Some days, you can take on the world without looking back. Other days, you may need some help to meet the day. Usually, that help comes in the form of coffee like espresso or iced coffee drinks. Coffee is a great pick-me-up, especially when the mid-afternoon overwhelming need for a nap hits. Why do you think some cultures have siestas?
Tiredness is universal. Work days are long, and despite coffee being a great tool to help you wake up and feel energized, sometimes it can have the opposite effect. We’re going to dive into why your current coffee practice may not be serving you best, what the effects of coffee on your central nervous system are, and how to avoid the effects of a caffeine crash.
Caffeine Crash Course
If you are like half of the United States, you most likely drink coffee every day. Coffee has seen you through some good days and probably through the bad ones as well.
Despite being the go-to item when people are feeling sleepy, sometimes coffee can actually be the cause of the tiredness cycle. You have heard of caffeine, the main source of energy you get in your daily cup of coffee, but have you ever really wondered what it is and what it does?
What Is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance that can be found in a variety of different plants. Coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao pods (used to make chocolate) all come from plants commonly known to contain caffeine. Despite caffeine being a natural compound, some pharmaceutical companies also manufacture artificial caffeine to add to certain products.
People react to caffeine differently depending upon how fast they metabolize it. However, the generally recommended amount is 400 mg of caffeine per day. This amount of caffeine is equal to about four cups of coffee that are about eight ounces each.
Depending upon their sensitivity to caffeine, some people may feel better drinking more or less than the standard recommended amount.
What Does Caffeine Do?
Caffeine is helpful in boosting energy and stimulating nerve impulses and cognitive responses, as well as boosting a person’s mood. If caffeine can do all that, how does it respond to our nervous system?
The human body is full of hormones that help us metabolize food, exercise, and even rest. The hormone responsible for stimulating your body to relax is called adenosine. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain, kind of like a roadblock in traffic. The more caffeinated beverages your drink, like coffee drinks or energy drinks, the less adenosine is released and the more hormone buildup there is, like a traffic jam.
This raises your heart rate and your perceived energy level, making you feel alert and active. However, when caffeine begins to leave your system, that build-up of adenosine comes flooding into your brain, making you feel drowsy or groggy, usually somewhere in the middle of the afternoon. This is what’s known as a caffeine crash (similar to the sugar crash kids get after lots of candy) and our usual response to it is to just drink more coffee, which can begin the blocking of adenosine again.
While blocking adenosine can be helpful during the day, having caffeine in our systems too late can prevent us from feeling sleepy when we want to — at bedtime. As you’ll read later, this can affect our sleep-wake cycle.
How Do I Avoid Caffeine Crashes?
Like everything in life, there are pros and cons to consuming caffeine on a daily basis. You may be given a boost in the morning, but after an hour or so, you may feel more tired than before due to withdrawal symptoms.
We are going to dive into ways you can help your body find that balance without completely sacrificing your daily dose of coffee.
Coffee, since it contains caffeine,is a diuretic. Diuretics are cleansing stimulants and they purge your body of salt and water more quickly. To put it plainly, the more coffee you drink, the more water you need to balance out the fact that coffee rids your body of more water than it is used to. After too much coffee, you may even experience dry mouth.
A good way to ensure you’re drinking enough water to break even with your coffee consumption is to drink two cups of water for every cup of coffee. Yes, it will still mean you have to make more trips to the bathroom, but drinking water and staying hydrated also helps your body to feel energized and can boost your metabolism.
Don’t Drink Coffee on an Empty Stomach
As mentioned before, hormones help us function in a balanced way. Once they are out of whack, it’s hard to rebalance them. Hormone imbalances can have some very detrimental effects on our bodies. Getting dehydrated from too much coffee is just one way our hormones can become unbalanced.
Drinking coffee on an empty stomach is another way to create an imbalance in your body. Since caffeine is a stimulant, it kicks your metabolism into high gear. However, when your body doesn’t have anything but coffee as fuel to function, you may end up experiencing shakiness, low blood sugar, and tiredness. So, when you’re feeling tired, coffee might not be the best idea to grab first.
Try grabbing a granola bar or eating a sandwich and then enjoying your morning brew.
Enough Is Enough Caffeine
The average person can feel the effects of caffeine for four to six hours after consumption, even though your body experiences the peak of these effects after just an hour. The more you drink, the more likely you are to feel the negative results as opposed to the boost you are looking for.
Many of these effects are due to the release of the stress hormone cortisol, a neurotransmitter that puts your brain in “fight or flight” mode.
Shakiness, headaches, stomachaches, and anxiety are just a few signs your body may be giving you to back off on the coffee a little bit. This doesn’t mean you have to cut off coffee completely, but it is a sign that you should slow down and make sure you’re giving your body the other nutrients it needs.
So, Should I Just Switch to Decaf?
At this time, you’re probably wondering if you should even drink caffeine if it can have so many downsides. Decaffeinated coffee is an alternative if you're looking to slow your caffeine intake without giving up coffee in general. However, there are more ways than one to ensure your body stays within its limits with caffeine.
Set a Time Limit
If you know you’re sensitive to caffeine and have been struggling to fall asleep or experience chronic fatigue, the amount of coffee you’ve been drinking may be affecting your sleep-wake cycle.
To help restore your cycle, it can be helpful to have a cut-off time from drinking regular coffee. Depending on your sensitivity level, anywhere from 3 to 5pm is a good time range to know you should switch to decaf, or just keep drinking water instead. Test it out, give yourself a limit, and practice self-discipline while helping your body adjust.
Back in Black
Do you tend to add a lot of sugar and cream to your coffee? That is all well and good for taste, but it may also be contributing to a quicker caffeine crash, especially if you are not eating when you drink your coffee.
Switching to black coffee can help eliminate all the extra sugar and quick stimulants that creamer and sweeteners can add while lessening your chances of crashing in the afternoon.
Black coffee is a great option to help with energy crashes, but some coffee drinkers need that hint of sweetness to really enjoy coffee. In these cases, coffee concentrates like our Mocha Coffee Concentrate or Pistachio Coffee Concentrate have all the sweet benefits of a smooth and creamy caffeinated drink without playing with your blood sugar levels.
Plus, our coffee concentrates are super quick and easy to use. So even if you are running out the door, you’ll have time to grab the breakfast bar for a balanced morning coffee experience.
Moderation Is Key
There is no standard that will ever be accurate for every single person when it comes to a diet that balances everything. Everyone is different, and our bodies respond and react to substances uniquely.
One person could drink twelve cups of joe and not feel a thing (this amount of caffeine consumption may lead to caffeine withdrawal and other effects and is not recommended). On the other hand, another person with a low caffeine tolerance could have just one cup and start to feel the jitters.
Ultimately, you need to listen to your body and what it needs. If you are unable to sleep, you may want to cut back on your coffee and up your water intake. If you are resting well at night but still feel sleepy during the day, you may want to add some more caffeine into your daily routine. Know yourself and what your body needs, and don’t feel guilty about grabbing an afternoon pick-me-up on tough days.
Thoughts for Your Coffee Cup
Coffee may be an essential part of your day. However, without a good balance, caffeine may contribute to your feelings of tiredness and lead to afternoon energy crashes. Keep our tips in mind to help you stay alert and active all day long without having to give up your daily cup of joy.
Caffeine's Connection to Sleep Problems | Sleep Foundation
Caffeine | MedlinePlus
Tired or Wired? | NIH News in Health
Fatigue | Mayo Clinic