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That jittery, anxious feeling you get from coffee is not a sign of extra energy. In fact, you can get it even if your body is already tired.
So what are the coffee jitters and how do you make them stop?
In this article, I’ll take a look at why you get the jitters from coffee, how you can prevent it, and what you can do to ease your discomfort and make that jittery feeling go away. Normally, I’d say grab a cup of coffee to join me but maybe go with a glass of water this time.
What Are the Coffee Jitters?
The jitters are that nervous, anxious feeling that you sometimes get from caffeine. Along with just being uncomfortable, the jitters can hurt your ability to focus or get to sleep.
Jitters are one of several effects of caffeine, which can also include:
- racing heartbeat
- nervousness or anxiousness
Why Caffeine Gives You Jitters
Caffeine doesn’t give you energy. I know that’s a pretty shocking statement, so give me a minute to explain.
When you are using a lot of energy, your body produces a hormone called adenosine that causes a feeling of fatigue. Instead of providing extra energy, caffeine just makes you less sensitive to this fatigue hormone by blocking adenosine from working properly.
In other words, caffeine makes you feel less fatigued without actually giving you any extra energy to work with.
The result is that your heart rate and blood pressure elevate, providing what we think of as an energy rush. Since your body is doing this against its normal instincts, the energy rush is followed by feelings of tiredness, jitters, and potentially caffeine dependence.
Anything with caffeine can have this impact, but coffee is particularly potent for two reasons. First, it has a higher concentration of caffeine than most other natural sources. Second, caffeine is absorbed faster from liquids than from solid foods.
How to Prevent Jitters from Coffee
I like to rush my coffee as much as anyone, but the coffee jitters are a good indication that you need to learn to pace yourself.
Caffeine hits your bloodstream within five minutes of consuming it, even though it takes 30-60 minutes for it to hit peak effect. Luckily, that makes it easy to pause your intake before it goes too far. Unless you are chugging one espresso after another, you should be able to learn to recognize the early indicators before they become full-blown anxiety and jitters.
How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?
There is no simple answer to that question. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, and everyone has a different level of tolerance for the symptoms of the jitters.
Unless you have a medical condition that makes caffeine more dangerous, you probably don’t need to worry about over-indulging at normal levels of caffeine intake. If the anxiety and shakiness are getting to you, you are probably drinking too much. If it’s not, you are probably fine.
Don’t consume coffee on an empty stomach
We’ve all done it. Just this morning, I started making my morning coffee before I had given any thought to breakfast. Caffeine is absorbed faster on an empty stomach, which is the reason that a liquid breakfast often leaves you with a stronger case of the jitters. It doesn’t take much — even a snack is better than just letting the coffee run free in your body.
Keep the milk, drop the sugar
If you aren’t going to eat with your coffee, milk can add enough calories to help slow or prevent the jitters. That little bit of fat has a similar impact to a small snack, even though you are drinking it instead of eating it.
Sugar also adds calories, so it should also help, right? It would if sugar wasn’t also a source of jittery feelings. These can make your caffeine jitters even worse, so it’s best to just avoid the sweeteners or find a sugar-free sweetener option.
How To Get Rid of Coffee Jitters
If you are already suffering from the jitters, there are steps you can take to kick them sooner or at least diminish your symptoms.
The goal here isn’t to burn off energy since caffeine doesn’t supply extra energy. Contrary to a common myth, exercise also won’t help your body break down the caffeine in your system.
Instead, you’re trying to increase your fatigue level, effectively overcoming the fatigue-resistance that caffeine brings on. Just think of anything that would typically leave you fatigued, and it will probably work. Gym exercises work, as does going for a run. Personally, I like to jump on my elliptical.
It’s better to eat before or with your coffee, but even eating after can act to slow down the release of caffeine into your bloodstream. I know that sounds like it should just make the jitters last longer, but it can actually keep the levels low enough to diminish or even eliminate your symptoms.
The science is still out on this one. Water doesn’t speed up the metabolism of caffeine or slow its absorption. But a properly hydrated body generally works better. Think of water as a helper for some of the other jitter-reducing tactics. In particular, it’s going to help you with those caffeine-fighting exercise habits.
