Why Doesn’t Coffee Wake Me Up? 8 Reasons and How to Overcome Them

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At some point in our lives, we’ll rely on coffee to keep us up and ready. Whether you’re mastering energy to power through the day or crunching a deadline, you turn to coffee for that extra boost. Unfortunately, that caffeine kick can be hit-and-miss, so you’re left wondering, why doesn’t coffee wake me up?

Coffee as a stimulant may become less effective due to your lifestyle, genetics, situation, and choice of brew. Specific causes include caffeine tolerance, fast metabolism, fatigue, dehydration, sugar level, type of coffee bean, and brewing method.

I’ll be going over each reason in detail later in this article. But first, let’s develop a better understanding of how coffee wakes us up.

Why Does Coffee Wake You Up?

Your cup of coffee wakes you up due to the presence of caffeine, a stimulant found naturally in coffee beans.

This substance binds with receptors and blocks adenosine from sending signals of drowsiness in your system. Thus, your body increases its neural activity and makes you alert and energized.

How long does coffee keep you awake?

Coffee will not only wake you up, but it can keep you up as long as your body retains the caffeine. The average half-life of caffeine is about 5 hours in the body. In other words, roughly half of the caffeine you consume remains in your bloodstream for that period.

Your body absorbs the caffeine in coffee within the first 45 minutes and retains much of it for up to 10 hours. You may experience boosted alertness and other effects of caffeine within this interval, but this does not apply to each person. 

One person may feel energized until the next day, while another may not feel its short-term effects at all. How long caffeine lasts in your system depends on your genetics, lifestyle, and situation.

The amount of caffeine you ingest also matters. That will be impacted by how you brew the coffee, what beans you use, and what ingredients you add to your coffee drink.

Due to the residual caffeine in your body, you may feel alert and up even during your usual bedtime. If you’re not pulling an all-nighter, remember to drink coffee early and moderately for a good night’s rest.

Why Doesn’t Coffee Keep You Awake?

The caffeine in coffee acts as a natural energy booster, but its effects do not apply to each individual. Here are some of the reasons why coffee can’t keep you awake.

1. You have developed caffeine tolerance

Drinking coffee every day decreases the effectiveness of caffeine and, in some instances, leads to caffeine tolerance. Instead of getting an energy boost, you experience little to no effects.

When you constantly consume different kinds of coffee drinks, the caffeine continuously blocks sleep-promoting receptors from sending signals of drowsiness. In turn, your body develops extra receptors that will do their initial job of making you sleepy. Thus, your morning coffee will not keep you awake for long.

To undo your caffeine tolerance, you can either decrease your daily caffeine intake or switch to decaf coffee. Just be prepared for caffeine withdrawal symptoms like headaches, nausea, and muscle pain during the first 24 hours.

2. You have a fast metabolism

The rate of caffeine metabolism varies per person. Some people process caffeine fast enough for it not to give its full effect, and others may experience coffee jitters with a single sip.

Although metabolism is genetic, processing caffeine at a higher rate may also result from smoking, medication, and other environmental factors.

3. You are dehydrated

Dehydration leads to poor blood circulation through your body, so you end up tired and sleepy. Drinking coffee in this state may not give you the level of alertness and focus you want.

When dehydrated, it’s best to put the coffee down and drink some water. Once you feel refreshed and hydrated, the caffeine should take effect.

4. You’re too tired

When your body establishes its fatigue and drowsiness, the sleep-promoting chemicals have already settled in their respective receptors. And so, caffeine can’t stop the sleep signaling function nor energize your body.

A power nap of 15 to 20 minutes would help reset these receptors and allow caffeine to block the sleep signals in your body. But next time, remember the saying, “If you don’t pick a time to rest, your body will pick it for you.”

5. You’re putting too much sugar in your coffee

Coffee drinks like frappe and Frappuccino use sugar and other sweeteners to balance the bitter coffee. Unfortunately, consuming too much sugar may overpower the effect of caffeine in your coffee.

Sweeteners spike your blood sugar up faster than the absorption of caffeine. When this sudden rise goes down, you go through a sugar crash and become tired. At that point, caffeine may not counter the sleepiness brought by the dip.

Fortunately, there are healthy alternatives to sweeten coffee without sugar. Not only will you be getting a healthy energy boost, but you also don’t have to sacrifice the flavor of your coffee.

6. Your coffee is under-extracted

Your method of preparation dictates how much caffeine your coffee will have. If you’re under-extracting, you have less caffeine to block against sleep-promoting chemicals.

