Does drinking energy drinks instead of coffee give you worse stress and sleep? One research paper says, “YES”, but this might not be the case for all energy drink users. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at that study and what it means to YOU. In other words, I’m going to give you three things you should look for to see how energy drinks might be affecting YOUR stress and sleep.
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Nurses Drinking Energy Drinks Report Worse Sleep and Stress
To begin with, we should briefly discuss this research paper. The paper is called, “Nurses Consuming Energy Drinks Report Poorer Sleep and Higher Stress” [see Reference 1, below]. In this study, they asked nurses about their stress levels, their sleep habits, and their caffeine intakes.
Most of these nurses worked 10-hour shifts back to back to back. So you know these nurses were legitimately tired! Furthermore, in this study, there WAS a statistically significant difference between the coffee drinkers and the energy drink users. In fact, those who drank energy drinks had worse sleep. They had worse stress too, but it wasn’t a statistically significant difference compared to the coffee drinkers.
But let’s talk about what this means to you.
How to Check Whether Energy Drinks Are Affecting Your Sleep and Stress
If you’re concerned about how energy drinks are affecting your sleep and stress, here’s what you can do.
First of all, think back over the past month. On average, how well did you sleep on a scale of 1-10. One being “Absolutely Awful”. Ten being “Absolutely Wonderful”. Think about how easily and how fast you fell asleep. How many times did you get up during the night? Think about how you felt when you woke up. In other words, if you got 8 hours of sleep, did you feel like you got 8 hours of sleep.
Second, think about your average stress level over the past month. There were probably some wonderful days and some awful days, but think about the average. How stressed were you on a scale of 1 to 10? Think about the stress from your workload, conflict with a team member or manager, not feeling prepared, or not having clear directions.
Finally, think about how many cups of coffee or cans of energy drinks you had on an average day.
Now you have all three data points: your sleep, your stress, and your caffeine. This is a simplified explanation of this study was done. You can use this data to see whether you need to make a change.
Here’s what to do next.
Before You Quit Energy Drinks Altogether, Try These 3 Tips for Better Sleep and Stress
On the Caffeine at Midnight podcast, I went into more detail about the nurses in this study and the specific drinks they used.
But if you’re reading this, you probably don’t care about those nurses so much.
And so here are the three things you should consider if you’re worried about energy drinks making your stress and sleep worse.
TIP #1 – Watch the caffeine content.
Caffeine does boost your mood because it increases the signaling of dopamine. But of course, moderation is key. You can have up to 400 mg caffeine per day before the side-effects of caffeine start outweighing the benefits. That’s 1.25 Grande Brewed Coffees from Starbucks or 1.3 cans of Bang.
So if you’re worried about energy drinks making your stress and sleep worse, the first most obvious thing you can try is to cut back on the amount of caffeine.
It’s worth noting that in this study, there were 3 nurses who had more than 15 cans of energy drinks a week. So their stress and sleep scores definitely affected the averages in this paper. Regardless, cutting back on your caffeine is the best place to start if you think your energy drink is making your stress and sleep deprivation worse.
TIP #2 – Watch the sugar content.
What ingredient could be responsible for the difference between coffee and energy drinks? We already talked about caffeine content, so let’s think about the other ingredients. It’s unlikely B-vitamins are making stress and sleep worse. It’s not likely that taurine or ginseng are to blame either. What about the sugar? In this study, the most commonly used energy drink was Monster Original. As in, full-sugar Monster. That’s over 50 grams of sugar – more than what you’re should have in one day, according to the American Heart Association.
Furthermore, sugar plus caffeine can make you more tired than caffeine alone. This is one of the conclusions from the research review paper, “Sugar rush or sugar crash? A meta-analysis of carbohydrate effects on mood.”
In short, drinking caffeine plus excess (>20 grams) sugar creates a vicious cycle where the excess sugar makes you tired, so you have EVEN MORE caffeine, then the caffeine starts messing with your sleep.
Caffeine+Sugar -> Feeling Tired -> Drink MORE Caffeine (+Sugar) -> Poor Sleep -> Wake Up Tired -> Need EVEN MORE Caffeine…and so on.
For this reason, if you think energy drinks might be making your stress and sleep worse, try switching to an energy drink with less sugar.
TIP #3 – Remember caffeine can’t cure burnout.
Excessive stress can ruin your sleep, even without caffeine. So if you’re worried about the effects of energy drinks on your sleep and stress levels, remember to try other strategies to address the source of that stress.
Caffeine cannot cure burnout.
In fact, that’s why I do the workshops I do with the 5 Levels of Fatigue. The key to beating burnout is knowing how to drink caffeine strategically, and also knowing other ways to take care of your brain and your body. In my workshops, I give people both caffeine recommendations and stress management tips for every Level of Fatigue.
 Higbee, M. R., Chilton, J. M., El-Saidi, M., Duke, G., & Haas, B. K. (2020). Nurses Consuming Energy Drinks Report Poorer Sleep and Higher Stress. Western journal of nursing research, 42(1), 24–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/0193945919840991
 Han, K. S., Kim, L., & Shim, I. (2012). Stress and sleep disorder. Experimental Neurobiology, 21, 141-150. https://doi.org/10.5607/en.2012.21.4.141