There are around 100 million people all over the world who drink coffee daily. Of these, as many as 60% say that a cup of coffee in the morning is an essential start to their day. But did you know that you are more likely to develop a caffeine intolerance as you age? And have you asked yourself, why do I feel dizzy after drinking coffee?
You may feel dizzy after drinking coffee because the beverage is a stimulant. Coffee contains caffeine, which affects your central nervous system. A moderate amount makes you alert, focused, and energetic. However, too much can make you feel dizzy, lightheaded, nauseous, anxious, and dehydrated.
In this article, I will discuss the effects of caffeine on the nervous system (particularly on the adenosine receptors), how much caffeine is safe to consume daily, caffeine dependence and withdrawal, caffeine intolerance, why you feel sick after drinking too much coffee, and what you can do to minimize caffeine crashes and jitters.
Can Coffee Make You Feel Dizzy?
It can be disconcerting to feel dizzy after your morning cup of coffee. Still, the reason coffee makes you feel more awake is precisely why you may also experience side effects like dizziness.
Coffee can make you feel dizzy because it affects your nervous system. For example, it makes your heart beat faster, your blood pressure rise, and it causes your adrenal glands to release more cortisol and adrenaline.
If you feel dizzy every time you drink coffee, you may have developed a caffeine intolerance or caffeine sensitivity. On the other hand, if you only feel dizzy sometimes after drinking coffee, you may have unintentionally overdosed on caffeine.
Caffeine Affects the Nervous System
Caffeine is an alkaloid that occurs naturally in cacao, tea, and coffee beans. Therefore, it can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, energy drinks, medications, and energy supplements.
Although its exact mode of action is not fully understood, we know why it has stimulating effects, which is why it can make you feel dizzy.
Caffeine Makes You Feel More Awake
Studies have found that caffeine is chemically similar to adenosine, a neuromodulator that accumulates in the brain during the day and decreases at night. It works by blocking A1 and A2 adenosine receptors, which makes us feel more alert and awake.
When caffeine is ingested, it quickly passes through the blood-brain barrier. That’s why you will feel the effects after just 5 to 30 minutes after drinking your morning coffee.
Caffeine stimulates the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary processes such as heart rate and digestion. This causes increased heart rate, rapid breathing, increased energy, and improved mental function.
It is also a vasodilator, which means that it opens up blood vessels and increases blood flow.
It Increases Adrenaline, Cortisol, and Dopamine
Caffeine elevates cortisol and adrenaline levels – mimicking the body’s natural reaction to stress. This is why too much caffeine can cause anxiety and panic attacks.
Caffeine is thought to trigger certain “feel-good” chemicals, such as dopamine, in the same ways that cocaine and amphetamines do. However, caffeine does not lead to dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens like “classic” drugs, but rather in the prefrontal cortex.
This is why caffeine addiction is not thought to be a “true” addiction but rather a dependency.
Positive Effects of Coffee
Although caffeine does affect the nervous system, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it provides the body with some health benefits, contributing to its overall popularity as a go-to beverage.
Coffee Helps You Feel More Alert
Coffee makes you feel alert for two main reasons. First, coffee increases your heart rate and opens up blood vessels so that more oxygen can travel to your brain. Second, coffee also stimulates the adrenal system, which floods your body with cortisol and adrenaline.
Coffee Has Pain Relieving Properties
Coffee has mild anti-inflammatory properties because it contains polyphenols, but this is not the only reason why it can provide pain relief. In addition, because caffeine is a vasodilator, it may help alleviate headaches.
It Can Lead to Increased Productivity
Besides feeling more alert, coffee can also enhance motor and cognitive performance, give your short-term memory a boost and lift your mood. These effects are favorable for learning and increased productivity.
Why Do I Feel Sick After Drinking Coffee?
Some people feel sick after they drink coffee. Drinking coffee can make you feel nauseous, lightheaded, and shaky. This is because coffee affects your heart, brain, and digestive tract.
You may feel sick after drinking coffee due to a caffeine intolerance or sensitivity, a caffeine overdose, because you have other health issues that affect your cardiovascular system, or because the acids in coffee irritate your stomach lining.
You May Have a Caffeine Intolerance
Caffeine intolerance (also called caffeine sensitivity) makes some people more sensitive to caffeine than others. As a result, when they drink coffee, they immediately begin to feel the side effects of a caffeine overdose.
For most people, caffeine has a half-life of around 5 hours – which means it is eliminated from the body around 10 hours after consuming it. People with a caffeine intolerance or sensitivity metabolize caffeine much more slowly than those who have caffeine tolerance.
This means that caffeine remains in a caffeine-sensitive person’s body for much longer, which leads to adverse side effects lasting much longer, too. People with caffeine intolerance may also feel tired and experience a “caffeine crash” without an initial energy boost.
