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Caffeine: What you should know

Last updated 5 years ago

Do you rely on caffeine to help wake you up in the morning or give you a quick pick-me-up mid-afternoon?  Caffeine definitely has its perks, but it can pose problems, too. How much caffeine is too much and do you need to curb your caffeine consumption?


Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviates fatigue, increases wakefulness, and can improve concentration and focus.

When to consider cutting back

For most healthy adults, moderate doses of caffeine, which is considered 200 to 300 milligrams (mg), or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day, isn’t harmful. There are some circumstances however, that may warrant limiting or even ending your caffeine routine.  Too much caffeine can lead to some unpleasant effects and excessive daily caffeine use, more than 500 to 600 mg a day, can cause:

·         Insomnia

·         Nervousness

·         Restlessness

·         Irritability

·         Stomach upset

·         Fast heartbeat

·         Muscle tremors

Are you extremely sensitive to caffeine?

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than are others. If you're susceptible to the effects of caffeine, even one cup of coffee or tea may prompt unwanted effects, such as restlessness and sleep problems.

What effects how a person will react to react to caffeine?  It may be determined in part by how much caffeine you're used to drinking. People who don't regularly drink caffeine tend to be more sensitive to its negative effects. Other factors may include body mass, age, medication use and health conditions such as anxiety disorders. Research also suggests that men are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than are women.

Don’t get into a viscous cycle

Caffeine can interfere with how well you fall asleep and stay asleep. Chronically losing sleep, even if it's from work, travel, stress or too much caffeine, can result in sleep deprivation. Sleep loss is cumulative, and even small nightly decreases can add up and disturb your daytime alertness and performance.

Using caffeine to mask sleep deprivation can create an unwelcome cycle. For example, you drink caffeinated beverages because you have trouble staying awake during the day. Then the caffeine keeps you from falling asleep at night, shortening the length of time you sleep.


Curbing your caffeine habit


Cutting back on caffeine can be challenging. An abrupt decrease in caffeine may cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability and nervousness. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually mild and resolve after a few days. To change your caffeine habit more gradually, try these tips:

·         Keep a journal. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you're getting from foods and beverages. It may be more than you think. Read labels carefully and be aware of what drinks and foods are notorious for having caffeine in them.  Be aware that not all foods or drinks list caffeine. Chocolate, which has a small amount, doesn't.

·         Cut back. But do it gradually.  Consider drinking one less can of soda per day or try a coffee like Maxwell House Lite, which has half the caffeine of the regular brew.  It is also helpful to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day.

·         Shorten the brew time or go herbal. When making tea, brew it for less time. This cuts down on its caffeine content. Or choose herbal teas that don't have caffeine.

·         Check the bottle. Some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine — as much as 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain relievers instead.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether caffeine might affect your medications. He or she can say whether you need to reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet. 

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Disclaimer: The materials provided are intended for informational purposes only. You should contact your doctor for medical advice. Use of and access to this website or other materials do not create a physician-patient relationship. The opinions expressed through this website are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the hospital, medical staff, or any individual physician or other healthcare professional.
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