Since most of us enjoy caffeinated beverages on a daily basis, caffeine withdrawal is something we all may deal with from time to time. You probably don't give much thought to caffeine being a stimulant, but it's the most widely used drug in the world. Of course, that doesn't mean it's bad for you. Caffeine has many health benefits and has Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status from the FDA. It provides extra energy, keeps you alert and focused, and has even been shown to protect against certain medical conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. However, people that regularly drink caffeine can develop a physical and emotional dependence on it. This means that if you stop suddenly, your body can go into withdrawal. But what does that mean to you, and is it something you have to worry about? Today we take a deep dive into what caffeine withdrawal is and how you can avoid dealing with these unpleasant symptoms.
What is Caffeine Withdrawal?
To understand what withdrawal is and why it happens, it's important to acknowledge that the body's goal is to maintain a certain amount of equilibrium. Your body works hard to make sure it exists in a state of steadiness and balance, also known as homeostasis. For example, when you don't eat for a while, you get hungry. You feel hungry when the stomach signals the brain that it's time to eat. If you eat to satisfaction, you bring your body back into a neutral state. When you introduce an external substance regularly that affects the body, such as caffeine, the body will expect that substance and consider it part of homeostasis. In other words, the body builds up a tolerance. If you don't provide the body what it's expecting, it lets you know by way of certain symptoms. These symptoms are known as withdrawal.
Imagine this scenario. You customarily drink two or three cups of coffee per day. One morning, something happens that throws a monkey wrench into your day, causing you to miss your normal cup of joe. You don't think much of it, but later on that day, you notice a slight headache and feel more tired than usual. The chances are good that you're suffering from mild withdrawal symptoms due to missing your morning coffee.
Caffeine withdrawal is considered an actual medical diagnosis, and mild symptoms can occur in people who abstain from caffeine after consuming only 100 milligrams of caffeine per day. That is the amount of caffeine in one 8 oz. cup of coffee.
Does That Mean I'm Addicted?
Caffeine addiction is a misnomer. Addiction refers to compulsive use of a substance despite harmful consequences, including the inability to stop using a drug. Most people do not compulsively consume caffeine, so it is not considered an addictive substance. That does not mean we do not become physically dependent on it. Physical dependency describes the body's tolerance of a drug in question, in this case - caffeine. It may seem like a fine line, but caffeine is considered safe when consumed by healthy adults. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the maximum recommended dose of caffeine is 400mg per day. It is noted that upwards of 13% of Americans consume more than that amount, some of them significantly more. Caffeine tolerances vary widely from person to person, so listen to your body and pay attention to signs that you may be drinking too much:
- Increased Anxiety or Nervousness
- Heart Palpitations
- Digestive Issues
What Are Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal?
The symptoms of caffeine withdrawal and how severe they become vary from person to person. For the majority of us, symptoms are mild and won't interfere with daily tasks.
Headaches are probably the most common sign of withdrawal. Caffeine inhibits cerebral blood flow by causing the blood vessels in the brain to narrow. When caffeine is stopped, the blood vessels widen, which causes an influx of blood to the brain. This brings on a headache.
Fatigue and a Decrease in Energy are also common symptoms. If you miss your morning caffeine hit, you may feel lethargic and have trouble finding your motivation. Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors within the brain, which is how it helps you feel more awake and alert.
Depression symptoms and signs of Irritability can also arise when suffering from caffeine withdrawal. Regular consumption of caffeine increases serotonin, the body's natural mood stabilizer. If your body has become accustomed to these increased serotonin levels, you could experience mood changes if those levels drop without the daily caffeine boost.
You may also find yourself Feeling Foggy or experience Difficulty Concentrating. Since caffeine increases how awake and alert you feel, suddenly going without can cause you to feel off as you go about your day.
It's also possible to suffer from more severe withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea/vomiting, constipation, heart palpitations, abdominal pain, and muscle stiffness, but this is very rare.
How Soon Does Withdrawal Start and How Long Does It Last?
According to one study, people typically start experiencing withdrawal symptoms anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine consumption. Duration of caffeine withdrawal symptoms last anywhere from two to nine days but usually reach their peak between one and two days after abstaining. They also noted that some people could experience mild withdrawal symptoms after only three days of caffeine exposure. However, the severity of symptoms increased in those who regularly consumed caffeine for more than seven days. It's also worthy to note that amounts of caffeine consumed can affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Someone who limits themselves to 100mg of caffeine daily is likely to have less trouble with withdrawal than heavy caffeine users whose daily caffeine intake is closer to 400mg.
How To Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
It may seem obvious, but if you are looking to reduce the effects of caffeine withdrawal, the quickest way is to drink something that contains caffeine. Coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks are all good sources of caffeine and can reverse unpleasant symptoms in a matter of hours. This will work great for people who aren't intentionally trying to cut caffeine out of their life. But if you are looking to reduce your overall caffeine intake or even quit altogether, how can you avoid feeling under the weather?
Take Your Time
The best advice is not to quit cold turkey. Reducing or eliminating the amount of caffeine in your daily diet should be done gradually so as not to shock your system. It would help if you gave your body time to catch up to the lack of stimulation and reach that equilibrium it strives for. If you average four cups of coffee per day, try going to three and a half for one week and then three the next.
Substitute If Necessary
Maybe you don't want to ingest the caffeine but are unwilling to give up that warm cup of coffee or tea in the mornings? Switch to decaf! That way, you're still able to enjoy the ritual, but you can work on reducing the amount of caffeine that goes into your system. You can even choose decaffeinated soft drinks or energy drinks based on B vitamins to help you stay alert.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Reducing the amount of caffeine you drink may still leave you tired and feeling like you lack energy. Getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep will help counteract those feelings and add to your energy reserves throughout the day.
Drink Lots of Water
50% of people that try to reduce caffeinated beverages will suffer from headaches. Drinking enough water will keep dehydration at bay which is one of the leading causes of regular headaches.
How Daily De-Caffeinate Can Help
While there's no doubt that your body develops a tolerance to caffeine, the benefits of our morning coffee definitely outweigh any disadvantages for most of us. As with most things in life, moderation is the key to enjoyment. But if you worry about how excess caffeine may be impacting your sleep, give Daily De-Caffeinate a try. It works with the body's natural enzymes to metabolize excess caffeine in your system. Take it two hours before you plan to sleep, and you'll have a natural acting sleep aid that allows you to sleep well while still enjoying your favorite caffeinated beverages all day long.