Tea and coffee are two of the most consumed beverages around the world, losing only to water. Many adults drink coffee every morning to jump-start their day, while the younger crowd may use energy drinks to stay up through the night. If you have been drinking coffee, tea, or energy drinks for a while, you most likely have also experienced the dreaded effects of a caffeine crash.
Let’s talk about caffeine
Caffeine is a methylxanthine stimulant that is found in several plants. These include coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts (used in cola drinks), and cacao seeds (used to make chocolate). Alone, caffeine does not contain any calories or other nutrients. However, pure caffeine is quite bitter. Oftentimes, sweeteners and flavorings are added to improve the taste.
It affects more than just the brain and the central nervous system (CNS). Aside from combating drowsiness, caffeine has physiological effects on the heart, lungs, kidneys, and smooth muscles.
While coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks are safe for consumption, excessive amounts can have negative effects on the body. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, irritability, nervousness, increased heart and breathing rate, tremors, and even seizures (at high doses).
Toxicity can occur at around 10 grams of caffeine. For reference, a single cup of coffee may contain approximately 50-100 mg of caffeine. Experts suggest limiting caffeine consumption to 400 mg per day, which is approximately 3 to 5 cups of coffee.
Why does caffeine cause a crash effect?
As previously mentioned, caffeine is a stimulant. While it is not as potent or addictive as other stimulant drugs like amphetamines, our bodies can develop tolerance to it just the same.
Tolerance to any substance is typically caused by repetitive or long-term use. This happens because the receptors for caffeine in the body can get “used to it.” This is due in part to the body’s ability to adapt and maintain balance, or homeostasis.
When this happens, one cup of coffee won’t wake you up as well as it did the day before. Instead, you’ll need an extra shot of espresso or cup of coffee just to get the same effect. Over the weeks and months, you may find yourself drinking 4, 5, or more cups of coffee but still end up feeling sleepy.
Another factor that can cause energy crashes
Aside from copious amounts of caffeine, beverages like coffee, soda, and energy drinks can contain a lot of sugar. Typically, the type of sugar that is in these sweetened beverages are simple sugars like fructose.
The benefit of simple sugars is that it is quickly available for use by the brain and other organs. On the other hand, this extra sugar ends up stored as fat in the body. The sugar rush provided by sodas and energy drinks gives energy to the brain while caffeine makes the brain work more quickly.
After the initial sugar rush, an energy crash can happen. This is also known as reactive hypoglycemia. The body responds to the excess sugar in the blood by releasing large amounts of insulin, causing a spike. Insulin signals the liver to store extra sugar as glycogen, and the fat and muscle cells to take up glucose.
Because the body suddenly releases a lot of insulin into the blood, too much sugar can be taken out of the circulation. The sugar and caffeine crash symptoms include:
- Shakiness or jitters
- Fast heart rate (tachycardia)
- Difficulty focusing
Avoiding the effects of caffeine crashes
Time is money and many of us cannot afford to deal with the effects of a caffeine crash. The best way to avoid crashing is to drink coffee and other caffeinated beverages in moderation. If you enjoy the taste of coffee but have a day off from work, you can try drinking decaffeinated coffee instead. You get the taste of coffee with only minimal caffeine.
Taking a break from caffeine or cycling between low and high amounts gives your body a chance to recover. This reduces and prevents tolerance and crashes.
If you take sugar with your caffeinated beverages or drink soft drinks, you should also consume them in moderation. Too much sugar will not only lead to an energy crash, but the liquid calories may lead to weight gain and/or increase your risk of diabetes. Drinking black coffee, unsweetened tea, or sugar-free diet drinks are an alternative to reduce your sugar intake while still getting the benefits of caffeine.
As a final note, remember that coffee and energy drinks can never replace quality sleep. A power nap of 30 to 60 minutes can do wonders for your energy levels without resorting to caffeine. With a full 8 hours of sleep at night, you may even feel like a brand new person—all without the effects of a caffeine crash!
Learn more about Healthy Eating, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.