08/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

There Could Be Something in the Air...

Imagine getting a good buzz just off the mere whiff of coffee. Is it true? Can you really reverse the effects of sleep deprivation in the brain from just smelling the beautiful aromas of a good Joe?

A team of Japanese researchers are beginning to think so. In a study just published they found that when rats were deprived sleep (for one day), certain genes important to brain function became suppressed and then reactivated at the smell of coffee. We don't know, however, if the same genes would be suppressed in sleep-deprived humans, and we also don't know if we'd feel tired if those specific genes were suppressed. Humans and rats do, however, share similar genetic fingerprints.

The Smell of Coffee: Perking People Up

Does this help explain why we love the smell of coffee so much? Anecdotal evidence alone says people perk up at the drop of freshly brewed coffee. Lots of people agree that the smell is so much better than the taste, and because so many non-coffee drinkers love the smell of coffee, you got to wonder if there's something in that coffee-infused air that does something to us biologically.

I think this is some neat research and if coffee aromatics can reactivate genes responsible for making us feel tired or awake, then this opens the door to a whole new area of study. Think about the possibilities this offers, such as manufacturing plants blasting coffee odors into factories where tired workers don't have the luxury to stop to sip on coffee as they work machinery. No caffeine required! Just a few whiffs of strong Java may (temporarily) revive them. Granted, it probably won't do the same job as getting a real caffeine fix, but any boost, however small, can be a plus. 

I say, this is all the more reason for businesses like Starbucks to return to the days when they'd grind coffee regularly so (if you're a coffee aficionado) you'd experience that oh-so refreshing inhalation when you walked into a store. People need more than a good cup of coffee.

Are Moms Relying Too Much on Caffeine?

That said, I want to share something else that came through the wires last week. It was a roundup of how much people, especially moms, rely on caffeine.

None of it was too surprising, but it did reveal the extent to which so many of us depend on caffeine to get through our days. We go from traditional coffee in the morning to copious caffeinated sodas and energy drinks in the afternoon. Sales of popular beverages like Rockstar and Red Bull have skyrocketed in the last two years.

Some energy drinks have twice the amount of caffeine as regular coffee, a fact largely forgotten among many people who struggle with insomnia. I've even heard some overscheduled moms joke that they'd put a caffeine patch on themselves in the morning if they could!

Caffeine does deserve its place in our diets, but too much is too much. It can trigger migraines, heartburn, gastrointestinal problems, and put women at an increased risk of miscarriage. It also has an impact on your heart (the good news is none of these effects are long-term, and are reversible if you simply cut back).

Put it this way: If you need a stimulant to get through your day, the time has come to make a few small changes. Let me suggest some tried and true ways to balance your sleep and wake budget.

5 Tips to Balance the Sleep-Wake Budget

  1. Have a regular "cut-off" time after which you don't consume any caffeine. 2 p.m. is the ideal cut-off time, but if you must have caffeine after that, then go light (try teas) and avoid all caffeine after 5 p.m., including those from soft drinks.

  2. Schedule exercise into your day, and if you can, do it in the late afternoon/early evening hours. Getting active 4 to 6 hours before bedtime can help you to achieve the highest-quality sleep.

  3. Find quiet time for yourself twice a day--once in the morning and again in the PM. It can be just 10 minutes. Use the time to close your eyes and meditate, or read an article in your favorite magazine. You can do this at your desk, in a cozy chair, or even in your car as you await the kids to come out of school. If you have a full 20 to 30 minutes, try napping.

  4. If you cannot go a day without a caffeine drip every couple of hours, then it's time to re-evaluate your work, social, parenting, and sleep schedule. Are you getting enough sleep? Can you get to bed sooner?

  5. Test out the smell-buzz yourself. When you're feeling low on energy, open up a can of coffee, or walk through a coffee shop that actually smells like one. If you feel the urge to order something, go for green or black tea instead.

According The National Sleep Foundation, more than 65 percent of moms drink caffeinated beverages to get through their day. See if you can count yourself among the other 35 percent.

This article is cross-posted on Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.