Caffiene snooze
November 18, 2009 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Why does one cup of coffee make me sleepy?

I've seen this thread, but it was more about confirming the effect rather than explaining it.

I've had an interesting history with coffee. I like the taste, and when I was a teenager I regularly had a cup of 3-in-1 coffee a day with no particular effects. In my late teens I was diagnosed with panic disorder, and I could no longer take any coffee without feeling jittery and anxious. Within the past five years I've slowly reintroduced coffee into my life, and now I can comfortably have a cup a day.

However, instead of either getting a buzz or being jittery, coffee makes me really really sleepy. As soon as I have a cup I have a deep need to take a nap, and I can be knocked out for a couple of hours. It's not particularly restful or refreshing sleep, but it's hard to fight back the urge to snooze. This is a recent development (and slightly annoying because there are times where I could use the buzz!!).

I'm usually described as "hyper" by my friends and peers, though that usually depends on the situation - in fun energetic environments I can be very vibrant and exuberant, though when I'm at home I'm usually sloth-like and lazy. I sleep about 7-8 hours a night; the sun awakes me, so I'm usually up just before 5, and for the first few hours (if I'm not having to be awake early for any particular reason) I vacillate between mucking around on my laptop and snoozing. I don't deal well with late nights - if I'm not distracted by something I usually clamour for my bed by midnight at the latest.

Guarana, ginseng, and other energy drinks & supplements of that ilk give me a headache. There is one particular Aussie brand of energy drink (can't recall the name offhand) that hasn't effected me either way; however I've only had a small tin so I don't know if it's a fluke. I have been suspected of having ADD but have never been on treatment for it or tested professionally.

What's happening with my hormones and my brain that makes me have the opposite reaction to caffiene? Is it something I need to worry about? If caffiene makes me tired, what can I do to get a buzz (assuming that I haven't already scared people off by being highly energetic!)?
posted by divabat to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Have you ever had other stimulants, and did they do the same thing? Ephedrine, amphetamines of any sort?
posted by floam at 6:00 PM on November 18, 2009

Do you put a lot of sugar in your coffee?
posted by dfriedman at 6:05 PM on November 18, 2009

Have you been diagnosed with ADHD? If you have it, caffeine and other stimulants can make you sleepy. That's why they give Ritalin, a stimulant, for ADHD.
posted by xenophile at 6:06 PM on November 18, 2009

Coffee often helps me sleep, too. I once asked a psychiatrist about it. He told me - and I have no idea whether he knew what he was talking about - that different parts of the brain work independently, and that if one of them (e.g., the bit that helps you sleep) is working inefficiently then a stimulant might help even things out and let you sleep, even though it acts on everything and therefore makes most people feel more alert.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:28 PM on November 18, 2009

Have you been diagnosed with ADHD? If you have it, caffeine and other stimulants can make you sleepy. That's why they give Ritalin, a stimulant, for ADHD.

No. Ritalin increases focus and enables a greater attention span. It doesn't make anybody sleepy. And it has the same effect on everyone, because ADHD IS NOT ORGANIC.

You're not reacting to caffeine. Caffelne takes at least an hour to take effect- if you're sleepy immediately it's probably because you're drinking the coffee when you're already tired.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:54 PM on November 18, 2009

This reminds me of when I took Benadryl once, before bed. Everybody always talks about how it makes them drowsy and sleepy, but after taking it I lay there, hyper and unable to sleep, feeling that singing sensation you get in the pit of your stomach when you're excited, and kicking my legs under the covers (years later: those "Restless Leg Syndrome" ads on TV--that's what it was like).

Also--if you've ever taken sleep aids, and waited too long before trying to go to sleep, you know that they'll actually make you feel hyper, and keep you up, if you miss that window after taking them.

Anyways, these are instances I've encountered personally, of energy-level-altering medication having the opposite of the purported effect--in my case, downers behaving like uppers. It seems to me that these effects must vary not just from person to person, but from situation to situation.


