If you’re someone who generally has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, you may want to avoid caffeine and other stimulants altogether—or, at the very least, stick to drinking coffee early in the day. Studies have found that consuming even small amounts of caffeine up to six hours before bed can have a significant impact on your ability to fall asleep and contribute to insomnia. “Individuals who experience sleep disturbances or are pregnant may want to limit their coffee consumption,” Hartman says. The same goes for those who have heart concerns or nutritional deficiencies: “Ingesting more than four to five cups daily, which equates to over 500 – 600 mg of caffeine, could elevate the risk of cardiovascular issues, particularly high blood pressure,” Hartman warns. “There’s also concern that higher coffee intake may amplify the likelihood of bone fractures—especially if calcium intake is insufficient.”
Even if you’re otherwise healthy, there’s still reason to proceed with caution. As mentioned above, the side effects of too much coffee include everything from increased anxiety to changes in bowel function to the jitters, so it’s definitely a good idea to be aware of your personal limit. For me, two cups of coffee is the absolute max—anything more than that makes me edgy, fidgety, and nauseous. “That ‘wired’ feeling is typically caused by inflammation,” Hartman explains. “It’s from a spike in cortisol and insulin that can last up to 24 hours.” A full day of extra inflammation, a known accelerator to aging and other health risks? That’s enough to encourage you to give that casual afternoon coffee break a second thought. Or, at the very least, inspire you to replace some of your coffee intake with a nice, herbal tea.
How to stop a caffeine spike and crash
If you do accidentally end up overdoing it on cappuccinos, espresso, and lattes—or black tea, matcha, and energy drinks, all of which also contain caffeine—there’s hope. Yes, it might take up to 24 hours for your cortisol and insulin to stabilize, but it’s also likely that you’ll start to feel better within four to six hours. To ensure that happens, flush your system by drinking plenty of water, and if you’re experiencing an upset stomach—or, worse, overstimulated bowels—you can increase hydration and counteract coffee’s well-known diuretic effects by sipping beverages that contain electrolytes, like coconut water. Just be sure you’re not inadvertently adding more caffeine to the mix: protein bars, chocolate, and even some cereals can contain sneaky-high levels of the stuff, so take a second to check the labels on your snacks—or, better yet, stick to fruits and veggies, which also have a hydrating effect.
To calm a caffeine-induced frenzy, you can also try some tried-and-true mindfulness techniques, like deep breathing, meditation, and visualization—all of which have been proven to soothe the nervous system, relieve anxiety, and quell insomnia. And don’t neglect the healing powers of taking a good old fashioned walk. Just remember to keep it mellow—the point is to slow your heart rate down and relax, not amp yourself up further. Stroll where you can be surrounded by trees, plants, or water—spending time in nature has been scientifically proven to lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, reduce flight-or-fight, slow the heart rate, improve mood, and reduce anxiety.
When you do finally recover, it’s also worth remembering my mother’s advice the next time you’re pouring yourself a cup: “just a little bit.” Moderation is always a good policy when it comes to anything that can induce pleasure or pain—coffee included.