Maximizing caffeine extraction is the straightforward solution to this problem. You can do so by grinding the coffee beans finely, steeping longer, adjusting the brewing temperature, or adjusting the coffee-to-water ratio you use while brewing.

7. You need a different brewing method

Coffee concentration is not the same for all brewing methods, so the caffeine you intake from one coffee drink may be less than what you usually consume. With less caffeine, your body may not reach your desired alertness.

You can solve this by making strong coffee with a different brewing method. For example, pressure brewing uses an espresso machine to produce an ounce of espresso with about 65 mg of caffeine. That is at least four times more than regular coffee’s 16 mg caffeine per ounce.

If you compare the same volume, you’ll get more caffeine from espresso than regular coffee. Keep in mind that the FDA recommends a limit of 400 mg caffeine per day to avoid harmful effects on individuals.

8. You need more caffeinated coffee beans

Coffee beans have varying caffeine content, so they dictate how much caffeine you most likely will extract from your coffee. And like I said earlier, less caffeine will weaken its boosting effects on your body.

If you’re after an active and focused day, you should avoid decaf coffee beans. They undergo processing to remove at least 97% of their caffeine content, so you may not feel as alert as regular beans.

A good starting point for caffeinated coffee beans is Arabica and Robusta beans that contain up to 1.7% and 2.5% of caffeine, respectively. They are commercially available and commonly used in the most caffeinated coffees due to their bold yet flavorful taste.

Best Coffee to Wake You Up

Kickstarting a day can be difficult without the perfect coffee. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess which coffee will do the job for you. Here’s a quick list of the best coffee to wake you up.

Espresso shots

Espresso is a small, concentrated shot of strong coffee that contains about 65 mg of caffeine. While that level may be enough to wake others, most people should feel alert after 100 to 200 mg of caffeine intake. And so, a double shot with about 130 mg of caffeine will most likely keep you up.

You can further calibrate your caffeine levels with espresso, just like with drip coffee. That’s possible even if you’re using a Nespresso machine or a budget espresso machine. The caffeine content of Nespresso pods and espresso beans can vary quite a bit.

AeroPress concentrated coffee

AeroPress is one of the cheapest coffee machines in the market, but it makes a mean coffee concentrate. At 6 ounces, you’ll get at least 110 mg of caffeine – enough to keep your body running throughout the day.

However, if 6 ounces of AeroPress coffee won’t do the trick, you can increase the volume to 8 ounces with at least 130 mg of caffeine. That level lines up to the caffeine of a double espresso!

Cold brew coffee

Cold brew is undoubtedly a frontrunner in the coffee concentrate category. It’s coffee steeped in low-temperature water for 12 hours, and the result is a coffee concentrate with a whooping 500 mg caffeine per 8 ounces. That’s about five times the caffeine of a regular cup!

While that may entice you to drink cold brew straight up, I suggest diluting it in water or spicing it up with a dose of nitrogen for a delicious nitro cold brew at home.

If you want to make a cold brew at home, here’s a step-by-step guide on cold brewing with an AeroPress and cold brewing with a French press.

Red-eye coffee

Red-eye coffee is not for the faint of heart. This drink contains drip coffee and espresso with about 95 mg and 65 mg of caffeine, respectively. In other words, the red-eye coffee packs a serious caffeine punch of about 160 mg per cup.

If red-eye can’t wake you up, try switching to a double shot of espresso for a black-eye coffee or a triple shot for green-eyed coffee. These drinks contain up to 3 times more caffeine than regular coffee. If those won’t wake you up, I don’t know what will!

Frequently Asked Questions

How late is too late for coffee?

CNBC recommends no caffeine intake after 3 pm to avoid sleep loss resulting from residual caffeine in your blood. However, it’s still up to you if you’ll be sticking to their suggestion.

After all, you always have the option of decaf. Not only can you have coffee after dinner with your peers, but you also won’t be missing a wink of sleep.

Does coffee affect sleep?

Yes, coffee can disrupt your sleep patterns and cause insomnia in some cases. This event is due to caffeine blocking signals of sleepiness within your body. In turn, you feel energized even during your bedtime.

Up and Running with Coffee!

When coffee fails to improve our alertness, things can become catastrophic – missed deadlines, drowsy meetings, all-day fatigue, and the list goes on. Fortunately, you can enhance the effectiveness of caffeine with a few tweaks in your lifestyle and coffee.

Knowing what to do is the first step, and the next one is having the right equipment for your coffee. I suggest checking my guide on budget coffee makers before you splurge. Or, maybe try the strongest coffees from Starbucks if you don’t feel like making stronger coffee by yourself.

Which coffee drink is your go-to energy booster? Let me know your pick by leaving a comment down below.