Symptoms of Caffeine Crash or Withdrawal

Coffee contains a potent psychoactive chemical called caffeine. This chemical is the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive drug. Caffeine can affect the neural activity in your brain and temporarily provide you with increased awareness, alertness, and reduce fatigue.

However, as you consume more of this substance you can get addicted and experience physical symptoms similar to withdrawal when you stop drinking coffee.

This feeling of withdrawal is what we call the “caffeine crash”. The symptoms usually start 12-24 hours after your last cup of coffee. Here are the most common symptoms that you may encounter.

A caffeine crash is another way of saying caffeine withdrawal. The symptoms are very similar to withdrawal symptoms because IT IS withdrawal.

Some people may be more susceptible to caffeine crashes due to their body’s lack of ability to metabolize caffeine. There is research that suggests that some people have genetic markers that increase the likelihood that they become heavy coffee drinkers.

The half-life of coffee is around 6 hours to eliminate half the caffeine in your body for a normal adult. If you want to avoid the negative effects and never experience a caffeine crash, it would be best to wait for the caffeine to fully leave your body after 48 hours.

Here are the most common symptoms of a caffeine crash.

1. Headaches

Headaches are a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal. However, surprisingly caffeine can also help with headaches, that is why it is included in a lot of popular pain relievers. The secret is… just never stop drinking coffee!

All jokes aside caffeine reduce inflammation and that gives relief to most common headaches. Oddly enough this can also be the cause of why you may get caffeine crash headaches. Since the reduction of inflammation narrows the blood vessels around your brain, once you stop drinking coffee they expand again, causing pain.

These headaches will stop once your body gets used to the increased blood flow again. An ice pack or some rest will help solve your problems as well.

2. Fatigue

Many of us drink caffeine daily to give us the energy to get through the day. It is logical that once you stop drinking coffee you will feel fatigued because you aren’t getting the caffeine your body is dependent on to make you feel energized.

Drinking less caffeine can leave you drowsy and fatigued. This is because when the caffeine enters your body it is absorbed by your small intestine and eventually makes it through your bloodstream to your brain. It then inhibits your adenosine receptors which are supposed to control your drowsiness and helps you sleep. Once you stop drinking caffeine the built-up adenosine will finally have a chance to bind to your adenosine receptors and make you feel tired and fatigued.

There have been studies done on regular coffee drinkers that show not drinking coffee for 16 hours is enough to cause feelings of fatigue.

Your body also excretes cortisol in response to drinking coffee. If you drink multiple cups of coffee the effects of the caffeine become diminished and your body stops producing cortisol. This cortisol is what is necessary for our bodies to feel awake and energized.

3. Irritability

We’ve all noticed that coffee drinkers may be more easily annoyed before their first cup of the day. This is due to the lack of caffeine and experiencing a caffeine crash due to not drinking coffee for over 8 hours.

Coffee and caffeine only persist in the body for 4-6 hours and after a full night of sleep that is enough time for our body to start experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

If this particular individual drinks coffee for energy it may seem that it increases their mood. Caffeine also has mood-enhancing effects which can make coffee drinkers seem irritable before their morning cup of joe.

4. Difficulty Concentrating

As stated before caffeine arouses the nervous system by blocking the absorption of adenosine which causes you to feel drowsy. It also releases dopamine and other neurotransmitters which cause you to feel more alert.

This is the perfect combination of effects to increase concentration which is one of the reasons so many people around the world drink coffee. However, in comparison, once your coffee wears off you may have difficulty concentrating.

By constantly relying on caffeine to raise your heart rate, blood pressure, and release chemicals to improve your alertness and focus negatively affects your body’s natural ability to concentrate. As a result, you can struggle to concentrate because your body is accustomed to having caffeine.

Caffeine also increases the level of adrenaline in the body. This is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland, also known as the fight or flight hormone which is usually in released as a response to stress. When there is adrenaline pumping through your blood vessels, your brain becomes fully oxygenated and laser-focused because your brain is preparing to either fight or run.

This sets you up to easily complete cognitive tasks that you may find difficult when you are not full of caffeine and adrenaline.

5. Anxiety

If you drink a lot of coffee a day and stop drinking it cold turkey you may experience feelings of anxiety. This is because your body is physically and mentally dependent on caffeine and the resulting caffeine crash from not drinking coffee can cause anxiety due to withdrawal.

