For many of us, a morning cup of coffee is a beloved ritual. For others, sipping a caffeinated beverage in the afternoon offers a much-needed quick pick-me-up. No matter how you use caffeine, the reason you use it is likely the same: It helps you get — and stay — energized and focused.
But caffeine also comes with some not-so-nice effects, like insomnia, headache and even irregular heartbeat.
“While some individuals believe that caffeine has no effect on them, others may not be able to tolerate a single cup of tea or coffee,” says certified nurse practitioner Ehden Iachini, MSN, FNP-C. “Every individual responds differently to caffeine.”
If your caffeine intake is taking a physical toll, it may be time to cut back.
Sources of Caffeine
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers up to 400 milligrams of caffeine each day as safe for most healthy adults. If you’re pregnant, the American College of Gynecology recommends limiting your caffeine intake to no more than 200 milligrams a day.
To help you put that in perspective, here are common drinks and their caffeine content.
|Coffee (eight ounces)||80 to 100 milligrams|
|Energy drink (eight ounces)||40 to 250 milligrams|
|Green or black tea (eight ounces)||30 to 50 milligrams|
|Soft drink (12 ounces)||30 to 40 milligrams|
Some supplements and medicines may also contain caffeine, so be sure to read the labels.
Even drinks labeled “decaf” can still contain some caffeine, just less of it. For example, an eight-ounce cup of decaf coffee has between two and 15 milligrams of caffeine.
Some foods contain caffeine, too. An ounce of chocolate has around 12 milligrams. Even your favorite scoop of ice cream may contain caffeine, especially if it has coffee or chocolate in it.
Reducing Your Caffeine Intake
Reducing the amount of caffeine you drink may lead to benefits, including:
- Better hormone balance.
- Fewer headaches.
- Healthier sleep patterns (and more of it!).
- Improved blood pressure.
If you’re considering cutting down on your caffeine, start with the afternoon. If you drink caffeine later in the day, it affects your sleep quality. And while caffeine may make you feel awake, it’s not a substitute for sleep.
“It can take four to six hours for your body to metabolize half of the caffeine you consume,” says Iachini. That means if you drink 100 milligrams of caffeine (a cup of coffee) at 5 p.m., you still have 50 milligrams in your body at 9 p.m. And that doesn’t factor in any caffeine you had earlier in the day.
Abruptly cutting your caffeine intake could lead to withdrawal. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal
can include anxiety, fatigue, headache, irritability and poor concentration.
Here are a few ways to reduce unpleasant side effects:
- Get regular exercise. While exercising seems like it should take away your energy, it can actually help. By getting regular exercise, you can give your energy a natural boost.
- Increase your water intake. Staying well-hydrated can help boost your energy and mood. It can also help prevent headaches.
- Make gradual changes. Decrease the amount of daily caffeine you consume bit by bit. If you try to reduce your caffeine too quickly, you’re more likely to experience side effects. Start by drinking smaller portions or taking just one drink away.
- Try “half caff.” If you drink coffee, try filling your cup with half regular coffee and half decaffeinated coffee. If you drink soft drinks, swap every other one with a decaffeinated version. You could also cut your serving sizes of caffeinated drinks in half.
If you need additional support cutting your caffeine intake, talk to your primary care provider. They can help you create a plan to cut back that considers your individual caffeine tolerance, current health and overall wellness goals.