BY MARYGRACE TAYLOR Friday, December 11, 2015
Coffee is magic. It energizes you and improves your memory, and has been linked to a slew of health benefits like lower blood pressure and cholestoral levels.
But miss one cup, and suddenly you feel like total crap.
The reason: Caffeine is like a drug—one you can get hooked on after just 3 consecutive days of drinking it, according to research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. And regularly consuming just 100 milligrams (mg) of caffeine—the amount in 8 ounces of weak coffee—can cause feelings of withdrawal, the study found.
If your body is used to daily caffeine, skipping one cup is enough to throw your system out of whack, leading to fatigue, headache, irritability, and more annoying issues, says Laura Juliano, Ph.D., a psychology professor at American University.
However, you’re bound to miss a cup every now and again. Or maybe you want to give up the habit altogether. So we looked into the science behind your coffee addiction, and the best ways to beat it.
Caffeine and Your Body
Your body produces a chemical called adenosine when you get tired. As these new adenosine molecules bind to the adenosine receptors already in your brain, you start to feel even sleepier.
So you chug a cup of coffee to wake up. Caffeine molecules enter your system and bind to those adenosine receptors, giving you an instant energy boost, Juliano says.
As your body gets used to the amount of coffee you drink, it begins to churn out more adenosine receptors. That means you need more caffeine molecules to give you the same energizing rush as before.
But when you skip your coffee, all those extra receptors that are usually filled with caffeine are instead filled with extra adenosine. Your brain isn’t accustomed to this new ratio, Juliano says, which can lead to fatigue and withdrawal symptoms.
In addition to feeling exhausted, expect a headache, too. Caffeine causes your blood vessels to constrict, which reduces blood flow to your brain.
So when your brain expects to be flooded with the stimulant—like in the morning when you first wake up—it signals your vessels to dilate and increase blood flow before you even take a sip, Juliano says.
If you don’t drink java, however, this extra blood volume goes straight to your head, causing a throbbing headache.
Missing caffeine can also make your irritable, foggy, anxious, and even depressed, according to a review in the journal Pharmacology. That’s likely due to the same blood flow effects.
If you’re really unlucky, you might even develop muscle aches and flulike symptoms, feel nauseous, or actually puke. However, more research needs to be done to pinpoint the exact mechanisms behind these additional pains.
Usually, you’ll start to feel the effects of skipping a morning dose by mid-afternoon.
How to Survive Missing Your Morning Coffee
If you want to avoid these symptoms altogether, then just stick to your normal morning coffee habit. (You might notice, though, that you gradually need more and more ounces to get the same buzz.)
If consuming a cup coffee is out of the question for some reason, and you want to stop feeling like crap, take some Excedrin: A two-pill dose packs about as much caffeine as an 8-ounce coffee.
Want to kick your caffeine habit for good? Quitting cold turkey is a bad idea.
Instead, gradually wean yourself off caffeine by decreasing your coffee intake over a 4-week period.
Say you normally drink 4 cups a day. After 1 week, cut back to 3 cups. After two weeks, 2 cups. After 3 weeks, 1 cup. Go caffeine-free at 4 weeks, Juliano says.
You may still experience some withdrawal symptoms. If that happens, take ibuprofen, which doesn’t contain any caffeine, Juliano says.