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Here’s how your caffeine kick could trigger apnea

Here’s how your caffeine kick could trigger apnea

A respiratory stimulant, caffeine delays sleep initiation, causing a headache, decreased reaction and further disrupting sleep in those with OSA


Noted French writer Alphonse Allais had once said, “Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank.” Turns out that your sleeping habits and related problems are deeply connected to the fluids you consume – or don’t consume. For a long time, caffeine has been related to the ability to “wake up” your body. Be it late-night study sessions or an extra kick for pulling all-nighters, people resort to caffeine to energise themselves. A fun fact that most people seem to be unaware of is that coffee isn’t the only drink that contains caffeine; tea contains equal, if not high, amounts of caffeine.

Other drinks that contain caffeine are energy drinks, sodas, aerated drinks, chocolate/coffee-flavoured drinks and so on.

In fact, in a study titled ‘Sleepy Teens and Energy Drink Use: Results from an Ethnically Diverse Sample of Youth’, higher use energy drinks or products were related to late weekend bedtimes, shorter weekend total sleep time, and more trouble sleeping even after adjusting for covariates.


Apnea can do more than just disrupt a good night’s sleep
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Foods to avoid of you have sleep apnea
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Does caffeine influence or affect sleep apnea?

Researchers have seen that only certain caffeinated beverages impact obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) symptoms. Individuals with sleep apnea who take caffeinated soda are more likely to experience severe sleep-disordered breathing after that. However, those that consumed caffeine through tea or coffee didn’t encounter more provoking symptoms.

“Caffeine works as a stimulant. It is a respiratory stimulant. It can delay the initiation of sleep. Normally, we ask patients with sleep apnea and other disorders to avoid coffee because it delays sleep initiation,” said Dr Hirennappa Udnur, Consultant – Pulmonologist, Manipal Hospital, Hebbal, Bengaluru.

Sleep apnea is a severe sleeping disorder. Individuals with this condition tend to experience repeated stops and starts in breathing during sleep. It can cause daytime tiredness or sometimes loud snoring if untreated. It could also give rise to severe problems like heart trouble or high blood pressure. Dr Udner added, “Maintenance of sleep is important; those with sleep apnea will have disturbed sleep, so if they consume caffeinated beverages before sleep, their sleep will be further disrupted.”

Relation between caffeine and sleep apnea

“When we consume caffeine, our sleep gets disturbed,” he said. “We enter a light sleep and deep sleep stage. It works as a 90-minutes circle. We should have good light sleep and deep sleep. One gives rest to the mind and the other to the body. If either the quality or quantity of sleep gets affected, then during the daytime because of sleep apnea, people might face problems of various kinds, like a headache in the morning, decreased reaction, near-miss accidents, and could even be prone to stroke and heart attack. To avoid this, we give continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for OSA.”

Dr Udnur added, “Caffeine has an effect on sleep cycle as such, keeping people awake instead of inducing sleep. For individuals complaining of sleep apnea and insomnia and those unable to sleep regularly, we suggest they avoid caffeine intake at night. In addition, they should avoid bright light and heavy music while sleeping. Soft music and dim light are advised to create an ambience conducive for falling asleep.”

Caffeine increases high blood pressure

More caffeine can result in high blood pressure, known as hypertension. Even if someone doesn’t have hypertension, an increase in caffeine intake could spike their blood pressure levels. It is advised not to drink more than four cups of caffeinated drinks in a day. Hypertension with high caffeine levels may result in sleeping problems.

Dr Srivatsa Lokeshwaran, Consultant-Interventional Pulmonology & Transplant Physician, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, said, “It is ideal to cut down on caffeine intake if you suffer from sleep apnea. Caffeine can affect your sleep cycle and thus contribute to feeling tired the next day. Cutting down or cutting out caffeine can help break the endless cycle of exhaustion. It also helps lower your blood pressure, a common side effect of sleep apnea.”

Caffeine could also induce exhaustion

When you wake up early and start feeling groggy and tired, you take caffeine to get energy. Sometimes, you might think that coffee, soda or tea gives you the much-needed boost, so you get into the habit of consuming it throughout the day, but then you start feeling groggy again. The caffeine intake starts tricking your body into thinking you’re energised when your mind and body are still drained and in need of the required nutrients and energy.

According to the study ‘Effects of caffeine on sleep quality and daytime functioning’, researchers have found that feeling tired in the morning often leads to high caffeine use. This relates to interrupted sleep patterns, called a “coffee cycle”. If someone drinks caffeine repeatedly, this cycle can make anyone exhausted, making it even more draining and prompting that person to deal with OSA.

Caffeine consumption and obstructive sleep apnea

Dr Lokeshwaran added, “Studies have shown that caffeine consumption seemed to improve thinking (cognitive) function in people with OSA. Caffeine itself will not improve sleep apnea. It will only improve the excessive daytime sleepiness to some extent. Too much caffeine consumption in the late evening can cause a delay in sleep onset and disordered sleep like insomnia but not sleep apnea.”

Habitual snoring and OSA are highly prevalent particularly among patients with diabetes mellitus and glucose intolerance. In a few severe cases, OSA might result in excessive impaired memory, daytime sleepiness and cardiovascular dysfunction. Even if caffeine is the most used psychoactive drug affecting both sleep-wake cycles, caffeine may impact OSA.

“Sleep apnea is not a seasonal thing; however, awareness is very less on the subject. The condition is costly to diagnose and treat. Sleep apnea is largely increasing among people because of obesity. If obesity is on the rise, then sleep apnea will also catch up. To steer clear of this condition, people should follow healthy dietary habits, cut down on junk food consumption and avoid leading a sedentary lifestyle,” adds Dr Udnur.


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