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Good News for Coffee Drinkers

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I frequently get asked if I think drinking coffee is like sleeping with the devil. People are surprised when I tell them no, and that coffee can be a healthy part of life--it doesn't have to mess with your sleep. There are a multitude of benefits that accompany coffee drinking, and now we have one more reason to add to the list: it can cut the risk of stroke in women.

The new study just published shows that four or more cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of stroke by 20 percent in women. (Sorry, but men were not analyzed; this study came from a 24-year examination of nurses with no history of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, starting in 1980. My guess is they'd find similar results in men. The risk of stroke is higher in women, however.)

The best news came for those who don't smoke. Among those who either quit or never smoked at all, the risk was reduced by 43 percent. That's incredibly telling. Another blow to smoking. Another reason to kick that habit. But keep drinking your coffee.

So, how do you get your coffee fill without losing sleep over it? Four cups might seem like a lot, but not if you're drinking a regular brew. Some coffees contain more caffeine than others (a cup from Starbucks is like high-octane gas versus the regular stuff you make at home).

The secret is to avoid drinking coffee after 2 PM. It's a challenge if you're used to getting a pick-me-up when those late-afternoon slumps kick in. This is when switching to a less caffeinated beverage like green tea is ideal. Or sneak a 20-minute nap before 3 PM, then have a cup of tea. Just be sure to avoid all sources of caffeine after 3.

Interestingly, the benefits of drinking coffee seem to be limited to coffee. It's not the caffeine that's lowering the risk for stroke. There's something in the components of coffee itself.

That means don't start doubling up on your soda intake. No free passes on that, no matter how much you love a cold can of Coke or Pepsi. I know plenty of people who are addicted to soda and wonder why they don't sleep well at night when they drank it too close to bedtime. Caffeine and sugar make for a powerful "insomniatic" punch. If you need the fizz, try sparkling water. You'll probably lose weight, too, as you gain better sleep and nix excess calories. A sure-fire way to reduce your risk for all sorts of health problems.

Sweet Dreams,

The Sleep Doctor

Michael J. Breus, PhD

This article on sleep is also available at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.

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