Are energy drinks worse than coffee for stress and sleep?

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.

Short on time? This blog post is available in podcast format too! Click the player below, and don’t forget to subscribe to this show on your favorite podcast platform.

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.

coffee vs energy drinks sleep stress
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5 Ways Coffee is Better Than Energy Drinks

I enjoy my caffeine in many different forms. But sometimes, coffee is a better choice than an energy drink.

In terms of biology, caffeine is caffeine is caffeine. However, sometimes, coffee offers things energy drinks cannot. Sometimes, coffee is better than an energy drink.

Hi. I’m Caffeine Scientist GreenEyedGuide. In this episode of the Caffeine at Midnight podcast, I’ll share 5 benefits of choosing coffee versus energy drinks.

You can listen to this short podcast below or on your platform-of-choice by clicking the button.

how coffee beats energy drinks

Podcast and Show Notes

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5 Secrets to Reducing Caffeine Side-Effects

How to Enjoy Your Coffee, Tea, or Energy Drink Without the Caffeine Side-Effects

Have you ever had those days where your caffeine didn’t work? Or wondered about the difference between coffee and energy drinks? Ever worry about caffeine side-effects like jitters, anxiety, or withdrawal headaches? If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Before we can talk about caffeine side-effects, we have to talk about how we got where we are today. Energy drinks have shaped the marketplace so that even “coffee snobs” are affected. With the energy drink boom, coffee companies and even tea companies have come out with ready-to-drink versions of their products in order to keep up with the trends.

This has lead to a fascinating evolution in the world of caffeinated beverages, as well as some myths and misconceptions.

Are you drinking caffeine wrong? Myths, Misconceptions, and Tips to Drinking Caffeine Like a Scientist

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The “evolution of the energy drink”
  • Surprising trends in the world of caffeinated beverages
  • Common misconceptions about caffeine and energy drinks
  • 5 secrets to enjoying your coffee, tea, or energy drink without the caffeine side-effects
    • Finding your “sweet spot” for caffeine and alertness
    • Cortisol Awakening Response
    • Sleep Inertia
    • Surprising caffeine contents
    • Using the 5 Levels of Fatigue to beat caffeine addiction and caffeine withdrawal

In this YouTube Episode, biochemist, food scientist and author Danielle Robertson Rath (the GreenEyedGuide) shares tips for drinking caffeine more strategically (using science). This presentation was delivered at Pauline Haas Public Library in Sussex, Wisconsin, on February 25, 2020.

Want more caffeine tips like these?

Do you work long, unusual, or unpredictable hours? Is sleep is the first casualty in your battle to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities? Do you constantly feel overwhelmed, overworked, or over-caffeinated?

How to drink caffeine strategically with the 5 Levels of Fatigue

Originally published January 13, 2017. Updated Sept 10, 2019.

During grad school, while working 2 jobs and researching full-time, I developed a system called the “5 Levels of Fatigue”.
It started out as a set of rules to help me consume caffeine more systematically – as I biochemist, I knew if I always picked the most potent drinks, caffeine wasn’t going to work on those days when I needed it the most.

Below, I’ll walk you through my system and how to use it to drink caffeine more strategically, MAXIMIZING caffeine’s benefits while MINIMIZING its side-effects.

For info on using the 5 Levels of Fatigue against boredom, burnout, and mental overwhelm, you’ll want to check out this page:
Click HERE

What’s the best energy drink? Everyone has their own preferences based on taste, but the scientific truth is “the best energy drink” depends on your body and your situation. Think of it this way:

An energy drink is like your favorite song: what gets YOU pumped up may do nothing for ME. A song that gets you up and moving on a Monday morning is probably not your go-to song to celebrate a Friday night.

Everyone is different, and different situations call for different solutions (that’s a beverage pun right there – in chemistry, a solution is a liquid mixture).

This is a picture of a card I made for a PhD student leaving my lab in grad school. To help her remember me, I drew a self-portrait. Big hair. Music. Caffeine.

I developed the 5 Levels of Fatigue in college and in grad school. I was juggling full-time studies with two part-time jobs. In addition to studying the science behind energy drinks, I was drinking them - a lot.

