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Caffeine Crash: How Can You Avoid Having One

July 14, 2021

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Just how much do American adults love starting their day with a cup of coffee? More than their smartphones, clean teeth, and chocolate, according to a survey of 1,000 men and women by McDonald’s. Rather than give up their morning caffeine fix

  • 38% were willing to go a day without their phones
  • 34% were willing to skip brushing their teeth when in a hurry
  • 55% were willing to sacrifice eating chocolate

Clearly, a jolt of caffeine in the morning is more than just a comforting routine for many people — it feels like a necessity. But it’s a habit that comes with consequences. While coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) may feel like “the best part of waking up,” there’s a price to pay later in the day.

Do you ever experience an afternoon energy slump that leaves you feeling lethargic, drowsy, and perhaps irritable? If so, you might be dealing with a caffeine crash, especially if you consume a lot of coffee or other caffeinated beverages in the morning. In this article, we'll explore what causes a caffeine crash, its symptoms, and how you can prevent it.

Caffeine: Friend or Foe?

Caffeine is the most popular stimulant in the world, and for good reason, as it’s naturally found within the fruits, seeds, and leaves of many plants. Some of the most common sources of natural caffeine are tea leaves, mate, guayusa, coffee and cacao beans, and kola nuts.

However, massive amounts of caffeine are produced synthetically in China and exported to the United States. Synthetic caffeine is the type you’ll likely find in energy drinks, sodas, and some supplements (such as energy boosters and weight loss products).

Caffeine Content in Common Drinks

Some of the most popular caffeinated drinks include coffee, tea, and soda. They each have different amounts of caffeine per serving. This chart can help you see the caffeine content of some of your favorite drinks. Keep in mind that these are estimates and exact numbers may vary.

Type of Drink
Amount of Caffeine
5-Hour Energy Extra Strength (1.9 oz)  230 mg
Monster Energy (16 oz) 160 mg
Cup of coffee (8 oz) 95 mg
Red Bull (8.4 oz regular or sugar-free) 77 mg
Mountain Dew (12 oz diet or regular) 54 mg
Cup of brewed black tea (8 oz) 47 mg
Diet Coke (12 oz) 46 mg
Dr. Pepper (12 oz diet or regular) 42 mg
Pepsi (12 oz diet or regular) 35–38 mg
Coke (12 oz) 34 mg
Cup of brewed green tea (8 oz) 25–29 mg

The Dual Nature of Caffeine

As the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance, caffeine is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it provides a reliable energy boost, but on the other, it can lead to unwelcome side effects if not managed mindfully.

Benefits of Caffeine

Caffeine is celebrated for its remarkable ability to boost alertness and cognitive function. There’s a reason that the top five sodas sold in the United States are all caffeinated.

When you reach for that steaming cup of coffee in the morning, you're not only treating your taste buds but also gearing up your brain for the day ahead. Caffeine's stimulatory effects can enhance focus, sharpen mental clarity, and provide the much-needed energy kick to kickstart your day. For many, it's the secret weapon to combating drowsiness and maintaining productivity.

Caffeine also has a well-established role in weight management. It can increase metabolism and promote fat burning, making it a popular ingredient in many weight loss supplements.

Moderate caffeine consumption has even been linked to a reduced risk of certain diseases, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. Some studies suggest that coffee may lower the risk of liver diseases. These potential health benefits have contributed to caffeine's widespread popularity, cementing its place as a daily ritual for most adults.

Risks of Caffeine

However, it's important to acknowledge the potential downsides of caffeine consumption. Excessive intake or sensitivity to caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, and disrupted sleep patterns. Caffeine withdrawal, characterized by headaches and fatigue, is common when individuals suddenly reduce their caffeine intake.

Caffeine's impact on the cardiovascular system can manifest as increased heart rate and blood pressure, which may be problematic for those with underlying heart conditions.

Its diuretic properties can lead to increased urination and potential dehydration if not accompanied by adequate fluid intake. It's crucial to strike a balance between reaping the benefits of caffeine and avoiding its negative consequences by consuming it in moderation and being attuned to your body's unique response.

Setting Your Caffeine Limit

With all of the benefits caffeine can offer, how much is too much? According to the FDA, it appears that adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day. That’s about the amount in four cups of coffee or nine Diet Cokes.

However, caffeine affects different people in different ways, and you may find that your tolerance is much lower.

The FDA further advises that, “There is wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).Certain conditions tend to make people more sensitive to caffeine’s effects, as can some medications.”

Too much caffeine can cause symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, irritability, and diarrhea. It can also cause increased thirst because it has a mild diuretic effect.

In cases of extreme caffeine consumption (also known as caffeine overdose), it’s possible to develop life-threatening symptoms such as trouble breathing, irregular heartbeat, and convulsions. Maybe you’d better think twice about doubling up on those energy drinks.

To set your personal caffeine limit, pay careful attention to how you feel when you drink caffeine. Do you notice a pleasant energy boost that gives you a jump start to your day? Or do you feel jittery, anxious, unable to fall asleep at night, or running to the bathroom frequently? Let your body be your guide.

The Science Behind the Caffeine Crash

Ever wonder how that morning cup of coffee can jolt you awake and banish drowsiness? Well, it's all about caffeine's clever dance with your central nervous system.

