Why do coffee and tea keep us awake?

A few weeks ago I listened to Kevin Rose interview sleep scientist Dr Matthew Walker on his podcast. Matthew Walker is one of the clearest, most concise and most eloquent speakers of English I’ve heard. The sort of speaker whose improvised answers sound like beautifully written prose. You can listen to the podcast here.

Walker is a professor of neuroscience and psychology, and one of the best known sleep researchers in the world. He has just released a book called ‘Why do we sleep?’ Lots of positive reviews led me to his interview on the podcast and after hearing him speak about sleep, I bought the book. I’m only a few chapters in, but so far it’s brilliant.

One interesting thing that was explained in chapter 2 was regarding the caffeine found in coffee and tea. He explains why it actually keeps us awake. There is a ‘sleepiness’ chemical that builds the longer we stay awake – it’s called adenosine. There are receptor sites in the brain that notice the amount of adenosine in the blood and this builds what they call ‘sleep pressure’ (how tired you feel). Caffeine blocks adenosine from its receptor sites – so you won’t feel tired until your liver breaks the caffeine down. Unfortunately though, even though you can’t feel the ‘sleep pressure’ your adenosine is still steadily building up so when the liver does it job, your receptor sites will be flooded with adenosine and you’ll experience the ‘caffeine crash!’ Interesting stuff.

The guardian newspaper in England described the book as providing a way to becoming more clever, attractive, slimmer, happier and happier so it’s probably a worthwhile read!

Back to reading the book….

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