If even the thought of giving up coffee sends shivers down your spine, you’re far from alone. More than 150 million Americans—and 90 percent of adults worldwide—drink caffeine every single day.
In safe doses (up to 400 milligrams a day), caffeine offers some serious perks, including improved alertness, sports performance, and reaction time. Research has even linked regular coffee consumption with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.
However, too much of a good thing can backfire fast—and sweet, sweet caffeine is no exception. People with heart problems (like arrhythmias or high blood pressure), certain mental health conditions (like anxiety or attention disorders), and pregnant women should all be extra cautious with caffeine—but anyone who experiences any of the following six symptoms should also consider cutting back.
1. Your Heart Rate Is All Over The Place
Caffeine stimulates your nervous system and tells your body to up production of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone adrenaline, which elevates your heart rate (blood pressure and breathing rate, too), says Sushrutha Nagaraj, AMRSB, research scientist for nutritional research company Almeda Labs.
Depending on your age and health, your resting heart rate should typically be somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute. If you notice a resting heart rate that’s 20 to 30 beats per minute higher than normal—even when you’re sitting at your desk with your cup of Joe—be wary. An unnecessarily high heart rate means your blood isn’t being efficiently pumped and transported throughout your body, says Nagaraj.
2. You Feel Unusually Anxious
The extra adrenaline that caffeine tells your body to churn out can also cause feelings of restlessness and anxiety in some people—especially as your heart rate and breathing pick up. Caffeine also stimulates production of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can have similar effects.
In fact, people who consume five or more cups of coffee a day are significantly more likely to experience anxiety, depression, panic disorder, and antisocial behavior, says endocrinologist Caroline Messer, M.D., F.A.C.E., E.C.N.U.
3. You Stare At The Ceiling All Night
Caffeine also blocks our receptors for adenosine, a chemical that typically makes us feel fatigued and sleepy. “So if people drink a caffeinated product within a few hours of bedtime, it stimulates the brain and keeps them from sleeping,” says Nagaraj. Long-term, drinking caffeine too close to bedtime can pull the body out of its natural sleep cycle and cause insomnia.
4. You Go Through Withdrawal
If a day or two without caffeine leaves you feeling irritable, tired, or barraged by headaches, you might want to consider extending your break from it.
We may not think of caffeine the same way we think of alcohol or other drugs, but it is, in fact, a drug that can be abused. The World Health Organization considers caffeine dependence a clinical disorder.
Relying on caffeine to get through work or social events, having a high tolerance to its effects (needing to consume more than 300 milligrams a day), and experiencing withdrawal symptoms without caffeine can all indicate dependence.
5. You’re Shrouded In Brain Fog
Your body naturally develops a tolerance to caffeine over time, meaning you need more and more of the stuff to feel the same ‘boost’. Eventually you can develop such a high tolerance that your body becomes completely desensitized to caffeine, and you stop feeling any boost at all. At this point, which also indicates dependence, you’ll likely even experience the state of tiredness and mental fatigue we often describe as ‘brain fog,’ says Nagaraj.
How To Cut Back (Without Being Miserable)
If any of these signs sound familiar, it’s time to get some space from caffeine. Just take it slow: Instead of going cold turkey, decrease your caffeine intake by about 25 percent every three to four days, suggests Nagaraj. And if your caffeine consumption comes in more than one form (coffee, pre-workout supps, tea, etc.), like a pre-workout, eliminate each beverage one-by-one over the course of about two weeks. This way you can wean yourself off completely without getting smacked with withdrawal.