about 10-12 hours before your Melatonin Window each night. 

To really sleep soundly, RISE can also guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits to make sure nothing gets in the way of you falling asleep at night and enjoying maximum energy each day.

There Is a Best Time for Everything:

Summary FAQs

Is 2pm too late for coffee?

2 p.m. may be too late for a coffee depending on how long it takes your body to break it down. Caffeine can last up to 12 hours in your system, so you may still feel the effects of caffeine come bedtime if you consume it at 2 pm.

How late in the day is too late for coffee?

How late in the day is too late for coffee is different for everyone. It all depends on things like genetics, age, whether you’re on medication, and how much coffee you have. Caffeine can last up to 12 hours in your system, so when you have your last coffee will also depend on when you want to go to sleep.

Should you stop drinking caffeine?

You don’t need to stop drinking caffeine to get a good night’s sleep. Use the RISE app to find out your unique cutoff time and stop consuming caffeine after this time and keep caffeine consumption to about 400 milligrams a day. Improving your overall sleep hygiene will help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, too.

What happens when you stop drinking caffeine?

If you’re a regular caffeine consumer, you may have built up a dependency on the substance. So, when you quit caffeine, you might experience withdrawal symptoms, especially if you stop cold turkey. This includes fatigue, headaches, and difficulty concentrating, and these symptoms can last for up to nine days.

When should you stop drinking caffeine when pregnant?

You may not have to give up caffeine altogether when pregnant, although you should check with your healthcare provider to make sure it’s okay for you to consume it. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, you should limit caffeine to less than 200 milligrams a day.

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