Headaches, Lethargy, and a Good Night’s Sleep: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Side Effects of Caffeine Withdrawal.

Since my last entry, I vowed to stop taking caffeine products for 30 days. From personal experience, quitting caffeine cold turkey was not the smartest decision. To be completely honest, I was not able to go through with it. When the headaches and tiredness came, I caved in and headed to the first Starbucks I saw. Completely removing it from my diet was not doable. Even though I did experience some of the side effects associated with caffeine withdrawal, I count it as a learning experience and it definitely opened my eyes to this infamous stimulant we all tend to consume.

Worldwide, caffeine is the most commonly used drug. Judy Fortin, CNN Medical Correspondent estimates that “80 to 90 percent of North American adults and children consume caffeine products every day” (2009). While the daily recommended dosage should not exceed 200 mg, the average amount of caffeine in a brewed cup of coffee ranges from 95-200 mg. This means that once you have your first cup of coffee in the morning, you are very likely to go over the limit if you consume certain types of sodas or energy drinks. We can easily cross that line when it comes to chocolate.

Researchers claim that the more caffeine one consumes, “the more likely [they are] to suffer from severe withdrawal symptoms when denied the ingredient” (Fortin, 2009). The severity of your withdrawal symptoms can be directly correlated with the amount of caffeine you can consume. I can admit that I am an “addict” or “dependent” on caffeine for daily function. As expected, I experienced several distasteful side effects when discontinuing caffeine use.
images The immediate symptom was the pounding headaches that came on the first day. It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill headache, but one of those that felt like someone was drilling into my brain. Then, the pain moved slower, like hot lava was slowly melting my head into pieces. Ultimately, I was very grumpy and irritable with everything. In attempt to better understand the mechanism of caffeine withdrawal, researchers from the University of Vermont College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine partnered up to investigate the phenomenon. To do so, they monitored blood flow and electrical activity of the brains of during caffeine withdrawal. The results indicate that “acute caffeine abstinence increased brain blood flow, an effect that may account for commonly reported withdrawal headaches” (2009).

While the headaches persisted, a great sense of lethargy loomed over my body. I felt extremely weak, with no motivation to do anything. While begin in school, that might be a common symptom experienced by an over-worked student who does not get a full night of sleep. But this was not a common fatigue. It was more like the tiredness when you feel sick. Research studies show an increased theta rhythm, or brain waves, which has previously been associated with common withdrawal symptom of fatigue. This confirms that the absence of caffeine tricks your brain into sending out fatigue signals, which are commonly reported as tiredness and sluggishness.

sleepy There is a silver lining, though. Throughout all these unpleasant events going on in my body, I was definitely able to get more sleep. While consuming high amounts of caffeine can lead to insomnia, reducing your daily intake can enhance your sleeping cycle. By the end of the day, I was able to simply lie down in bed and enjoy a night of uninterrupted sleep. I was overjoyed with this aspect of not having caffeine.

From this experience, I have learned to take it slow when reducing my intake. I can’t go cold turkey again. While this is no heroin and cocaine, it is still a stimulant and it does affect your nervous system dramatically. Researchers instruct patients to gradually substitute decaffeinated products or non-caffeinated products over time in order to reduce the likelihood of experiencing withdrawal symptoms. (Fortin, 2009). I have drastically trimmed down my daily dosage of caffeine. I am trying to only drink my coffee in the morning, leaving enough time for the substance to leave my body before I go to sleep. This ensures my good night of sleep.

Again, I am not here preaching people to abandon caffeine in general. It does have its beneficial aspect. I just think we have to be more observant on when we put into our bodies, so we can live a healthier life. I am advocating for a healthier lifestyle, not the abandonment of such stimulant. Caffeine, like other drugs, should be administered in moderation.

References:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090501162805.htm

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/04/06/hm.caffeine.withdrawal/

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