This is especially the case if you usually drink your coffee with any sugar additives. By cutting out your coffee you are also potentially cutting out a large portion of sugar that you usually drink. There have been studies done on animals that show that cutting out sugar can cause symptoms of anxiety.

Coffee already may cause anxiety because it is a stimulant that increases heart rate and blood pressure. It also releases cortisol and epinephrine which are stress hormones.

Anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of people who have stopped drinking coffee.

If you’ve ever felt any of these symptoms after cutting coffee you may have felt coffee crash induced anxiety:

  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling

Normal caffeine can provide symptoms very similar to anxiety if you drink enough. If you have anxiety already drinking coffee can make your symptoms even worse.

6. Compounded Sugar Crash

If you drink coffee with sugar, milk, honey, or syrup you may be experiencing a sugar crash along with your caffeine crash. Your blood sugar is one of your body’s sources of energy and because you are consuming sugar your body creates insulin to absorb and use the glucose.

After a while, your blood glucose levels will decrease and this is a sugar crash. This can create the feeling of lethargy and can make you feel hungry, irritable, anxious, and a lot of the other symptoms of a caffeine crash. If you ate a pastry with your coffee that would also add to this effect.

How to Prevent Caffeine Crash

Any avid coffee drinker has probably experienced one caffeine crash in their life and would never want to experience it again. Due to physical dependence, the caffeine crash usually results from extended periods without coffee.

There are a few ways to prevent caffeine crashes. To either be less reliant on caffeine and identifying the reason why we drink so much coffee. Or quit drinking caffeine and coffee so we are no longer physically dependant on them.

Here are some reasons why you can be drinking coffee and how to potentially stop being so reliant on caffeine.

Stop Drinking Coffee for Energy

We all started drinking coffee because it is a stimulant for our brain and gives us the energy to tackle the day.

However, over time our bodies build a tolerance to the coffee and more specifically the caffeine so we no longer get the energy boost. We do, however, still feel all the negative side effects of caffeine addiction.

Mithridatism is the practice of ingesting small amounts of poison to build up resistance. This is essentially what we are doing when we drink caffeine every day.

Instead, you should try to stop drinking as much coffee and focus on getting a good night’s sleep.

How Coffee Affects Sleep

A lot of us will turn to a cup of coffee to remedy a poor night’s sleep, but this coffee may actually be causing our tossing and turning in bed. Even if you don’t drink coffee before bed the coffee half-life is 6 hours so even after 12 hours there is still 25% of the caffeine from your coffee floating around in your bloodstream.

You can call into something called the “coffee cycle” which leaves you tired and using excessive amounts of coffee and caffeine to remedy an issue caused by itself.

By drinking less coffee you will see improvements in your sleep quality and as a result, you will be well-rested and be more energized the next day.

A regular sleep schedule of 8 hours or more is not only effective for promoting good health but prevents you from abusing caffeine and caffeine crashes.

Hydration Prevents Caffeine Crashing

Water is an important part of preventing caffeine crashes. This is because you may be dehydrated without even knowing!

You don’t have to be fainting to be dehydrated. When you’re feeling tired and not productive at work, think to yourself, “Have I drank water today?”, instead of reaching for a cup of coffee.

A 1998 study showed that 75 of Americans are chronically dehydrated and aren’t even aware of it.

Another study showed that just one percent dehydration decreased worked productivity by 12 percent and it just gets worse from there. At 3-4 percent dehydration it can bring the worker productivity by 25 percent.

By staying hydrated and drinking the recommended amount of 11 cups of liquid a day will leave you feeling a lot more energized and focused without overloading on caffeine.

Don’t Quit Drinking Coffee Cold Turkey

If you regularly drink coffee you have already built up a physical dependence on coffee. By stopping coffee cold turkey you will experience caffeine crash and withdrawal.

Your best bet is to slowly wean yourself off coffee by slowly decreasing the amount of coffee each day. Just slowly decrease the amount you drink per day until you are no longer drinking any coffee.

There have been studies done that show regular caffeine drinkers that abruptly stopped experience moderate to severe headaches, mood disturbances, and fatigue.

Wrapping Up Caffeine Crashes

If you are feeling tired after drinking your coffee you may be experiencing a caffeine crash. You can avoid caffeine crashes by properly utilizing caffeine, properly resting, hydrating, and slowly drinking less coffee.

This doesn’t mean you should quit drinking coffee, but use caffeine in a more healthy and sustainable way.


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