It’s no secret that a lot of us don’t function without caffeine. It’s the life-changing elixir that helps us get through Monday morning meetings, red-eye flights and late night drives. And coffee, one of our favorite sources of caffeine, is even known to have some great health benefits. But the sad truth is that your daily iced cold brew or Red Bull can have some unfortunate side effects — and can, at times, make your body feel worse after your initial buzz has worn off.
Now, we’re not here to tell you to quit cold turkey or to become a decaf person overnight, but we do have a few adjustments you can make to your daily caffeine routine that will still keep you happy, but most importantly, healthy.
You’re a little too jittery
Coffee is a central nervous stimulant. In other words, it directly targets your body’s most core processing system. The caffeine inside your coffee blocks adenosine receptors while increasing adrenaline, glutamate and dopamine, a combo that can cause your body to go into fight or flight mode.
“Caffeine triggers our heart rate and studies have conclusively shown that caffeine consumption raises blood pressure,” says registered nutritionist Elizabeth Yontz Moye. When your nervous system is targeted by too much caffeine it can cause you to not only have the jitters but mood swings and irritability.
Fix: “Swapping out your afternoon coffee for an afternoon cup of tea is a way to slowly reduce your caffeine consumption,” says Moye. She recommends trying herbal tea or decaf coffee as a healthy alternative.
You find yourself running to the bathroom…a lot
Coffee is a diuretic which means your need to urinate might increase, but the issues worsen with energy drinks. “Energy drinks are the worst source of caffeine in my opinion. Energy drinks contain the most caffeine in the least fluid ounces,” says Moye.
And with the extra caffeine comes the negative effect on your gut. The acidic content that comes with coffee and any citrus-based caffeinated beverages can trigger your body’s urge to hit up the bathroom…fast.
Fix: Stick to dark roast coffees to decrease your acidity intake. And when you can, eat a snack with your caffeinated beverage to slow down the movement of fluid through your stomach.
You have trouble getting enough ZZZ’s
Are there days when your afternoon conference call runs long and you miss your 3pm latte? It’s the worst, but the reality is that caffeine withdrawal or your body not consuming the amount it normally intakes can disrupt your sleep cycle. It can even cause flu-like symptoms if people don’t get their caffeine fix, says Moye. Coffee can also affect your body’s circadian rhythm that can lead you to feeling behind on sleep at all times.
Fix: Don’t drink coffee after 4pm to ensure your body can fall asleep at bedtime.
You crash during the day
Speaking of not getting enough sleep, if you find yourself going about your day and then hitting a wall that you cannot seem to overcome, your body might be relying too heavily on caffeine. “People who have never had a heart attack or keep their blood pressure well controlled should consume no more than about four 8oz cups of coffee,” says Moye.
Fix: Eat well. Consuming a balanced diet throughout the day will help your body stay alert and focused and keep your caffeine intake below four cups of coffee a day.
A version of this story was published February 2020.