Energy Drinks are the Crave, but do they affect your sleep

A recent study by Anderson et. al., published in Sleep Diagnosis and Therapy journal, discussed the effects of a high-sugar content, low caffeine drink, and that this may not alleviate sleepiness, but instead may worsen it. We all know that good sleep is important for a healthy body. In fact, good sleep is important for a healthy heart. Most people actually rest their heart muscles during the night, by reducing the blood pressure (almost 20-30 percent), and also experience a decrease in the heart rate as well (about 10-20 percent). This effect was studied by Dr. William White at the University of Connecticut Health Center. Sleep was also suggested to add to the management of high blood pressure. Dr. Daniel Gottlieb et al of Boston University School of Medicine showed through a survey of over 5,000 people that individuals who sleep less than six hours a night had as much as a 66 percent increase in the prevalence of high blood pressure! Bottom line: Sleep is needed for good heart health.

You can imagine that when I read the Loughborough Univ. Dept. of Human Sciences Sleep Research Centre’s article on the low-caffeine, high sugar content drinks (known as “energy drinks”), it caught my attention. These drinks may have added caffeine that is labeled by the food industry as “flavoring” to pass standards (to avoid placing caffeine on the label). Regular “soft drinks” may help improve
cognitive performance but also have a “down effect” on providing “energy” an hour after consumption. However, most of the effects of these soft drink sugars terminate any effect by the time sleep onset occurs. Under such circumstances, soft drinks appear to not have an effect on sleep. However, this is NOT the case with the “energy drinks.” Several studies (Landstrom et al. 2000) reported that the so-called “non-caffeinated” drinks actually contain larger amounts of sugar, and appear to lead to greater sleepiness then control groups.

Prominent advertisements promising “Kicks” and other “Leaps” of “Energy” from these drinks are reaching store shelves so that these new products are replacing soft drinks and possibly healthier drinks. The sugars, glucose and fructose, have high and low glycemic index values (sugars are absorbed quickly by the stomach and produce a huge increase in the blood sugar levels, and depending on the insulin response, decline after an hour or so). Fructose is converted in the stomach to glucose, so this takes an added step before being absorbed. It is the rise in the blood sugar level that causes the increased alertness. The caffeine takes approximately half an hour to have an effect on alertness. Sugar actually enhances the onset of the sleepiness (it’s a delayed effect). The caffeine reverses this effect. Researchers aren’t sure if the “hypoglycemic rebound” actually occurs, and that the “physical energy” from the sugar rush may not even effect a person who feels sleepy. The main alertness portion is the caffeine present in the drinks. Which leads us to ask why take this kind of drink in the first place? Well, maybe on occasion for fun.

My advice:

  1. Remember your daddy’s name by being around him more often
  2. Drink an unsweetened, natural drink
  3. Work on establishing your sleep-wake cycle for alertness benefits
  4. Practice other methods for improving wakefulness (like exercise, dietary supplements, yoga, and other focusing exercises)

Dr. Nikos Linardakis is a physician executive based in Salt Lake City, and is the author of the forthcoming book, Ten Natural Ways to a Good Night’s Sleep. Visit