If you’re the typical road worrier like me, then you’re likely balancing a coffee cup with the rest of your geat as you go from one destination to the next. Depending on how early you got up this morning, which may have been before the hotel kitchen opened, breakfast may have been a large coffee and a blueberry muffin from a Starbucks airport kiosk.
Depending on how long your day was, it’s also pretty likely that the pre-dawn hit of caffeine wasn’t your last one. You may have even added an “energy” drink to the mix (yuck). But the big question is how much caffeine is too much, and besides the wake-up call, what else is all that caffeine doing to us?
According to a recent article by the Mayo Clinic, healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day. That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in:
- two cups of brewed coffee (Dunkin Donuts Medium)
- 1.5 cups brewed coffee (Starbucks medium)1
- 12 cans of cola (Coke Classic)
- 5 small energy drinks (Red Bull regular)
- 2.5 large energy drinks (Monster Energy Drink)
Note that the “energy” drinks also tend to have high levels of sugar.
Heavy daily caffeine use, more than 500 mg a day, may cause side effects such as:
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
You’ll notice that more than a few of the side effects from high caffeine consumption will definitely interfere with getting a good night sleep, which is already hard when you’re sleeping in a room that isn’t your own. The next time you find yourself wide awake at 2:00 am, do a quick run-down of the days caffeine consumption to see if that could be part of the problem. If your caffeine consumption is too high, then it’s easy to get in to a viscous circle where you’re not getting enough sleep, and then compensating with more coffee in the morning (I’ve been there).
Strategies to cut-down on caffeine
I’m the last one who would ever suggest going caffeine free, I like coffee way too much, but there are plenty of times I’ve found myself needing to cut-down. Here are a few ways you can get a handle on your caffeine consumption:
- Keep tabs. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you’re getting from foods and beverages. It may be more than you think. Read labels carefully. Even then, your estimate may be a little low because not all foods or drinks list caffeine. Chocolate, which has a small amount, doesn’t.
- Cut back. But do it gradually, or you could end up with very real withdrawal symptoms such as intense headaches. Drink one fewer can of soda or drink a smaller cup of coffee each day. Or avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day. This will help your body get used to the lower levels of caffeine and lessen potential withdrawal effects.
- Go decaf. Or maybe go partial decaf. At home, I mix 50/50 French roast regular and French roast decaf. I can’t tell any difference in flavor and it’s a significant cut in the caffeine intake. Most coffee shops are more than happy to give you a similar 50/50 mix if you ask for it.
- Shorten the brew time or go herbal. When making tea, brew it for less time. This cuts down on its caffeine content. Or choose herbal teas that don’t have caffeine.
- Check the bottle. Some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine — as much as 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain relievers instead.
1The caffeine content of Starbucks coffee varies quite a bit depending on the roast level, anywhere from 195mg to 280mg.