Should You Drink Coffee Before Bed? The Answer Might Surprise You

A dietitian’s insight on coffee as a nighttime drink.

For many, coffee isn’t just reserved for mornings, but also savored at night. After a big dinner, coffee cuts through the richness, and when enjoyed with dessert, it balances out the sweetness in a lovely way. Some people find that coffee settles their stomach—the bitter flavor signaling the end of the meal. From a social perspective, coffee allows people to linger at the table and extend their evenings after they’ve eaten. An evening coffee is a beloved tradition, but is it a healthy, sustainable habit? We consulted Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, creator of Bucket List Tummy and Nutrition for Running, for her thoughts on drinking coffee before bed.


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What Are the Risks of Drinking Coffee at Night?

For those prone to sleep issues and/or anxiety, drinking coffee at night could pose problems. Schlichter explains that coffee “can increase wakefulness and anxiety”—reactions that are likely linked to raised levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) from the coffee. While coffee may be helpful for energy during the day, it can also contribute to disrupted sleep, especially when consumed too close to bedtime. Schlichter emphasizes that “adequate, restful sleep is important for overall health” and is therefore something to take seriously. 

How Late Can I Drink Caffeinated Coffee?

It’s recommended to stop drinking caffeinated coffee six hours before bed, according to Schlichter and this study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. For example, if you go to bed at 10 PM, cut yourself off from caffeinated coffee by 4 PM, at the latest, for your best chances to sleep restfully.

With that said, Schlichter acknowledges that some people are not as caffeine-sensitive as others, and that it’s possible for coffee to reduce anxiety if it’s associated with feelings of coziness and relaxation. Although they might be rare, there are people who can sleep peacefully after a nighttime coffee.

What About Decaf Coffee?

Decaf coffee is a safer bet as a nighttime drink, but it “still does contain small amounts of caffeine,” Schlichter warns. If you’re particularly caffeine-sensitive, it’s best to avoid drinking decaf coffee at night. Schlichter shares that the USDA regulates the caffeine content in decaf coffee, insisting that it not exceed 0.10 percent caffeine.

For many people, a decaf coffee before bed doesn’t affect their sleep. If that’s you, feel free to drink up!

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