Does your daily routine involve gulping down several cups of coffee? You’re not alone, of course. Coffee just makes the day go better, right?
But if you’re a habitual coffee drinker, suddenly skipping your beloved beverage might trigger unpleasant caffeine withdrawal symptoms ─ especially the most common symptom, headache pain.
Coffee, of course, is not the only caffeinated culprit that may cause withdrawal headache. Caffeine occurs naturally in tea, dark and milk chocolate, cocoa-based beverages, coffee-flavored products, and cola drinks. It can also be found in energy drinks, in most stay-awake pills, in congestion and pain medications ─ and lately, in caffeinated water! Even “decaf” coffee isn’t totally stimulant-free.
Considering reducing your caffeine intake? Check out these frequently asked questions:
Caffeine is a bitter substance derived naturally from dozens of plants. It is also a drug, and the most popular one at that. It ranks as the world’s most widely used psychoactive ingredient, although its use is considered a dependency and not an addiction.
Caffeine very effectively lifts your mood, battles fatigue, and keeps you sharp, alert, and focused. (But you already know that!)
An estimated 80-90% of the U.S. population rely on at least one caffeinated beverage per day to give them this boost. In fact, the average American adult consumes 200 mg of caffeine daily, equal to two 5-ounce cups of coffee or four 12-ounce colas.
If you’re a regular drinker of caffeinated beverages, caffeine goes to work 5 to 15 minutes after you consume a cup. Once in your bloodstream, it rapidly stimulates your central nervous system (brain, nerves, and spinal cord) and is widely distributed throughout your body. It enhances chemicals within the brain that help regulate both motion and emotion.
The result? Elevated mood. Increased alertness. More energy and greater endurance.
But for most consumers of caffeine, its positive effects tend to peak within 30 to 60 minutes. And in just 4 to 6 hours, the benefits of that cup of caffeine significantly diminish, as your body efficiently processes and eliminates the drug.
Because caffeine does not accumulate in our systems, healthy adults suffer no long-term effects from moderate consumption of about four cups per day.
Remember, caffeine is a drug. Erratic consumption of any caffeinated product – say, drinking coffee at the office but abstaining when the weekend arrives…or sudden fasting before medical testing…or simply quitting cold turkey – may induce some level of caffeine withdrawal.
For most adults, experts recommend limiting daily caffeine consumption to 300 mg a day, or about 3 small cups of regular roasted coffee. But for regular users accustomed to 2 to 4 six-ounce cups a day, even a few-hour delay in caffeine consumption can trigger caffeine withdrawal.
When caffeine enters your central nervous system, it narrows the blood vessels in your brain and reduces blood flow. One study found that less than three cups of coffee can reduce cerebral blood flow by as much as 27%. Your brain becomes accustomed to the constricted blood vessels and dependent on caffeine’s ability to keep it alert and focused.
But then, if your usual dose of caffeine is delayed or stopped, a rebound occurs:
The blood vessels relax, enlarge, and allow an unexpectedly heavier blood flow to the brain. And a withdrawal headache is underway.
While typically not a serious condition, severe headache from caffeine withdrawal can cause several days of discomfort and pain. What does this headache feel like?
The International Headache Society defines a caffeine withdrawal headache in this way:
Caffeine withdrawal headache also may be accompanied by fatigue or drowsiness; depression, anxiety, or irritability; trouble concentrating; flu-like symptoms; and even hand tremors.
So, if you’re a regular consumer of caffeine, ask yourself these questions to determine if caffeine withdrawal may be causing uncomfortable side effects:
If you can answer “yes” to any of these questions, you may be experiencing caffeine withdrawal.
Follow these 8 tips to tackle a headache that comes with caffeine withdrawal:
Note: Be sure to consult a physician for a headache that persists a week after stopping caffeine, or if you experience related dizziness, vision change, confusion, or memory loss.
Caffeine is a drug and, in many ways, a paradox. Regular caffeine intake can offer you increased energy, better focus, and a feeling of well-being ─ but caffeine withdrawal is often quite uncomfortable.
Although tapering or quitting caffeine isn’t a dangerous step, it can trigger debilitating caffeine withdrawal headache or migraine, as well as other uncomfortable side effects.
Be sure to pace your withdrawal from caffeine ─ and follow healthy practices (sleep well, eat fresh foods, and drink plenty of water) ─ to minimize or relieve your headache symptoms.
Do you experience head pain or know someone who does? Check out The Mable Blog for insights from medical experts, plus information on the latest in effective migraine treatment.
Is it a headache…or migraine? Take this quiz to find out.
Questions about Mable? Visit our Help Center.