You May Be Suffering From a Caffeine Overdose
According to the FDA, 400mg (0.014 ounces) of caffeine per day is generally safe for healthy adults – this translates to around three or four cups of brewed coffee a day.
However, the amount may vary for every individual according to weight, sex, tolerance, age, and even genetics.
While smaller doses of caffeine have the positive effects of boosting mood, metabolism, productivity, and cognitive function, more significant amounts can have side effects that feel similar to your body’s natural “fight or flight” response.
This is why drinking too much caffeine makes you feel jittery and nervous and can even lead to a caffeine overdose.
To complicate matters further, the caffeine content in coffee is highly variable. For instance, one “grande” coffee from Starbucks delivers around 330 mg (0.01 ounces) of caffeine, which is almost an adult’s entire recommended daily intake.
In addition, oral contraceptives and pregnancy can slow down caffeine metabolism, and smoking can speed it up.
Symptoms of a Caffeine Overdose
Although coffee overdose is rarely life-threatening unless you have comorbidities, you may experience unpleasant side effects if you exceed what you can tolerate. These include:
- Dizziness or jitters: Too much caffeine can cause dizziness due to its diuretic effects. Loss of water and electrolytes can cause dehydration, which can make you feel lightheaded.
- Insomnia: Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can throw your circadian rhythm off.
- Tinnitus: This can be caused by rapid heart rate and decreased blood flow to the brain.
- Headaches and migraines: Caffeine is a known trigger for migraines.
- Acid reflux: Since coffee is acidic, it can cause heartburn and indigestion.
- Gastric distress: Too much coffee can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
- Dehydration: Caffeine’s diuretic effects can cause dehydration.
- Anxiety. Since caffeine stimulates “stress” hormones, it can cause feelings of anxiety.
- High blood pressure: Caffeine increases heart rate.
These side effects occur because caffeine stimulates the nervous system and brain. Caffeine also causes an increase in “fight or flight” chemicals, such as adrenaline and cortisol.
How Serious Is a Caffeine Overdose?
The lethal dose of caffeine for a human is 150 mg (0.005 ounces) per kilogram of body weight per day. However, this can vary significantly from person to person. With coffee, though, the risk of a lethal overdose is small because you would have to drink around 50 to 100 cups of coffee in a day.
In large enough amounts, caffeine is toxic and can even be lethal if too much is consumed in a short period. But drinking that much coffee would be self-limiting because you are likely to begin vomiting before reaching the required level for toxicity.
The main concern regarding caffeine overdose is not only from coffee but from caffeine in powdered or tablet form. For example, one teaspoon of the powder contains 3,200 mg (0.11 ounces) of caffeine.
Another concern about unintentional caffeine overdose is when it comes to energy drinks, shots, and supplements. This is because the amount of caffeine in these products is not regulated by the FDA, and many college students combine them with alcohol.
According to the CDC, people between the ages of 15 to 23 who mix alcohol and caffeine are four times more likely to binge drink than others who do not.
They are also more likely to combine alcohol and caffeine with other drugs. They also may not feel as intoxicated due to the stimulating effects of caffeine, even though they are impaired.
You May Have Other Health Issues
Studies have not found a connection between caffeine and increased risk of heart disease.
Drinking dark-roasted coffee improves cognitive function and may even protect the brain from developing Alzheimer’s disease. But you should consult your doctor if you have any pre-existing conditions.
Caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive in the world. Millions of people rely on it for a boost every day. But is drinking coffee dangerous for your health?
Other factors may lead to adverse interactions with caffeine, including alcohol, prescription drugs, or pre-existing conditions. In that case, you should consider the amount of caffeine in your daily regime and consult a health professional.
Adverse Effects on the Body Linked to Caffeine
If you have any pre-existing conditions, excessive caffeine can emphasize those complications further. Too much caffeine can also lead to potential health issues in the future if not appropriately balanced.
Let’s take a look at some of those issues.
Bladder and Bowel Issues
Coffee has effects on the digestive tract by increasing peristalsis. This causes coffee’s laxative effects, but it can also exacerbate other digestive tract issues such as IBS and GERD.
Caffeine exacerbates GERD because it relaxes the muscles in the esophagus, which allows bile to travel up the throat.
Studies have also found that incontinence among women was more likely to increase if subjects had over 450 mg (0.02 ounces) of caffeine per day.
While coffee is loved by so many because of its ability to wake us up, it can also cause long-term effects in particular people who are already prone to mood and sleep disorders – such as insomnia and generalized anxiety disorder.
While low amounts of caffeine don’t seem to affect those who don’t have trouble falling or staying asleep, studies have shown that caffeine may decrease the total time spent in REM sleep, which causes us to feel tired upon waking.
It also lengthens the time it takes to fall asleep for individuals who already have a sleep disorder.