Pause your coffee consumption
Okay, this one probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. This is not a ‘hair of the dog’ situation. If you drink more coffee, it will increase the caffeine concentration in your bloodstream, and you will have the jitters for longer. The sooner you stop drinking, the quicker you’ll be back to normal.
Oh, and subbing in decaf is not a great idea either. It still has some caffeine in it. It’s better than regular, but you will recover fastest if you just avoid it all.
Beware of other caffeine sources
Coffee is probably not the only source of caffeine in your diet. Until the jitters completely wear off, you’ll want to avoid all the caffeine-containing foods and drinks you typically reach for. Some of these are obvious, but some may be more surprising.
Here’s a short list:
- Tea (except herbal tea)
- Energy drinks
- Chocolate (especially dark chocolate)
- Coffee-, tea- or chocolate-flavored desserts and ice creams
- Chocolatey cereals
- Some workout supplements
- Some headache medicines (not a food, but wow)
Try to calm down
Literally the last words you want to hear when you are anxious, right? Yea, sorry about that. But if you have mindfulness or meditation tactics that you use to deal with stress or anxiety, they will also help with the jitters from coffee. If not, maybe this is one more reason to pick up some of those habits. Deep-breathing exercises can be a simple starting point, and they are an excellent way to calm down your caffeine jitters.
Wait it out
Sometimes, all you can do is wait for the effects of the caffeine to wear off.
So, how long does caffeine last in your body?
With a typical dose, you’ll notice the impacts diminishing within an hour. However, it may take several hours for your jitters to completely go away. The exact amount of time will depend on both the amount of caffeine that you consume and your particular metabolism.
I know that answer isn’t particularly satisfying, so let me give you a bit more info.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Science’s Sleep and Caffeine study, it takes about five hours for half of the caffeine in your body to be metabolized. If you are familiar with the term half-life, that means that the half-life of caffeine in the human body is five hours.
How does that help?
Well, let’s say that you get the jitters from drinking two cups of coffee, but not from one. Today, you drank two cups of coffee, and you want to know how long until the jitters go away. In five hours, your body will have about one cup of coffee worth of caffeine left in it, so the jitters should be gone.
Myth: Potassium from Bananas Stops the Jitters
Bananas don’t stop coffee jitters, despite a popular myth to the contrary. The idea behind the myth is that the jitters come from caffeine’s diuretic effect. They claim that you are losing potassium and other vital electrolytes and that eating a banana is a great way to replenish that particular nutrient.
The problem with that claim is actually three-fold.
- You are highly unlikely to ever drink enough coffee to have a significant impact on your potassium levels.
- If you did, it would take way more than 1 banana to get your potassium levels back up to normal.
- Coffee is a source of potassium, although some types of coffee offer less potassium than others.
Bananas aren’t entirely useless for stopping the jitters, though. After all, they still count as food.
What If Your Caffeine Jitters Last for Days?
Jitters that last more than a few hours are typically a sign of caffeine sensitivity. Caffeine sensitivities cause the same type of reaction as normal caffeine jitters, but they occur more easily and last longer. If you have such a sensitivity, your body reacts more strongly to even small amounts of caffeine and metabolizes caffeine much slower than a person with a standard caffeine tolerance.
This is not the same as a caffeine allergy, which would mean that your immune system treats caffeine as an invading species. If you experience hives itchy skin, swelling in your throat or tongue, or difficulty breathing, those are signs of an allergy, not a sensitivity.
Keep Calm and Coffee on
If you are cautious about your coffee drinking habits, you shouldn’t have to worry about the jitters very often. But just like some people have to shift to low-acid coffees because their bodies can’t handle the acidity, others might have to switch to decaf or half-caf coffee if they can’t handle the caffeine.
Even if you need to go decaf, there are plenty of coffee options out there. Some of the best Sumatran coffee beans are available in decaf, there are great decaf Nespresso pods, and even world-renowned espresso brands like Illy and Lavazza offer decaf lines. Further, regular coffee lovers and decaf lovers can easily share a single machine thanks to capsule-based, single-serve, and dual coffee makers.
Do you have more advice for preventing or stopping the jitters? Let me know in the comments!