Coffee jitters and how to stop them

Coffee can mess with you. One cup might kick your brain into gear and get you on a really productive roll, but another might completely destroy your ability to focus. One minute you’ll be pounding away at the keyboard and feeling unstoppable, the next minute you’re googling “how to stop coffee jitters.”

Most coffee drinkers have had the unpleasant experience of going a bit too far with the caffeine. Once you’ve crossed that line, you really want to go back.

You can’t, of course, but there are a few things that have been scientifically proven to mitigate the coffee jitters. And a few others that haven’t been scientifically proven, but that many people swear by nonetheless.

How caffeine works in your body

Caffeine is an imposter. It looks an awful lot like adenosine to the nerve cell receptors in our brain. Adenosine is a compound produced in the brain that settles down our brain activity by binding to nerve cell receptors. It helps us get to sleep.

Because caffeine is so similar, it can bind to those nerve cell receptors and block adenosine from doing its thing.

But caffeine does nothing to slow down brain activity. So brain activity runs amok, and our adrenal glands interpret this as a sign that we’re having an emergency. They start producing more adrenaline to put our bodies into “fight-or-flight” mode. The muscles tense, the heartbeat quickens, and we’re ready for action.

How much caffeine is too much?

Science has shown that adults can have 400 mg of caffeine a day with no negative effects. That number has not changed over the past couple of decades, even as research is updated. It’s equivalent to about four small cups of coffee a day. Ninety per cent of Americans consume less than that.

How much caffeine is just right?

This will differ for each individual. People vary in their sensitivity to caffeine, and recent research has shown that we can divide people broadly into three groups based on how quickly their livers metabolize caffeine, and whether they carry a gene that makes their nervous system more susceptible to caffeine’s effects.

Signs that you’ve had too much caffeine

When you do go overboard, you could experience a number of symptoms. They include:

  • racing heartbeat or palpitations
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • restlessness
  • sweating
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • muscle tremors

These aren’t things you want to be dealing with in the middle of your workday, so let’s turn our attention to some tips that might help.

7 ways to stop caffeine jitters

Drink water

Coffee and water
That water’s gonna help. (© Filip Mishevski | Flickr)

You may have noticed that you pee a lot when you drink a lot of coffee. That’s normal, because caffeine is a diruetic (it increases production of urine). Urination contributes to dehydration, so replacing some of that water is an important first step to feeling better. Just don’t try to replace it all at once or you’ll spend your entire morning in the bathroom.

Eat food

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can make you prone to jitters. If you feel them coming on, a healthy snack or meal can certainly help. Make it low in sugar and high in fibre, with fruits and vegetables at the core. Apples, pears and carrots are good.

For the longer term, move toward a diet that’s high in green-leaf vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Studies have shown that these veggies boost your body’s production of CYP1A2, the enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the liver. If you drink a lot of coffee, you’ll want to have a lot of CYP1A2 on hand.

Broccoli kale and cabbage
If you eat a lot of vegetables like broccoli, kale and cabbage, your body will be well supplied with the enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the liver. (© Charles Smith | Flickr)

Drink herbal tea

Green matcha tea can help with coffee jitters
© Dion Teach | Flickr

The folks over at Death Wish Coffee recommend this one, and since they may be responsible for more coffee jitters than any company on the planet, we’ll let them have their say.

Teas like green tea and matcha contain a compound called L-theanine that can counteract some of caffeine’s sleep-deprivation effects. Plus, tea helps you rehydrate.

Go for a jog

Your body is feeling extra energetic, so expending some of that energy through exercise should help. Get out for a brisk walk or a jog.

Many people swear by exercise for getting rid of the jitters, but how it accomplishes this is a matter of some debate.

“Caffeine is metabolized by enzymes in the liver,” toxicology expert Alexander Garrard told Broadly. “Exercise isn’t going to speed up the liver. You may feel like you’re getting rid of the energy, but the caffeine is still there.”

As long as you feel better, that’s what matters.

Lie down or meditate

This is the opposite of exercising. If you’re heart’s already racing and you don’t think a brisk cardio workout is likely to help, then you can try to slow it down.

Lie down. You may not be able to fall asleep, but even just resting horizontally can bring your heart rate down considerably.

If you’ve ever done yoga or meditation, you know that sitting still in a comfortable position and focusing on controlled breathing can accomplish the same thing.

Consume citrus fruits and juices

We get our vitamin C from citrus, but a lot of that goes down the drain when we urinate, because vitamin C is a component of urine. Eating oranges, grapefruit, Kiwi fruit and strawberries can put that vitamin C back in your body.

Grapefruit slices
Grapefruit slices are a perfect snack for replenishing Vitamin C. (© Alan Levine | Flickr)

Coffee’s acidity also lowers the pH of your blood, which then has to borrow calcium and magnesium from your bones and muscles to bring things back into balance. Try eating some almonds or beans to boost this mineral content in your body, and you may feel less depleted.

Wait it out

This will work, eventually. Caffeine stays in the body for 4-6 hours, so if you can’t figure out how to stop coffee jitters, know that they should gradually recede as your liver goes to work. This too will pass.

1 thought on “Coffee jitters and how to stop them”

  1. Tea!!! I also love both but I couldn’t live without tea. I try to stay away from caffeine so that makes my options slightly more limited, and tea has so many more choices for decaf than coffee does (I also prefer iced coffee over hot). Teavana teas are my favorite. I love anything fruity, decaf green tea, and lemon black tea. There are very few teas that I dislike other than chai!

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