Pumpkin spice latte season is upon us and – unless you’re trying your hand at TikTok’s latest homemade hack – you’ll likely be picking up a fancy coffee next time you’re on your way into the office. Just like old times, right? Except when you inevitably crash around 3pm, you can’t slope off to a bed for a cheeky ‘power’ nap.
We all know that drinking too much coffee has the potential to make us feel a bit woozy later on the day, but for most of us (AKA: me), it’s the magic sauce that actually enables us to work in the morning. Are we supposed to just ditch it? And what about withdrawal headaches? More importantly, does this mean we have to cancel our beloved coffee subscription? So many questions.
We decided to do a little digging into what actually causes these caffeine crashes, and whether anything (beyond quitting coffee entirely) can be done to prevent them. We chatted to Dr Simoné Laubscher, who formulated WelleCo’s range of ingestible beauty and wellness supplements and founded Rejuv Wellness, to understand our body on caffeine.
What exactly is a caffeine crash?
“Caffeine is a stimulant,” Dr. Simoné explains, “when you consume it, it stimulates your nervous system by increasing your brain activity. This can enhance focus and cognition, while delaying fatigue and often making you feel – and sometimes become – more productive.” Yep, this sounds like us around 11am.
However, Dr. Simoné points out, “Once the stimulating effects wear off, it can lead to a decrease in this productivity, and you can often become more tired and less able to focus. For some, these symptoms can be even more extreme, resulting in headaches, irritability and an inability to concentrate – and this is what is often known as a caffeine crash.” Yep, this sounds like us too.
What are the symptoms of a caffeine crash?
Dr. Simoné identifies that, “Symptoms of a caffeine crash vary depending on the individual, and can range from irritability and an inability to concentrate, to extreme tiredness and, for some, even dosing off. The reality is that, with caffeine, you’ve simply delayed the inevitable; when you have a caffeine crash, you’re feeling the symptoms that you were feeling before you consumed caffeine – but at a far more intense level.”
How long does a caffeine crash last?
“Caffeine hits a peak level in your bloodstream within 30 to 60 minutes and has a half-life of three to five hours (the time it can take for your body to eliminate half of the drug from your system). The remaining caffeine can stay in your body for 6+ hours, so you could be feeling the effects for this time and more. Anyone who chooses to withdraw from caffeine consumption all-together could be feeling the effects for days.”
Are caffeine crashes the same as sugar crashes?
According to Dr. Simoné, “Caffeine is safe for most people, and a caffeine crash is more about how and when it’s consumed than anything – consumed in the right amount and at the right time of day, it’s been proven to promote heart health and is a great source of Cafestol and Kahweol antioxidants, which are diterpene compounds that have been linked to cholesterol-balancing effects. Coffee has long been associated with fat-burning and appetite reduction due to its ability to delay stomach emptying and reduce appetite hormones.
“Sugar, however, has no health benefits; a crash is a sign of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels), and can often be a symptom of a high-sugar-carb diet. A high sugar diet can be incredibly dangerous, and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more; so over-consumption, regardless of when and how it’s consumed, is never a good thing.”
In the UK, the government recommends that our intake of sugar should be limited to 5% of our daily energy. According to the NHS, “Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to 7 sugar cubes).”
That being said, at GLAMOUR we recognise the importance of listening to and respecting your own body’s needs. If restricting sugar has the potential to trigger disordered eating patterns, such as crash dieting, we always recommend chatting this through with your GP.
How can I avoid having a caffeine crash?
Dr. Simoné explains that according to her research, “caffeine is a double-edged sword: while it can make you feel more alert, productive and motivated, for some, it can lead to hyper, feeling anxious, and reduced cognition and focus. Like most things in life, caffeine is on a bell curve – when incorporated into a balanced diet and lifestyle, it has many health benefits; but taking too much can lead to poor health and addiction, as with red wine.”
Here are Dr. Simoné’s top tips for avoiding caffeine crashes:
- Get your water to caffeine ratio right: If you would like to have one cup of coffee per day, then make sure you drink 2L of filtered water per day. If you would like another coffee, always marry in 500ml of water per day for every additional coffee, so you get the upside and avoid the downside.
- Have caffeinated drinks at least one hour away from meals and supplements: [As]caffeine will reduce absorption of key nutrients like iron and vitamin C.
- Prioritise your sleep: This will help reduce reliance on caffeine. Try not to consume [caffeine] after 2pm – particularly if you have trouble sleeping – due to aforementioned period of time that it remains in your body.