Can Decaf Coffee Keep You Awake?

It’s obvious that regular coffee can keep you up at night — but can decaf coffee also be a culprit?

Q: When I drink coffee, I drink only decaf, but on the nights I have a cup, I notice I have a hard time falling asleep. My friend told me that even decaffeinated coffees and teas contain small amounts of caffeine. Is that true? Do I need to stop drinking hot beverages at night?

A: The teeny-tiny amount of caffeine in decaffeinated drinks is so inconsequential that it really shouldn’t affect your sleep (generally less than 5 milligrams per cup, compared with 100-plus milligrams in regular coffee). There are a couple of reasons why your beverages might keep you awake. First, if you order decaf coffee at a restaurant, you may not be drinking actual decaf. It is a sad fact that some restaurants accidentally serve full caffeinated coffee instead of decaf. Even the color of the pot or the label on the carafe may be misleading.

If caffeine is a real problem for you, I recommend you avoid coffee altogether when you eat out. Instead, order decaffeinated or herbal tea, and examine the tag to confirm that you received what you asked for. Another possibility is that there is a psychological reason you can’t sleep — either you are worried about not getting enough sleep, or you are too revved up from your evening’s activities. If there is any lingering doubt, switch to herbal teas, which naturally contain no caffeine.
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