Can Caffeine Make You Tired? It Can, Here’s Why

can caffeine make you tiredCaffeine is the number one drug used throughout the world. Coffee, soda, energy drinks… they are all devices used to help us get through our work week. Over 100 million people in America consume at least one cup of coffee daily to boost their energy levels.

As a full-time student and writer, I know what it feels like to be bogged down by a heavy workload and wanting to cut back on sleep to fit more into the day.

Coffee is in my hand morning through late afternoon.

So, why am I exhausted by 4 PM? Caffeine is supposed to help out with that, right?

After doing research to answer this question, I have discovered some interesting information regarding why caffeine can increase feeling tired, and how to properly care for yourself to avoid a diminishing return.

How Coffee Interacts With Your Brain

This may be hard to believe, but coffee is a stimulant that interacts with your brain in the same way as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin.

Don’t be alarmed. Coffee’s effects are much milder and safer than any of these drugs.

When you wake up for the day your brain starts producing something called adenosine which binds to neural receptors. Throughout the day, more and more adenosine binds to your brain which slows down its processes. As you sleep the levels of adenosine go down which leads to you feeling fully awake by morning.

For more information, watch this video.

Heavy Coffee Drinkers May be Prone to Exhaustion

When you drink coffee, caffeine ends up replacing the adenosine in your brain which keeps you from feeling tired.

The problem with this is that our brains are phenomenal at adapting. To combat the caffeine using the adenosine receptors, our brain creates more receptors, and the coffee addict is born. At this point, if you try to cut out coffee cold turkey, your brain will have more receptors binding with more adenosine which makes you more tired than without the coffee.

In addition to this, coffee also helps produce both adrenaline and dopamine.

Adrenaline is what gives you the rush and dopamine makes you happy. These two hormones are the same produced when using drugs such as cocaine, only on much safer, smaller levels when coming from your cup of joe in the morning.

In short, the more coffee you drink, the more you will need to feel awake throughout the day.

What if I Catch Up on Sleep During the Weekends?

Our bodies run on a circadian rhythm.

When we deprive ourselves of sleep and try to catch up on the weekends it upsets the balance of this rhythm.

That is why people who sleep in on the weekends find Mondays to be the most tiresome.

When catching up on sleep, it is always best to catch up during the night and keep your morning wake up time sacred.

The average person needs anywhere between 7-9 hours.

If you know you have a long night, try sleeping more the night before your big day instead of trying to catch up by sleeping in the morning after.

Coffee is not a replacement for sleep. This is the problem most coffee drinkers find themselves experiencing. When your body is tired and you use caffeine to replace these hours you will find yourself consuming too much caffeine to help you sleep at night. The cycle intensifies the more often you do this.

What are Coffee Naps?

When people drink coffee, it takes about twenty minutes for the caffeine to digest and enter your system.

Remember how earlier I mentioned adenosine and how caffeine will replace it in our brains? Well, when you take a nap, all the adenosine clears from those receptors, making room for the caffeine to adhere to them.

The trick to making these naps the most successful is to time them and drink your coffee quickly right beforehand.

A quick double shot of espresso followed by a twenty-minute nap is the perfect combination to clear the adenosine, allow time for the caffeine to process in your body, and to fill the receptors with caffeine.

If you nap longer than the twenty minutes, it may make you more tired as it could trigger your body to fall into a deep sleep instead of just nap mode.

Okay, I get it. You have a stack of work on your desk and your brain just doesn’t turn off that fast for a twenty-minute nap.

That is fine. Studies have proven just being in a half-sleep state during those twenty minutes will still end up reviving you and making you feel more alert than without it.

Another great point about this is that those twenty minutes still contribute to the 7-9 hours you need each night.

Read more on coffee naps here.

Drinking Too Much Coffee Can Dehydrate You

Our bodies are composed mostly of water. Water helps balance the chemicals in our bodies, run our bodily functions, and stave off diseases.

Coffee itself will not dehydrate you as it is mostly composed of water.

However, coffee is a diuretic.

This means that when you drink coffee it will make you need to visit the restroom more often than if you drink other beverages such as water.

Dehydration occurs when the amount of water you are losing outweighs the amount you are intaking. In other words, if you drink more water than coffee you will be fine.

If you skip out on glasses of water in lieu of coffee, though, your brain will feel sluggish from dehydration. This will make you more tired which leads to more coffee and, without the appropriate amount of water, perpetuates the cycle of needing coffee to feel awake.

Water also has a lovely way of waking up your system. So, if you’ve already drunk multiple cups of caffeine, it may be time to drink a glass of water before pouring another cup.

Here is more information on what happens to your body when you are dehydrated.

Coffee Can Work Better for You: Here’s How

  • Stop drinking coffee past noon. By cutting back on your coffee intake, you will sleep better at night. This will also prevent your brain from creating more adenosine receptors which make you more tired in the long run.
  • Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep. Whether you break it up throughout the day or sleep throughout the night, getting enough sleep will help prevent coffee from having the opposite effect on your brain that you want.
  • Try a Coffee Nap. You hit a point in the day where it feels like you just can’t go any longer without a pick-me-up. It happens to all of us. Order that twelve-ounce mocha with espresso, down it, and set the timer for twenty minutes. You’ll protect your brain and wake up feeling more rested than if you had the coffee alone.
  • Drink Water. Failing to drink water while you intake caffeine can lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes your brain to feel sluggish and tired.

If you follow these steps you’ll be on your way to a more productive, lively day with a smaller dependency on caffeine.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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