How Caffeine Boosts Energy

When you consume caffeine, it functions as a stimulant, setting off a series of reactions in your body. Caffeine deceives your brain by masquerading as adenosine, a neurotransmitter responsible for promoting relaxation and drowsiness. Adenosine typically binds to its receptors, sending signals to your brain that it's time to wind down and rest.

But caffeine swoops in and latches onto these same receptors, preventing adenosine from doing its job effectively. As a result, you feel more alert and awake because the message of tiredness doesn't get through as easily. This is why a quick caffeine hit is often the go-to remedy when you're seeking a quick mental pick-me-up.

How Caffeine Causes a Crash

However, what goes up must come down, and the post-caffeine energy crash is a classic example of this principle.

After the initial caffeine-induced surge in alertness, the effects start to wear off as caffeine is metabolized by your body. Once it's broken down, your brain's adenosine receptors are left without the caffeine imposter blocking their way.

Consequently, a flood of adenosine hits those receptors, signaling to your brain that it's time to catch up on the sleep and relaxation it missed. This sudden influx of adenosine is what often leads to the infamous post-caffeine slump, leaving you feeling fatigued and possibly even more tired than before you had that cup of coffee.

Understanding this process helps us appreciate the delicate balance between the energy boost caffeine provides and the eventual crash that may follow.

Preventing Caffeine Crash Symptoms

If you're not quite ready to bid farewell to caffeine, there are some strategies you can employ to savor its benefits without the ensuing crash. Give these practical suggestions a try to see how they can work for you:

  • Prioritize Sleep: It might sound simple, but ensuring you get adequate sleep at night can significantly reduce your daytime caffeine cravings. Striving for an optimal 7 to 9 hours of sleep not only leaves you feeling more refreshed in the morning but also sets the stage for healthier adenosine levels, which can help ward off a caffeine crash later in the day.
  • Spread Your Dose: If you're accustomed to downing your daily caffeine fix all at once, consider a more balanced approach. Spreading your caffeine consumption throughout the day can help stabilize your energy levels, preventing the roller-coaster effect often associated with caffeine rushes.
  • Time Your Caffeine Intake: As a rule of thumb, refrain from consuming caffeine within 5 hours of bedtime. Keeping the caffeine tap running late into the evening disrupts your sleep patterns and can leave you feeling groggy the next day. By making this simple adjustment, you'll be better equipped to enjoy caffeine's perks without compromising your rest.

Even if you're a dedicated coffee aficionado, incorporating these lifestyle changes doesn't mean you have to give up your beloved brew. It's merely a matter of fine-tuning the timing of your caffeine intake to ensure you reap its benefits without the pitfalls of excessive consumption or poor timing.

Transitioning Away from Caffeine

If you’ve made it to this section, you’re ready to get serious about modifying your caffeine-drinking habits. You’re ready for the challenge of limiting or avoiding caffeine altogether. Congratulations on making a decision that will boost your overall well-being in the long term.

Here are some healthy ways to transition away from caffeine:

  • Take supplements to cut back on cravings. You’re going to have some cravings when you first stop drinking caffeinated beverages, but you can minimize them with supplements.
  • Decrease your caffeine consumption slowly. Quitting cold turkey will likely leave you with headaches, extreme tiredness, and other withdrawal symptoms.
  • Check ingredients. Caffeine is added to many drinks and can even be found in some pain relievers. If your goal is to avoid it altogether, check ingredient labels carefully.
  • Switch caffeinated tea for herbal versions. Herbal tea is a satisfying warm drink that you can consume to replace your normal caffeinated version.
  • Try decaf. You can still enjoy the great taste of coffee without worrying about the effects of too much caffeine. Just opt for decaf. Many people don’t taste any difference.
  • Try a new drink. Instead of drinking coffee, tea, or energy drinks that are known contributors to mid-day crashes, try Herpower. This supplement helps you stay focused and energized throughout the day without the pesky crash and helps reduce your dependency on caffeine.
  • Nourish your body. We often get overly tired when our diets are missing the essential nutrients we need to stay vibrant and energetic. If you have to rely on caffeine to make it through the day, you may want to turn your focus to your diet. Consume plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and grains for optimal energy. If you feel like you need a little help getting the nutrition you need from your diet, try supplementing with a multivitamin product such as Hermulti or Hergreens which contains 14 variations of greens in just one serving.

A Balanced Perspective on Caffeine

Understanding the dynamics of caffeine consumption and its potential for causing energy crashes is vital for making wise, informed decisions about how much caffeine we choose to consume. While caffeine can offer a temporary energy boost and even some health benefits when consumed in moderation, it's equally important to recognize its limitations and side effects.

By setting your personal caffeine limit, practicing moderation, and implementing strategies to prevent caffeine crashes, you can enjoy the perks of caffeine without suffering from the dreaded caffeine crash. Better still, if you decide to transition away from caffeine, numerous alternatives and supplements are available to help you establish new habits.

Remember that sustainable energy doesn’t depend on caffeine; true vitality also hinges on a well-balanced diet, adequate sleep, and proper nutrition. Embrace these holistic approaches to ensure you have the stamina needed to conquer your day, without the rollercoaster ride of caffeine crashes.

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