I Hate to Love Coffee

Caffeine side effects.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH Do you enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning? By means of Passport, the Starbucks Rewards card automatically appears on my iPhone locked screen whenever I am within a mile of the coffee baristas. Email alerts coax me with perks to return, inching ever closer to a coveted Gold Level. As much as I love coffee, my visits are more often to pick up beverages for friends or a quick breakfast wrap. This is because I am a recovering coffee addict.

There was a time when I scoured coffee shops in search for the finest beans. My coffee maker brews a single cup at a time for optimum flavor. The aroma of bulk coffee beans permeating a supermarket isle beckons me to inhale deeply. The perfect brew needs no coffee masking additions like whipped cream, syrup or sugar, although foam on a cappuccino is sometimes appreciated. When the acidity and water ratio is just right, it can be enjoyed black, straight from the pot.

Like millions of other people, my day began with a stimulating 12-oz cup of java; another accompanied me throughout the morning; one was enjoyed with lunch and another with dinner. If I couldn’t get it out of mind, I might find myself on a late-night trip to Starbucks for a cup of Cafe Americana.

Blog: Coffee Compromised Equilibrium

The amount of coffee that I used to drink in one day is now cut in half and spread across an entire week — usually limited to one or two days with fresh-brewed decaf. This drastic reduction is not because of any animosity towards Arabica. It’s because I dislike the negative aftereffects more than the temporary pleasure of consumption.

What Would You Do For A Good Night’s Sleep?

Few people realize that caffeine is as much a stimulant as it is a sedative. The cycles are what cause most people to consume coffee throughout the day. The sedative effects are more pronounced than the stimulus in my case. This can lead to fatigue, early retiring for the night, followed by very early morning awakening between 1 AM and 3 AM.

Small doses of decaf (a cup or two) are generally uneventful. But somewhere around four cups within 48 hours and my caffeine sensitivity puts me at risk for what resembles night terrors. There is a sudden awakening from sleep, sweating, confusion, rapid heart rate, inability to explain what happened.

Neurochemical Benefits of Aerobic Exercise

The molecularly similar shape of caffeine allows it to fit into and block adenosine receptors embedded in the surface membranes of neurons. Adenosine is a neuromodular that regulates serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetycholine. Research suggests that exercise, sunlight and a stress-free environment increase brain serotonin function in the human brain. By disrupting the circadian rhythm of sleep-wake cycles, an imbalance in serotonin results in restless sleep. This can cause us to wake often, leading to lack sleep at night and desire sleep during the day.

Caffeine and Adenosine Molecules
Caffeine and adenosine molecules
Molecular diagrams of caffeine (left) and adenosine
6-amino-9-β-D-ribofuranosyl-9-H-purine (right).

An inexpensive way to counteract sleep disturbance is to have some cardiovascular exercise throughout the day. This not only burn calories, it releases endorphins and other neurochemicals while reducing levels of the body’s stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, allowing better rest. If nonpharmacologic solutions don’t help, a medical professional can help restore neurochemical balance.

Blog: Foods That Put Insomniacs To Sleep

I still love a good cup of coffee, but mostly sip decaffeinated herbal teas or purified spring water. However, when I eventually reach the Starbucks Gold Level, I would like treat myself to a cappuccino. Then I’ll run around the block and hope for the best.

Tags: addiction, alternative medicine, insomnia, mental health, neurologists

  1. Caffeine and the central nervous system: mechanisms of action, biochemical, metabolic and psychostimulant effects. Nehlig A, et al. nih.gov
  2. Neurologic Effects of Caffeine. Jasvinder Chawla, MD, MBA, et al. medscape.com
  3. Sleep terrors (night terrors). mayoclinic.org
  4. Night Terrors. healthline.com
  5. Benefits of exercise – reduces stress, anxiety, and helps fight depression, from Harvard Men's Health Watch. harvard.edu
  6. Serotonin Keeps You Sad and Sleepy. bu.edu
  7. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Simon N. Young. nih.gov
  8. Photo by PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay.