The Relationship Between Caffeine and Anxiety


Affects Sleep

If you are feeling anxious and restless at bedtime, drinking caffeine during the day might be the reason. One research study out of the University of Zürich, Switzerland found caffeine consumption during the day affects the stages of deep, restorative sleep.

You need adequate sleep for your brain to function well and to be relaxed. And lack of sleep has been shown to induce anxiety symptoms.

According to researchers from Wayne State College of Medicine, Detroit, Michigan, caffeine consumed up to six hours before bedtime can affect your sleep.

Drinking Caffeine with Medication Increases Anxiety

We often forget that caffeine is a stimulant and doesn’t mix well with medications. In fact, caffeine doesn’t mix well many anti-anxiety medications, including Xanax and Cymbalta.

Mixing your medications with caffeine should potentially cause any of the following responses:

  • Heart palpitations or heart rhythm abnormalities
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and/or panic attacks

Caffeine Withdrawal Exacerbates Anxiety

For some people with anxiety, quitting caffeine can make them anxious and potentially cause anxiety attacks.

According to researchers from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, caffeine, much like substance abuse disorders, has withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxious feelings

The good news is most of the caffeine’s withdrawal symptoms last no more than few days. And if you do decide to quit caffeine, you may want to do it slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms and worsening anxiety symptoms.

Caffeine Will Worsen Other Anxiety Triggers

As you may already, anxiety attacks are caused by triggers. These can be anything from stress to diet, to negative thoughts, and so much more.

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For example, while coffee is only one trigger, it can worsen the effect other triggers have. How caffeine affects, you will depend on what your triggers are on a given day and how intense those triggers are.

So, if you drink two cups of coffee when you are sleeping well, eating well, and feeling relaxed, chances are you won’t notice any effects or have any anxiety related episodes.

But if you have two cups on a day where you only managed five hours of sleep the night before, didn’t eat breakfast, were running late for work, and had a crucial deadline at work, you may yourself experiencing significant levels of anxiety.

Give Green Tea a Try

Most caffeine-containing drinks, even coffee, hold little or no nutritional value. If you want something that can help you stay alert and is good for you, green tea is a better option.

Green tea contains EGCG and l-theanine. These two very important compounds can help you stay calm and focused.

One research study out of Kyushu University, Fukuoka, Japan, found that EGCG is just as effective for relieving anxiety as anti-anxiety medications. A second study from researchers at University of Shizuoka, Japan, finds that l-theanine increases alpha brainwave activity, which is similar to being in a state of experienced meditation.

The combined effect of the caffeine, EGCG, and l-theanine work together to bring about calmness and alertness, this according to researchers out of Swinburne University, Hawthorn, Australia.

The Bottom Line

Caffeine is not as harmless as most of us think.  There is plenty of evidence it may cause and worsen anxiety.

Caffeine worsens anxiety for in several ways. It increases stress hormones, reduces your happiness and motivation transmitters, holds little nutritional value, affects your sleep and may even offset the effect your anti-anxiety medications have.

If you want an alternative to coffee, green tea can help manage anxiety symptoms and offer a more relaxing option.

Resources

National Institutes of Health (Panic disorder and social anxiety disorder subtypes in a caffeine challenge test)

Bulletproof (Benefits Of Coffee: What Your Brain Does On Caffeine)

Mayo Clinic (Caffeine: How much is too much?)

University of Michigan Health Service (Caffeine)

BJPysch (Neuropsychiatric effects of caffeine)

National Institutes of Health (Caffeine affects cardiovascular and neuroendocrine activation at work and home)

National Institutes of Health (Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation)

Smithsonian magazine (This Is How Your Brain Becomes Addicted to Caffeine)

Precision Nutrition (Coffee and hormones)

Science Direct (Caffeine intake (200 mg) in the morning affects human sleep and EEG power spectra at night)

National Institutes of Health (Caffeine effects on sleep taken 0, 3, or 6 hours before going to bed)

Drugs.Com. (Caffeine)

Science Daily (Caffeine Withdrawal Recognized As A Disorder)

National Institutes of Health (Epigallocatechin gallate attenuates acute stress responses through GABAergic system in the brain)

Science Direct (L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans)

National Institutes of Health (Acute effects of tea constituents L-theanine, caffeine, and epigallocatechin gallate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review and meta-analysis)

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