As much as we all love coffee – and we love coffee very much if global statistics are any indication – it’s important to remember that caffeine is still a potent psychoactive compound. Unlike the milder theanine and most of the other plant chemicals we ingest on a daily basis, caffeine interacts heavily with the brain. Rather than being designed to give us a buzz of productivity, caffeine’s original intended purpose in plants that evolved to produce the stuff is to act as an herbicide, preventing the growth of other plants in the nearby vicinity. But while toxic to certain competitive plant life, caffeine is nothing if not a boon for humans. At least, in moderation.
As harmless as we might make it out to be, caffeine can be deadly in enormous and highly-refined amounts – but even when consumed “naturally” through coffee and energy drinks, certain caffeine levels begin to encourage some pesky and uncomfortable side effects. A common side effect of way too much caffeine is caffeine jitters.
Why Do Jitters Happen?
The easiest way to explain why caffeine causes a jittery feeling is to think of caffeine as a drug that stimulates the body and mind, and simulates stress. When ingested, caffeine does more than just block the adenosine that causes us to become drowsy – it has a marked effect on reflexes and productivity, as well as focus. Caffeine also raises a person’s heart rate and boosts the production and release of adrenaline. This can cause a person to become shaky, tightly-wound, and agitated. In other words: you get the jitters. Part of the reason this happens is that caffeine itself promotes these factors. Another part is that by blocking adenosine, caffeine effectively throws your system out of balance for a little while, which can be a slight shock. The more caffeine you have in your blood, the crazier the effects.
But when do you get caffeine jitters? The truth is different for everyone, and there are so many factors that affect how you deal with caffeine that it’d be impractical to list them all. Some to consider are: weight, height, age, sex, mood, when you last ate, the time spent drinking your caffeinated beverage, what you had alongside said beverage (if you had anything), any medication you may be on, level of hydration, cardiovascular health, mental health, and more.
Caffeine jitters are a soft example of what your body and mind go through when naturally “charged” with a high dose of self-administered adrenaline through the fight-or-flight response. After a short burst of energy and focus, you get shaky, slightly nauseous, and often somewhat light-headed. It’s safe to say that if you’re starting to feel these side effects come on, you’ve had more than enough coffee for the day.
But what to do when you’ve already had too much coffee, and stopping isn’t an option? Knowing that caffeine kicks in a good 20-30 minutes after you’ve ingested it means that, sometimes, you might just lose track of how much coffee you’ve had and find yourself deep in caffeine jitters with no way of going back. Sadly, your options for combating the effects of caffeine jitters are limited.
Drink Water Alongside Coffee
Water serves to do two things: one, it nearly doubles the time it takes you to consume your coffee because you’ll be taking every sip with a sip of water. This helps dilute the caffeine over a longer period, which means it won’t hit quite as hard. Secondly, being hydrated helps combat some of the effects of caffeine jitters. This is helpful for when you’ve started your day with nothing but a cup or two of coffee and your system could use some extra hydration, but it’s important to recognize that this doesn’t really help “flush out” the caffeine. At least not to a degree that would significantly reduce the effects of the caffeine jitters. In other words, water alongside coffee helps you slow down your coffee consumption, consume less of it over time, and potentially stave off some of the worse effects by staying hydrated.
Drink Some Green Tea
Now, to be honest, green tea isn’t going to get you very far. To be more accurate, you’ll want to get a couple of L-theanine pills, extracted from tea. At a ratio of 1:2, caffeine and L-theanine supposedly provides a major boost to focus and cognition and may reduce jitters. There isn’t a lot of substantial data on it – just a handful of interesting studies, and plenty of anecdotes – but it’s something worth trying if you want to make the most of your excessive caffeine consumption. Ideally, get L-theanine in powder form and pop twice as much of it into your coffee as your coffee’s approximate caffeine level. And voila, you should be on the road to jitter-less productivity. Or not. Get a small package to start with and see if it’s anything you could rely on for the long-term.
Go for A Run
Okay, so hear me out: sure, maybe the last thing you’d want to do while feeling jittery is to go work out, but exercise does actually help your body burn through the released adrenaline faster than if you were just sitting around. It doesn’t really make the caffeine go away any faster, but it does help the body burn through the adrenaline produced as a result of the caffeine consumption. The key here is to do anything that helps curb your metabolism. You don’t have to go for a serious hour-long run, but a brisk walk or short jog might seriously help relieve some of the effects of excessive caffeine consumption, including the caffeine jitters.
Cut Back on Coffee
Word to the wise: if you’ve ever experienced caffeine jitters, try to remember how much you had, and don’t have that much again. Cutting back on coffee is the easiest and most obvious way to reduce caffeine jitters in the long-term, and everything else really only works half as well at best. There’s no point in pushing it past your limit – the benefits of caffeine are limited to a small dose, to begin with, and everything after the first cup or two is really just a matter of enjoying the aroma and taste. If you insist on having more coffee, try decaf. And no, that isn’t heresy.