“I don’t know how I could function without my coffee.”
“Please don’t explain the benefits of exercise until I’ve had my cup of coffee.”
Ashley - “Good Morning Terry!”
Terry - “Ugh, nobody is allowed to speak to me until I have my coffee.” (Drinks Coffee) 10 minutes later...
Terry - “Okay Ashley I’m ready to talk.”
Do any of these statements sound similar to things you say, hear or think when it comes to caffeine intake?
Throughout the world we consume over 2 billion cups of coffee per day and even though there
are major benefits to caffeine consumption the truth is we have become widely addicted to this
supplement . When we began consuming more
than the recommended amount of 200-300 mg
per day on regular basis the consequences began
to outweigh the benefits. Caffeine has the ability
to alter the way our bodies hormones naturally
function. This leads to poor sleep quality, energy
fluctuations throughout the day, brain fog,
headaches, and eventually weight gain.
Whether we love the impact or not though the
fact remains the same, most people love coffee
and it will continue to be one the highest produced/consumed products in the world. The idea
here is not say we shouldn’t consume caffeine, but instead to get educated on what’s actually
happening in order for us to benefit.
Caffeine naturally has a high affinity with our bodies. The forms of caffeine we consume are
delicious and when used properly helps put us in a positive state. For those simple reasons,
caffeine is highly addictive. The majority of consumers have a belief that caffeine “gives us
energy.” However, we must be made aware that caffeine does not “give us energy.”
While you’re awake during the day your body is producing a neurotransmitter by-product known as adenosine that decreases wakefulness and increases sleep (or likelihood of sleep). Adenosine has an effect on many parts of the brain, but it plays a major role in the basal forebrain which is responsible for cognition function (regulating arousal and attention; also, memory). Adenosine essentially slows or inhibits the activity of this part of the brain by stimulating the onset non-REM sleep.
So what does caffeine have to do with this?
Caffeine is a psychoactive substance (directly affects the brain), which gives caffeine the ability to cross the blood brain barrier and stimulate the central nervous system. Caffeine acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist meaning it can fit in certain adenosine receptor sites promoting wakefulness. This can potentially cause sleep disturbances and ultimately poor sleep quality. As adenosine levels reach a point within the brain where it would normally cause a response that it's time to get rest but caffeine has been consumed excessively or too late into the day these receptor sites are now filled by caffeine. This acts like the friend or pestering coworker who doesn’t get hint to go away. As a result of this the body doesn’t get the signal that it needs to wind down; therefore you’re able to continue pushing along.
What’s the problem? It sounds awesome we’re able to prolong our day and get more done...
Since adenosine is not able to fill its receptors the body will begin to function differently; stress hormone levels rise and your brain and organs are overworked because they’re not able to get the rest and recovery they need. Along with the nervous system being affected, the endocrine system is affected as well. Two powerful stress hormones are then produced excessively namely adrenaline (epinephrine) and cortisol.
Adrenaline is our fight-or-flight, go hard or go home, GET AFTER IT hormone. This is the hormone that allows us to exhibit great strengths; like a woman whose able lift a car to save her baby. It’s what allowed us to evolve and survive through evolution. But, in today's world we’re no longer running from a saber tooth tiger. Instead we’re overproducing it due to high amounts of mental and emotional stress, and also by abusing substances like caffeine. The downside to overstimulating this hormone is that when its spikes, everything is great and your operating at a high level. What follows is a crash below what you felt before you stimulated it. When that happens, you tend to not be a pleasant person to be around. That’s where we get statements like in the beginning of this article. With that the caffeine cycle starts or continues because we “need it” to “give us energy.”.
Cortisol has become a bad guy in the world now-a-days. This is due to the fact that we don’t understand its function. Cortisol is what allows us to be awake, energetic and alert; it gives us our strength and vitality each day. The problem lies in the fact that its either being under-or overproduced at the wrong times. Cortisol has a huge impact on our body’s daily rhythm. Think of it as your phone battery charged up in the morning (produced by your adrenal glands) upon waking up and by bedtime the battery is low and needs to be recharged. Cortisol levels are naturally high in the morning upon waking up with the purpose of allowing us to be alert, active, and enjoy our mission in life. But, our lives tend to not follow this natural rhythm. Most people tend to be tired throughout the day hence why we depend on caffeine. By bedtime were physically tired but still alert (our minds are constantly racing). This cycle starts and continues because we wake up not feeling rested. So what do we do? Drink more coffee.
According to bestselling author Shawn Stevenson in his book “Sleep Smarter” it takes about 12 days for our bodies to become blunted to the natural response of caffeine. Caffeine has a 5-8 hour ½ life depending on our biochemical makeup. Meaning that after 6 hours of consuming 200 mg you now have 100 mg in your system; after another 6 hours you now have 50 mg in your system and so on. Hopefully we can now see how consuming excessive amounts of caffeine (over 200-300 mg per day) and or having caffeine later in the day (<8 hours before bed) can affect your ability to sleep and recover properly.
Intelligent Caffeine Approach
After getting all this information most will probably think they need to completely stop drinking caffeine because it seems to cause so many long term problems. Others probably don’t care and that's okay as well. But, first let's look at some different approaches we can take either way.
For those planning on going cold turkey on caffeine consumption especially when you’ve been consuming more than the recommended amount for long periods of time just a warning, you may experience what’s known as caffeine withdrawal or hangover. The reason for this is because caffeine causes vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels), but when caffeine isn’t consumed vasodilation is caused which allows blood to flow to areas freely that were once constricted. This is mostly felt in the head and neck areas similar to migraines and can be portrayed as a headache.
Try a caffeined form of tea (Earl Grey, White Tea, Black Tea) instead. It’s not just the caffeine itself that matters, but the form in which you consume it matters as well. (Different forms of consumption impact the body differently). While doing this increase your water intake and add high quality sea salt (Mediterranean) because the kidneys will be excreting both fluid and salt as they’re working to change blood chemistry. Also increasing fiber intake will help with bowel movements because coffee is believed to stimulate bowel movements - this will help things continue to move along.
Set a caffeine curfew that will allow most of it to be out of your system before bedtime. (<8 hours before bed)
This approach is for someone NOT physiologically dependent on caffeine but feels really alert at night and can’t seem to fall asleep. Or they may be having recurring late nights for whatever reason and can’t pull themselves from bed in the morning. You can help get yourself back on the right path by causing a cortisol spike by consuming some caffeine first thing in the morning. (We learned earlier caffeine incites cortisol production using it in this sense will help get things moving in the right direction.)
For those that are dependent or use coffee regularly.
1. Go 2 days on and 3 days off; if healthy and not dependent on caffeine it can be cleared from your system after 3 days.
2. If you’re using the recommended amount (1-2 cups of black coffee, tea, or a pre-workout supplement) going 2 months on 1 month off is reasonable and shouldn’t cause any withdrawal symptoms.
3. Use as needed. This for those who don’t use caffeine regularly only when they “need it”; meaning a performance, something really important like a project or big speech - which only encompasses a few days. It’s used as boost not something that's dependent upon like food and water.
With all that's been shared in this article; caffeine is being used with the intention of getting the positive effects in both the short and long term. But, for many reasons such as misinformation, not truly understanding our bodies and or the effect caffeine has on it many don’t properly use it. My hope is that this article will help you make some positive changes that will help improve your health and overall happiness in life.
Author: Wendell Christian Jr., M.S., CSCS
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