Your Age and Caffeine: The Surprising Relationship

If you’re like most adults, enjoying two cups of coffee or tea in the morning won’t have any impact on your bedtime. But there is a direct relationship between age and caffeine. So if you’re celebrating another milestone birthday or especially sensitive to caffeine, you might need to change up your A.M. ritual, and certainly avoid it later in the day.

Caffeine Has a Bigger Impact on Older Adults

Turns out young people are able to metabolize caffeine more quickly than older adults. One study that looked at the metabolic clearance of several substances, including caffeine, in a group of 65- to 70-year-olds found it takes seniors 33% longer to metabolize caffeine compared to younger adults.

For most people, 200 to 300 mg of caffeine consumed early in the day won’t have a negative impact on sleep. “The half life of caffeine is close to six hours,” says Michael T. Smith, PhD., a Fitbit sleep advisor and director of the Center for Behavior and Health at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “So if you put 200 mg of caffeine in your system at 4pm, you will still be processing about 100 mg at 10pm.” As you age, your body needs even more time (33% more!) to fully process the stimulant. Which means the espresso you drank late-morning could very well still be keeping you up at night, he explains.

For Better Sleep, Cut Back on Caffeine

Coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks, chocolate, some over-the-counter medications—you should think twice before consuming any of these items, if you’re getting older or sensitive to caffeine. Here’s how they add up:

  • One 6-ounce cup of coffee, about 100 mg of caffeine
  • One 6-ounce cup of tea, about 70 mg of caffeine
  • One 12-ounce serving of cola, about 50 mg of caffeine
  • One ounce of chocolate, about 6 mg of caffeine
  • One tablet of OTC, extra-strength headache reliever, about 65 mg of caffeine

If you’re having trouble falling asleep at night, consider cutting back or completely eliminating caffeine from your diet, and talk to your doctor about ways to help you get more rest.

32 Comments   Join the Conversation

32 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Really surprising stats for over 65’s. Will try going back to decaf tea, no coffee mid-morning onwards and cut down on chocolate although I do have weakness for quality dark!

  • Caffeine is also a diuretic. In combination with that fact is this one, less known. As we age, our levels of the antidiuretic hormone decrease leading to frequent awakenings to void to the detriment of healthy sleep.
    Nocturia as described by Dr. Jeffrey P. Weiss in his text by the same name describes this very significant but less known problem affecting sleep profoundly.
    Caffeine is a stimulant but it is also a diuretic and in combination with a decrease of the antidiuretic hormone as we age a significant factor affecting quality of life related to disturbed sleep.

    • Maybe that is why get up to and three times a night to empty my bladder. Starbucks and they may have to Part ways

  • I am happy to report that l have no problem with sleeping at night , however at 51 and type1.5 diabetic , l see in my testing what cafffines role plays in my testing numbers .. not always sure why it happens , can only think it’s hormones

  • A very interesting article and one that has made me reconsider when I shall drink tea and coffee to ensure I get a good nights sleep

  • This article should include the changes in the way people respond to stimulants differently as we age. For instance, the effect caffeine has on level of stimulation may mitigate the reduction in metabolism.

    Also, there are two common liver enzymes in the population fur metabolism of caffeine. One is a 6 hour hand life, the other is a 3 hour half life. It’s governed by your genes and the 3 hour half life metabolism may more or less retarded by aging as the 6 hour one.

  • I used to love caffeinated drinks like energy drinks, cappuccino, latte, etc. But recently caffeine has stopped working for me, and for some funny reason I often get sleepy after consuming caffeine. Could be the sugar as I like it quite sweet.

  • We more or less cut back on our coffee and switched to tea a few years back. We also changed our diets to achieve some weight loss and increased our exercise levels. The first problem came when I was rejected because of low iron levels from donating blood.

    It turns out the daily multi-vitamin we were using had no iron in it plus tea interferes with iron absorption. Reading more showed that plant based iron is in a different form and is less usable by the body than the heme form.

    As a universal donor (type 0-) and being CMV negative my donations are usable for pediatric needs, to me it is important to be able to participate in this way.

    We returned to drinking more coffee but we make less than a full pot and we adjust the brew by using some decaf to lessen the caffeine load depending on what we will be doing. In the mountains in Montana some winter days may be spent with a book inside while a storm does it’s thing.

    Besides the variability in each of us, some may be more affected or sensitive to what we consume.

  • I just started drinking caffeinated coffee. I will start limiting it to one morning cup. I also drink tea. Maybe it should be water and lemon for this old woman.

  • I also have problems sleeping but I think medications also play a part, I never drink coffee after lunchtime. And I get loads of exercise.

  • Based on my own experience I see that it just happens to be that older people tend to drink more coffee than younger people. Haha, it seems that I will need to cut down on my coffee when I am older.

  • If it’s truly a half life calculation, I must be storing extra caffeine and have it building it up in my system somewhere. Is that possible? I routinely drink about 2 quarts of coffee a day. It looks like I would have an excess of about 65 Mg per day!

  • I a big fan of coffee and now i just use it whenever i need to be perky for job, then i drink tea. Be honestly i didn’t sleep well then. One thing makes me surprise in your article is amount of cafein of one tablet of OTC is less than coffee and tea! Maybe i should cut down tea now, before i get older.

  • Interestingly, I’ve tried giving up on caffeine (I drink 2 ristretto’s in the morning and 1 after lunch). Every time I try, I get really strong withdrawal symptoms such as migraine-like headaches, nausea, fogginess in the head, …

  • Love this article. I have been researching my sleep issues for awhile but I did not realize the duretic effect also. I found you information very well presented.

  • I suffered from caffeine poisoning when in college and have avoided it ever since. I do get some in chocolate occasionally. Other wise have been caffeine free for over 50 years.

  • My balls really stink as I get older. What can I do so my wife doesn’t vomit when she’s shaving me?

  • This blog contains misinformation that applies to a large percentage of Americans. The cytochrome group in the liver for processing caffeine has a mutation that effects people who have the mutation by reducing the half life to 3 hours.

    Most of the people with this mutation could probably guess they have it, since they can drink two to three times the amount of coffee as everybody else in the office but for the curious, several genetic testing groups like 23andMe include it in the profile.

    It would be interesting to see if those with the fast metabolism have the same rate of decline in caffeine metabolism as their slower metabolizing counterparts.

  • I do not fit the mold – I am 71 and I have no sleeping problems even if I drink caffeinated coffee late at night. However, I will have to get up once to go to bathroom. No problem going back to sleep. Just lucky I guess! Love my coffee!

  • That is interesting information because coffee or any caffeine has never effected me in the way it does most. It doesn’t have any effect on my sleep(there r other reasons that happens for me) and it doesn’t give me the rush of energy either. I drink it because I like it. Although I do notice that if I haven’t had any writhing about 4-5hrs after I have woken up I start to get a slight headache and feel a little crappy. Like those energy drinks with the caffeine don’t do anything for me. I could go right to sleep after one of them just fine as well as with coffe at night or whenever. Thank you for sharing that information.

  • I have just started to cut back on my no sugar Coke and try to only have one a day and have found out recently that by having it no later than lunchtime or close after then I have only needed to go to the bathroom once in night where sometimes I would get up at least three times in night. I feel much better rested by this change. Also I find that I need to go to bathroom in a short amount of time after my can of Diet Coke where if j have water I don’t get that urge. Possibly the caffeine irritates the bladder? I normally only drink water or Coke Zero though most times it’s only one can s day. I am 55 so probably symptoms would get worse as I get older.

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