Many of us love a great cup of coffee but how well informed are we about the effects of caffeine on our mental wellbeing?
Stress and Anxiety
When we are stressed or anxious, our body’s stress response is activated which triggers a number of physiological changes to help us prepare to fight or flee the threat that has triggered this. This all happens through the release of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, which are stimulants.
Caffeine is also a stimulant and can be found not only in coffee but also teas, energy drinks and some fizzy drinks. As a stimulant, caffeine can bring on some of these physiological changes. The result of this can include us feeling restless, on edge and jittery or experiencing palpitations. If we are already experiencing stress or anxiety, caffeine can exacerbate some of these existing symptoms.
Caffeine can also interfere with our sleep as it impacts the hormones that our body produces to help regulate our sleep-wake cycle. We know that sleep is essential for both our physical and mental health and so not getting enough good quality sleep can have an adverse effect on our health and wellbeing. If this is prolonged, this can result in an increased risk of anxiety and depression.
I work with people on a regular basis who swear that caffeine doesn’t affect their sleep. Some tell me, ‘I can have an espresso before bed and get to sleep fine!’ If this sounds like you, what you need to know is that although you may get to sleep fine, research has shown that caffeine reduces the quality of your sleep. With sleep, both quality and quantity is important, so even if you feel you’ve had enough sleep, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are sleeping well.
Caffeine is a diuretic which means it causes us to urinate more frequently. This can result in us losing more water than usual and if we’re not drinking enough water, this can cause us to become dehydrated. When we are dehydrated, our blood pressure can drop which can make us feel light-headed or dizzy. Dehydration can also make us feel tired and struggle with concentrating which. Difficulty focusing can impact on productivity and so exacerbate our sense of stress and anxiety. Tiredness may ironically result in us reaching for the caffeine. You can see here how we can end up in negative cycles.
If you are struggling with stress and anxiety or simply looking to improve your wellbeing, it may be helpful to consider reducing your caffeine. Here are some tips you might like to try:
Check your drinks
You may be drinking caffeinated drinks without realising. Green tea contains caffeine and a lot of fizzy drinks do too. What you drink with your dinner or before bed may be getting in the way of a good night’s sleep!
Monitor your caffeine intake.
By noticing what you drink and when, you’re in a better position to find ways to make changes. For example, you may notice you drink your morning coffee out of habit rather than enjoyment. You may find you accept tea from a colleague who offers to make it when you don’t really fancy it. Or maybe you notice you’re making a brew to warm up, and so can think of other ways to stay toasty.
If you enjoy the ritual or activity of going for coffee or taking a coffee break, think of alternative drinks you could have instead. Tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee and many herbal teas are caffeine free.
Try switching to de-caf.
If you love your tea and coffee and can’t bear the thought of going without, you might like to try switching to de-caf. However, keep in mind that de-caf is not the same as caffeine free so still keep an eye on how many cups of tea or coffee you’re sipping throughout the day!
Coffee usually gets a hard time when we’re talking about caffeine because it contains 2-4 times as much caffeine as black tea. But if you get through several cups of tea in a day, these caffeine levels can add up fast and take you into coffee territory! So, switching to de-caf tea may also be worth considering.
Find other ways to re-energise.
If you’re turning to caffeine as a pick me up, try a short burst of exercise, some fresh air or a brisk walk to re-energise yourself. Taking regular breaks or having a change of scene can also help refresh you throughout the day.
It takes eight hours for caffeine to fully leave our system so an afternoon coffee may be running more interference with your sleep quality than you realise. Avoiding caffeine in the afternoon is important for sleep. Try setting a cut-off point for your caffeine-intake.