Control your caffeine hit

Making choices about caffeine

The reason most of us like and use coffee to get us through the day is that caffeine acts as a stimulant, revving up several different systems in the body at once (including heart rate and energy levels), and making us feel more energetic and alert. That “buzz” is thanks to caffeine boosting the level of the neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) “norepinephrine” in the brain. In small amounts, caffeine also increases metabolism and body temperature, and acts as a diuretic.

We’re not just talking about your morning latte. Caffeine also lurks in:

  • tea
  • cola
  • “energy” drinks
  • hot chocolate
  • chocolate bars
  • some medication such as painkillers and cough mixtures.

We all have differing levels of sensitivity to caffeine, so a particular amount will have more impact on some people than others. The problem with too much caffeine is that the brain gets used to a certain level, and more and more is needed to get that kick. And if you’re in the habit of several strong hits of coffee a day, cutting back can cause withdrawal – that’s when you notice reactions like tiredness, loss of energy, headaches and the “jitters”.

The other downside with caffeine is that if you have it before going to bed, it usually delays and shortens sleep, and reduces the overall quality of sleep. The long-lasting effects of caffeine can also impair sleep the following day.

Your morning latte may be one of life’s pleasures and that’s fine. The essential message is we want to use caffeine wisely.

  • Limit the amount we use on a daily basis.
  • Don’t use it for several hours before sleeping.

How do I cut back?

The recommendations for reducing caffeine intake are to do it slowly, in order to reduce the withdrawal symptoms. Cut down gradually over a few days or weeks. It also helps to find something else to drink that you enjoy so you are less likely to feel deprived and can still participate in the socialising that goes with a cup of coffee. Or why not schedule a social coffee in the morning and reach for the water in the afternoon?

Forming healthy habits
Changing old habits or forming new ones can be challenging.  The following links can help:   Successful new habits  |  Strengthening new habits

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