Who Has the Final Verdict on Coffee?

It seems like every few years we hear a new verdict on coffee. It fluctuates wildly on the “good” to “bad” scale based on whatever recent research has been published. Science isn’t the only realm of coffee confusion. Coffee escapes an American label as a “bad” habit, yet hardly any coffee drinkers claim to do it for their health. Many of us have felt the two sides of the coffee coin too, as a soft coffee-induced hum escalates, upon overdose, to a distracting whirr of escaping, trembling energy.

On a practical level, many naturopathic doctors look to coffee consumption first when a patient is struggling with insomnia. Cutting out caffeine can be the low hanging fruit for helping people get a good nights rest.

But don’t fret yet! There’s much more to the story of coffee and sleep, as every doctor also knows that what works some people will not work for everyone. A recent systematic review sussing out the detail of caffeine’s effects on sleep proves just this.

The majority of laboratory studies included in the review found that coffee did impact sleep quality, but some studies found no association between sleep quality and coffee consumption. Add to this that some populations appear to be more sensitive to caffeine (older folks) while some populations appear to have more individual variation in sensitivity to caffeine (young adults).[1]

The studies that inspected the timing of coffee intake and sleep found that evening coffee is associated with sleep problems. And some studies discovered that some people may be less sensitive to coffee thanks to their genes.1 So, yet again, there’s room for confusion. Or at least, plenty of literature to point to when making your case, whatever your case is for coffee and its effect on sleep.

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But here’s the thing—the most awesome thing about natural medicine—it’s actually all about YOU.

What the population-based studies say can only point our clinical thinking in a direction, and what matters most, in the end, is what works for you. Often, a trial (starting a medicine or a habit) or a holiday (taking out a medicine or habit) for a few weeks can offer a lot of information about what’s working and what isn’t.

Going without coffee for a few weeks may help you finally get closer to having amazing sleep, or it may be proof that coffee, beloved coffee, isn’t on your “bad” list. In the end, the person with the final verdict on coffee is you.

[1] Clark I, Landolt HP. Coffee, caffeine, and sleep: A systematic review of epidemiological studies and randomized controlled trials. Sleep Med Rev. 2017;31:70-78.

Katy Morrison, ND, LAc