After drinking decaf for years I never considered whether it was keeping me up at night. Decaf coffee by definition has caffeine in it though a fraction of regular coffee. I did more research to explore this and the results surprised me!
Will decaf before bed keep you awake? All decafs have between 97-99.9% of the caffeine removed. Decafs generally have between 5-20 milligrams of caffeine versus regular coffee which may have upwards of 200 milligrams of caffeine (depending on size and brew method). Having a strong sensitivity to caffeine, decaf could keep you awake.
I have been drinking decaf for years before bed and never felt it kept me awake like regular coffee can. Often while writing these articles I have been drinking decaf late into the night (enjoying the bold flavor) with no ill effects! If you want my super secret list of the very best decafs check out my post on the 20 Must Try Decafs! For even more fun check out my post on 42 Reasons Why to drink decaf (number 2 is about sleep)!
Caffeine levels do vary
One really surprising thing I learned in my research was how significantly the caffeine levels can vary for decaf coffee. While by legal definition in the US decaf must have 97% of the caffeine removed, this still leaves a big range of caffeine levels. I won’t quote specific numbers in this article but I have found levels ranging from 5 milligrams to over 35 milligrams per cup from various sources. Over a number of cups that can really add up!
Brew strength, method, style and even brand can all affect the caffeine content of your decaf. For example an Americano is likely to have less caffeine because it is an espresso shot mixed with a large volume of water among other factors like grind, extraction time and temperature. Espresso shots tend to have lower caffeine than drip coffee due to the shorter extraction time.
If you are brewing very strong coffee and drinking 50 ounces you might be introducing a larger amount of caffeine then you expected. For example if you drink one 8 oz cup and it has 10 mg of caffeine then 50 oz would have almost 60 mg of caffeine! While still considerably less then regular that may be a significant amount for you. Who drinks 50 ounces in one sitting? I know I have been guilty of Chemex binging a whole pot in one sitting. Plus like me, many people forget one cup means 8 oz not your typical American bucket, I mean mug!
Does decaf really keep you awake?
The most important consideration is how sensitive to caffeine are you. If you are hypersensitive and any amount of caffeine gets your heart racing, decaf is probably not the answer for you. Herbal teas would be a better choice and while nothing can replace a good cup of coffee often herbal teas can have the same relaxing effect of a nice hot beverage to enjoy.
If you are very sensitive to caffeine being aware of how much you drink in short intervals is advised as even the small amount of caffeine in decaf can really add up if you drink 12 cups in five minutes 😉
I have found for myself, decaf does not significantly affect me. That’s why I drink it! I switched to decaf to avoid caffeine which aggravated my acid reflux but now I have the bonus of being able to drink coffee at any hour. Honestly after really only drinking decaf for years now, I don’t really miss caffeine. Actually I find I am more relaxed and less agitated without having constant caffeine.
Sleep problems may be from other sources
If you are finding you are having sleep trouble with drinking decaf before bed double check what you are adding to your coffee. Many coffee creamers are full of sugar and may be having an affect on you and not the decaf itself. I am very sensitive to sugar and often get shaky if I have even a small amount. This could be keeping you awake at night and not the decaf.
Also be aware of your before bed habits. I wont harp on the all the different vices before bed but any number of things could be keeping you up at night. Job stress, overdue bills, sick loved ones, or too much screen time. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much somethings can affect you until you address them. Perhaps your drinking decaf at night to relax after the stress of the day. Consider all factors before concluding its the decaf keeping you awake
Recipe for the perfect late night fix
Now we have discussed caffeine levels, brewing methods, types of roasts and many other factors what do you do? My advice is to choose a coffee that you have experience with brew it in your favorite method like Chemex or Aeropress and mix it with a large quantity of milk for a cappuccino like drink or hot water for more of an Americano style for those black coffee drinkers. Overall you will still have a really great coffee flavor and also dilute whatever small amount of caffeine is in the coffee. This will also serve to give a larger portion so you don’t feel like you are drinking out of a thimble either. Once you get your process down, experiment with brands, roasts and methods until you dial in the perfect process for your late night decaf fix!
Is there decaf with zero caffeine?
No, decaf coffee does have some caffeine content. By legal definition it only needs to have around 97% of the caffeine removed to be considered decaf (around 99% in the UK). At this time there is no caffeine free coffee available (perhaps in the future with genetic engineering). If caffeine is a critical concern you must opt for caffeine free drinks like herbal teas, juices, some sodas or lemon water.
Which decafs have the least caffeine?
While all decafs will have considerable less caffeine than regular coffee, brewing method, size and brand can lead to significantly different caffeine amounts. Roast level can also affect caffeine. Lighter roasts tend to have more caffeine then darker roasts.
Is decaf safe to drink?
Depending on what you mean but safe the answer will vary. If you are worried about the “chemicals” in decaf then in my opinion no study has proven out decaf is not safe to drink because of the decaffeination process.
However if the concern is from other effects like changes in blood pressure or other more long term health effects then the answer is very unclear and you need the advice of the doctor not a coffee nerd!
Regardless I have yet to find one study that conclusively proves any coffee, decaf or not is good, bad or ugly for health. I have read and seen many studies that claim to have the answer and none have proven to be very convincing to me.
What are some decafs that taste like regular?
See my prior post here for five recommended decafs that taste like regular. From low budget to gourmet I recommend five decafs you have to try!