Caffeine Hangover and Crash: What It Is and How to Avoid It

caffeine crash

Most people who consume caffeine have experienced a caffeine crash but is it possible to have hangover-like symptoms from consuming too much caffeine?

The answer to that is complicated but we’ll define both of these conditions and discuss how to avoid them.

Caffeine Crash

A caffeine crash usually occurs a few hours after a person has consumed a moderate to high dose of caffeine and was previously in a tired state.

Symptoms of a Caffeine Crash

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Dozing off

When a person is already feeling tired, they have increased levels of adenosine in their brains. If they consume caffeine, the caffeine molecule blocks the adenosine from attaching to its receptors in the brain. However, while the caffeine is keeping a person alert and energetic adenosine is continuing to build up in the person’s brain.

After a few hours, as caffeine is metabolized, its effects begin to wear off. The built up adenosine then floods its receptors which signals the body that it is time for sleep, but at a level much more intense than normal.

This is the feeling of the caffeine crash.

How to Avoid a Caffeine Crash

  1. The first step in avoiding a caffeine crash is to get adequate rest. Starting out the day with normal adenosine levels helps prevent a crash.
  2. Spread out your caffeine consumption throughout your workday. For example, instead of having two coffees back to back in the morning, have one in the morning and another at lunchtime.
  3. Keep your caffeine dose within reason. A single dose of more than 200 mg of caffeine at one time can lead to a caffeine crash.
  4. Don’t consume caffeine on an empty stomach. Food provides real energy for your body and caffeine only provides a temporary sense of energy. Without real calories, the body will quickly feel fatigued and tired once the caffeine wears off. Eat a healthy breakfast along with your dose of caffeine.
caffeine hangover

Caffeine Hangover

Is it possible to become drunk on caffeine and then experience a caffeine hangover the next day?

Yes, and no…

As caffeine is a stimulant the term “drunk” isn’t a good descriptor of overconsumption. The word “high” better describes the feeling of having more caffeine than you normally do.

What goes up must come down. When a person comes down from having too much caffeine, it can feel like a hangover.

  • Drastic changes in daily caffeine consumption can trigger a caffeine headache which is similar to the way someone feels when they are hungover from alcohol.
  • Because of the high levels of caffeine, the neurotransmitter adenosine was able to build up in the brain. Once the caffeine is metabolized, the brain is flooded with adenosine which causes feelings of extreme tiredness and lethargy.
  • Too much caffeine can also cause nausea and vomiting which is another may it can mimic the consumption of too much alcohol.

How to Avoid a Caffeine Hangover

Avoiding a caffeine hangover means controlling your caffeine consumption.  This is a two-fold process:

  1. Know the amount of caffeine in the beverages you are drinking.
  2. Be aware of your safe dose based on your age and weight.

By only consuming a daily caffeine amount that is safe for your body, a caffeine hangover will not have a chance to manifest itself.

Using Caffeine Wisely

Both of these common problems can be prevented by using caffeine in moderation and as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

The moment we use caffeine as a replacement for sleep or in excess, we negate the benefits the drug can potentially deliver.

Get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and then use caffeine to give you that extra edge of alertness and productivity that will help you do your job or your studies to the best of your abilities.

If you are frequently suffering from caffeine crashes and/or caffeine hangovers it may be time to quit caffeine or cut back on your consumption.

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Last Modified: October 1, 2016

References

  • Silverman, K., Evans, S. M., Strain, E. C., & Griffiths, R. R. (1992). Withdrawal syndrome after the double-blind cessation of caffeine consumption. New England Journal of Medicine, 327(16), 1109-1114. link
  • Fredholm, B. B. (1995). Adenosine, adenosine receptors and the actions of caffeine. Pharmacology & toxicology, 76(2), 93-101. link