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Caffeine Crash: Why Coffee Makes You Tired

Why does coffee make me tired, when it’s supposed to wake me up? Coffee is the most widely consumed stimulant in the world, with most coffee drinkers attesting that they simply can’t function without it in the morning.

In theory, coffee should wake you up and get you going, giving you a little pep in your step. However, coffee does just the opposite for some people — it drags you down and makes you feel tired.[1]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266969/

If you fall into the latter category, there are a handful of reasons coffee may not be working for you. In this article, we’ll explore why coffee might be making you tired and what to do about it.

Why Does Coffee Make You Tired?

Drinking coffee should give you extra energy and focus, but if you notice that whenever you consume coffee, you end up more tired than before, it could come down to a handful of reasons.

Caffeine Results in Too Much Cortisol

Caffeine is a natural stimulant for your nervous system. This is why when you drink a cup, it wakes you up, you feel more alert, and sometimes you may even get a little jittery.

While feeling alert and focused is a fantastic benefit of caffeine, the downside is that caffeine also stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol.[2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/

Cortisol naturally rises when you wake up in the morning, but if you’ve been drinking coffee for a while, you may become reliant on the cortisol push you get from the caffeine. While coffee will give you an initial burst of cortisol, issues can arise when you overdo it with caffeine, and your cortisol levels get too high.

While a moderate amount of cortisol can pump you up, too much cortisol can lead to overworked adrenal glands. Your adrenal glands are responsible for producing and secreting cortisol, and when they’re working overtime, it can make it challenging to produce enough cortisol.

This often results in feeling tired and brain-fogged. For some people, it’s that “tired but wired” feeling. Either way, coffee won’t do the trick that it used to, and if you keep trying to up your dose, you’ll only make matters worse.[3]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212962614000054

Adenosine

If you find that drinking caffeine often results in a sharp energy crash in the afternoon, it’s likely due to the chemical adenosine.

Adenosine is a compound that docks on receptors in your brain and makes you feel sleepy. It’s a crucial component of your circadian rhythm, particularly for your sleep-wake cycle.[4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4810168/

One way that coffee helps fight fatigue is that caffeine molecules dock on adenosine receptors, and block them from receiving adenosine. When caffeine takes the place of adenosine, it means that signals for sleepiness in your brain are dialed down. However, when caffeine is sitting on the adenosine receptors, it may block the immediate effects of adenosine, but it doesn’t stop your body from producing this chemical.[5]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12399249/

Therefore, the entire time caffeine is doing its thing in your brain, your body is generating adenosine which just builds up, waiting for its turn to dock on those receptors. Once the caffeine wears off and the receptors become available once again, all that adenosine rushes to take its rightful seat on its receptor, and the result is a steep energy crash for you.

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Tolerance

Coffee drinkers typically find that their morning cup of joe loses its intensity over time. When you first start drinking coffee, one cup can be more than enough to get you going. Over time, however, your body may build up a tolerance making you feel immune to caffeine, and just like any other drug, you need more and more to get that same effect.

Research suggests that as your brain becomes acclimated to a certain amount of caffeine, it creates more adenosine receptors, which means it requires more caffeine in order to block the effects of adenosine. If you stick with your standard one cup of coffee, you won’t be giving your brain enough caffeine molecules to block those newly formed adenosine receptors. The result? More active adenosine and more sleepiness.[6]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6343867/

What To Do If Coffee Makes You Tired

If you find that you get tired after coffee, your first step is to determine why this might be the case. If you still get a good boost in energy initially but experience a coffee crash later, it’s likely due to adenosine. If, however, you notice that you drink caffeine and just feel wired and tired, or just simply tired, it’s likely a combination of adrenal fatigue and adenosine buildup.

Either way, your first step should be to reduce your caffeine intake. Next, you can add supplements that will help you maintain your focus, energy, and stamina.

Step 1: Cut Back On Caffeine

This may seem like a lot to ask if you’ve been on the coffee bandwagon for a long time, but it’s time to face the facts — it’s not doing you any good, and the only way to get back into balance is to cut back or cut it out.

You don’t have to go cold turkey with coffee, but try cutting down to half of your typical dose. You can also move to alternatives like green or white tea for a time. This will give your brain a chance to get back to homeostasis if you’ve been upping your adenosine receptors. At the same time, it will give your adrenals a break from having to pump out copious amounts of cortisol.

Step 2: Add-In Nootropics

One of the biggest challenges with getting off coffee is the lack of focus and energy you’ll feel. Even if coffee has been dragging you down, it may have been giving you a small boost in motivation and alertness that you’ll be missing without it.

This is where nootropics come in. Nootropics are supplements that can enhance cognitive function and help you feel more alert, focused, and energized. There are several different types of nootropics out there, some of which will specifically help with energy, others that will enhance alertness, and still others that will work on learning and memory.[7]https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2690149/

Step 3: Add In Adaptogens

If you fall into the “tired but wired” category, adaptogenic herbs will help to support your adrenals and your cortisol production by nourishing these glands and giving your body the nutrients it needs to build them back up.

Some of the most well-researched adaptogenic herbs include ashwagandha, ginseng, and lion’s mane. Adaptogens work by “adapting” to what your body needs. Specifically, they target your nervous system and help to bring things back into homeostasis.[8]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6979308/[9]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7322748/

Find Your Unique Formula

Finding the exact formula of adaptogens and nootropics that will work for you can take a bit of trial and error. You can try out different supplements on your own, but if you want to hone in on the exact nutrients your brain needs without wasting time and money on ineffective supplements, take this quiz to find your unique formula.

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