Because caffeine makes us feel more awake and alert by stimulating the stress hormone cortisol, it makes sense that an individual with an anxiety disorder may feel even more anxious after drinking coffee.
In the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder is listed as its own condition.
Although coffee’s primary purpose is to boost energy levels, the opposite can also be true. Ironically, caffeine can cause rebound fatigue when it leaves your system.
Caffeine may boost energy levels for a few hours, but participants in studies reported feeling more fatigued the next day.
When deciding if you should stop drinking coffee, an essential factor to consider is how your body reacts to it. If you are sensitive to caffeine or have an existing condition, your doctor may advise you to stop drinking it.
Coffee can exacerbate cardiovascular issues by increasing heart rate. A rapid heart rate can lead to atrial fibrillation – especially among young individuals who drink high-dose caffeine energy drinks. However, the case studies vary significantly from person to person.
Caffeine has been shown to increase high blood pressure in some individuals, which is a concern because it puts you at risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
High blood pressure damages arteries over time and eventually restricts blood flow to the brain and heart. Interestingly, individuals who are not used to caffeine tend to experience more severe effects.
If you notice any changes in your heart rate or chest pain after consuming caffeine, seek advice from a medical professional.
Although extremely rare, there is a link between caffeine and rhabdomyolysis, a severe condition caused by an infection, muscle damage, trauma, and snake bites.
It causes damaged muscle fibers to break away and enter the bloodstream, ultimately causing renal failure. Do not drink more than 250 mg (0.009 ounces) of caffeine per day to avoid rhabdomyolysis.
Changes in Brain Structure
Studies conducted by the University of Basel have shown that caffeine appears to decrease brain matter volume in those who drink it daily. After ten days, 20 participants in the study presented with a reduced volume of grey matter compared to the control group.
The difference was primarily in the hippocampus – an area in the brain that is essential for processing and consolidating memories.
While these results do not necessarily prove caffeine consumption causes brain damage, daily caffeine consumption appears to impact our cognitive machinery.
However, cessation of caffeine seemed to induce regeneration of grey matter, which implied that decreased brain matter due to caffeine is reversible.
How To Get Rid of Dizziness After Drinking Coffee
The best way to get rid of dizziness after drinking coffee is to avoid overdosing on caffeine. However, if you have a caffeine intolerance, you should consider how severe the symptoms are and if they warrant cutting out caffeine altogether.
Generally, if consuming caffeine is affecting your day-to-day life, it’s better to avoid it.
Manage Caffeine Intake To Avoid an Overdose
If you find yourself feeling the effects of too much caffeine, it could increase caffeine sensitivity or other contributing factors. Here are a few ways you can limit your caffeine intake:
- Try drinking coffee only when you need it. You don’t really need a cup of coffee right after you wake up because that’s when your body begins to produce cortisol. Instead, have your coffee when cortisol levels dip in the mid-morning or afternoon, and you need a pick-me-up.
- Keep a diary and document your caffeine consumption. Note how much you drink and how you feel – this will help you determine how high your tolerance is and if you have a caffeine sensitivity.
- Take note of specific situations that may lead you to drink too much coffee. These can be social situations or daily rituals. Being aware of these triggers will help you moderate your consumption.
- Taper down gradually if you want to cut down the amount of coffee you drink. You can do this by alternating every second cup with decaf or green tea, mixing decaf and caffeinated coffee, or decreasing the amount of coffee you drink by one cup per day.
- Take note of any other foods or beverages that you are consuming. Chocolate and soda may contain additional caffeine that you may not even be aware of.
- Drink plenty of water. Because caffeine is a diuretic, you may become dehydrated. This could exacerbate caffeine overdose symptoms.
- Get enough sleep. Making sure that you get enough rest will help you become less dependent on caffeine.
- Eat breakfast before having your coffee. This will reduce the likelihood of feeling the full effects of too much caffeine.
Learn to Treat the Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal
Although caffeine is not truly “addictive,” it is habit-forming. In addition, sudden cessation can cause withdrawal symptoms that can be flu-like. They include:
- Brain fog
- Abdominal pains
- Muscle aches
Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can last up to nine days. To lessen withdrawal symptoms, it is recommended to slowly cut down your daily caffeine intake rather than stopping altogether.
Staying hydrated and eating a balanced diet can also help alleviate withdrawal symptoms.
While coffee is a breakfast staple in almost every part of the world due to its energy and mood-boosting effects, individuals who feel dizzy or lightheaded after drinking it may have caffeine sensitivity or unintentionally overdosed.
If symptoms persist even after consuming small doses of caffeine, the best course of action is to stop drinking it. Caffeine sensitivity varies in each individual; there is no hard-and-fast rule about how much a given person can tolerate – it’s always best to listen to your own body.