As a biochemistry major, I knew caffeine would stop working for me if my body got too used to it on a regular basis. Caffeine blocks adenosine, which prevents adenosine from sending you “YOU ARE GETTING SLEE-PY” signals. But after awhile your body realizes caffeine is blocking adenosine and MAKES MORE, so it takes MORE caffeine to feel the same energy boost.

Using the 5 Levels of Fatigue makes it less likely you'll develop caffeine dependence - it means you won't need more and more caffeine to feel awake.

Here's How It Works:

  • Every energy drink has a different amount of caffeine, juice, and sugar.
  • Some energy drinks are carbonated, some are not.
  • Carbonation, juice, and sugar content will all make one energy drink FEEL more powerful than another drink with the same amount of caffeine.

FATIGUE LEVEL 1: Dehydrated & Drowsy

At this level, you’re feeling a little drowsy, but not exhausted or overwhelmed.

SOLUTION = Do something Different. Go for a walk. Switch tasks. Take a 5 min break. Drink WATER. DO NOT drink any caffeine at this level.

Caffeine Informer Bai Antioxidant Infusion caffeine content

FATIGUE LEVEL 2: Too Tired

At this level, “I’m too tired” becomes the excuse for action. You’re not exhausted and not just bored or drowsy. You’re just a little bit off, a little sluggish, a little lethargic. You’re “too tired”.

SOLUTION = A LITTLE sluggish means A LITTLE caffeine. Look for caffeinated beverages with no more than 100 mg caffeine.

  • NON-carbonated beverages will provide a gentler boost because carbonation irritates the stomach lining so caffeine gets absorbed more quickly.
  • TEA-based beverages will also provide a gentler boost because L-Theanine has a calming effect.

FATIGUE LEVEL 3: Stressed & Struggling

At this level, you’re starting to feel overwhelmed. You’re trying to wake up but you’re really struggling to stay focused and engaged. A walk and a cup of tea aren’t going to cut it here, but it’s still not worst-case scenario “energy emergency” quite yet.

SOLUTION = Several scientific studies and international organizations say you should have no more than 200 mg caffeine at a time. So that’s what we’re looking for here.

  • HYBRIDS are the best option here – energy drink/coffee hybrids, energy drink/wannabe Gatorade drinks, caffeinated juice blends
  • Pick carbonated over non-carbonated for an extra boost if needed
  • Pick sugar-free or drinks where the only sugar comes from juice – save the full-sugar versions for those “energy emergencies” at Fatigue Level 4
bang energy ingredient review by GreenEyedGuide

FATIGUE LEVEL 4: Energy Emergency

At this level, we’re going to ignore health guidelines and go over that 200 mg caffeine per serving recommendation. This is an energy emergency. This is one step short of being a walking zombie. We’re talking just-trying-to-survive, counting-the-hours-before-I-can-go-home crisis.

SOLUTION = Choose a carbonated energy drink with more than 200 mg caffeine per can. You can also pick an energy shot because shots have higher caffeine mg per oz than energy drinks. Energy drinks with sugar will give you an extra boost though you may crash after a few hours so ONLY pick drinks with more than 10 grams sugar if you absolutely need that much more help.

bang energy ingredient review by GreenEyedGuide

FATIGUE LEVEL 5: Zombie

At this level, no amount of caffeine can save you. This is your absolute breaking point. This is worst-case-scenario.

SOLUTION = Only sleep can save you now.


This is the 5 Levels of Fatigue.

Caffeine Effects on the Brain – Part 2

Welcome to GreenEyedGuide, your guide to the science behind caffeine and energy drinks. This is a series on How Caffeine Affects the Brain. Since this is a complex topic and we have a lot to cover, I’ve broken the key questions into different posts. In this part, we compare coffee versus energy drinks to determine what makes the best study aid and why.

Later in this series, we’ll also talk about:

  • Why does caffeine work differently after an all-nighter?
  • What ingredients in energy drinks help you focus during gaming?
  • Does your brain get addicted to caffeine and energy drinks?

Coffee Versus Energy Drinks – Which is Better for Studying?

If you don’t have time to watch the full episode, don’t worry! The highlights are below.

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