Anyways, as for your problem:

Some people will drink a cup of tea before bed, and feel that they have no problem sleeping. I think the key here is that this is a LOW DOSE, like your single cup of coffee. It sounds like you are really sensitive to caffeine--if you had much more than a cup, it probably wouldn't make you sleepy, but the results might not be pretty. Remember, those energy drinks give you headaches. And the only reason they're able to successfully market themselves as "energy drinks" is because they contain enough caffeine, usually more than a cup of coffee, to make people feel more "energetic".

Wanna guess what the active ingredient is in Guarana?

My advice is to be very careful with the stimulants, my friend!
posted by theDTs at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2009

floam: I've never had any other stimulants. I've tried bits of hash brownies but they did nothing for me.

dfriedman: One or two spoons - I do like my coffee sweet, but you'd think that'd give me a buzz rather than put me to sleep!

xenophile: As mentioned before, I've been suspected of it, but never formally diagnosed or treated.

theDTs: haha I know what's in guarana! The one time I had it was a bit of a mistaken identity - it was in a Vitamin Water drink and I was going for something else that had a similar colour. It just gave me a headache!
posted by divabat at 7:02 PM on November 18, 2009

I don't know much about this topic, but I read something interesting that might be related. Melatonin, the chemical in your brain that naturally makes you sleep (and can be taken in a pill to make you sleep more) has an effect that's a non-increasing function of the dose: taking 0.5 mg of melatonin could put you to sleep, and taking 1 mg could make you sleep even more, but 20 mg would wake you up. I'm not sure if this applies to everyone or only some people, but apparently this kind of effect does exist.
posted by k. at 7:14 PM on November 18, 2009

No. Ritalin increases focus and enables a greater attention span. It doesn't make anybody sleepy.

Sleepiness is a possible side effect of Ritalin according to the drug manufacturers.
posted by kathrineg at 7:46 PM on November 18, 2009

And yes, I have the ADD, and coffee does not "wake me up". If I'm sleepy, it makes me sleepier.
posted by kathrineg at 7:52 PM on November 18, 2009

Guarana, ginseng, and other energy drinks & supplements of that ilk give me a headache.

But do they also make you sleepy? For example, drink a can of Red Bull.. do you get the same effect? If not, it's a coffee/warm drink thing rather than a caffeine thing, and that's important to figure out in relation to your question. You may simply have a psychological response to a hot milky drink (not that I know how you take your coffee).
posted by wackybrit at 8:09 PM on November 18, 2009 are experience the classic effects of mild addiction. Addiction mechanisms are complicated, but you can break them down roughly into the following:

1) Tolerance: you become desensitized to the stimulant (or other) effect of the drug.

2) Dependency: you suffer withdrawal symptoms soon after your body processes and excretes the drug.

So what's happening is that, over the course of the "last five years", you've developed a mild addiction to that daily one cup of coffee.

When you're without your one cup of coffee, the withdrawal effects are so mild and you're so accustomed to them that you don't consciously notice them, but they are there. Moreover, they are fatiguing.

When you drink your one cup, you get the fix you've been craving and your body relaxes. But over an extended period the mild tension from your craving has made you tired, and because one cup isn't enough to perk you up anymore, the urge to sleep hits you.

You need to drink a lot more caffeine (three, four or five cups) to feel stimulated again. And so the vicious cycle begins.
posted by randomstriker at 10:53 PM on November 18, 2009

wackybrit: But do they also make you sleepy? For example, drink a can of Red Bull.. do you get the same effect?

I haven't had enough of them to really figure it out. I tend to avoid those drinks whenever I can due to headaches (I used to take vitamin supplements with ginseng and they gave me a headache).

Also I regularly drink tea and hot chocolate, and they don't make me as sleepy as coffee.

randomstriker: That doesn't seem right; I'm fine without having my coffee, or having any other edible stimulus for that matter. (Now Effexor-XR on the other those withdrawal symptoms SUCK.)
posted by divabat at 12:41 AM on November 19, 2009

Are you sure you're completely "fine" without caffeine? try abstaining altogether for a few days and see what happens -- remember to avoid everything i.e. colas, mountain dew, chocolate, etc. If you find you suffer the onset of a dull headache after a day or two that disappears "magically" with a cup of coffee, then you're addicted.
posted by randomstriker at 7:20 AM on November 19, 2009

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