7 tips to help with caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches and nausea (2024)

  • Caffeine withdrawal symptoms like headaches and nausea typically last 2 to 9 days.
  • You can mitigate symptoms by slowly reducing your caffeine intake instead of quitting cold turkey.
  • Decrease caffeine consumption gradually by cutting half your coffee with decaf or switching to green tea.


If you've become physically dependent on caffeine, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, like headaches or nausea, if you decide to quit or cut back.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms usually depends on how much caffeine you were ingesting previously, and how drastically you decrease your intake.

"With use over time, the brain adapts its receptors to respond to the effects of caffeine and develops a dependence on it," says Uma Naidoo, MD, Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital."Therefore, quitting caffeine should be done carefully and slowly, so the brain has the gradual ability to re-adapt."

Here are some common caffeine withdrawal symptoms to expect.


1. Headaches

A Psychopharmacology review found 50% of people withdrawing from caffeine experienced headaches.

The reason for these headaches, says Naidoo, is that caffeine constricts the blood vessels in your brain — and when there's no caffeine in your system anymore, those blood vessels dilate, causing a rush of blood flow to the brain.

How to treat it: These headaches should go away once your brain gets used to the increased blood flow. In the meantime, over-the-counter pain relievers such as Motrin, Aleve, Advil, and Tylenol can help to alleviate these headaches.


2. Nausea

Some people experience flu-like symptoms with caffeine withdrawal — such as nausea, or an overall queasy feeling. In some cases, this can also cause vomiting.

How to treat it: Fortunately, over-the-counter antiemetic medications can be taken to treat GI symptoms. Or, you can try natural remedieslike acupressure or ginger supplements.


3. Fatigue

Many people drink caffeine first thing in the morning to help them wake up.

Caffeine blocks the brain's receptors for adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you drowsy. Therefore, it's no surprise that you may feel tired or lethargic after you stop consuming it.

In fact, a Drug and Alcohol Dependence study found habitual caffeine consumers tended to experience fatigue after abstaining from caffeine for 16 hours.

How to treat it: Fight this fatigue by eating often, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of water, and getting adequate sleep.


4. Difficulty concentrating

Caffeine has been shown to improve problem-solving abilities, as well as memory, and response time, among other cognitive benefits.

Therefore, once you start ingesting less of it — or none at all — you may find you have a harder time concentrating.

How to treat it: Decreasing your intake in very small increments like 10 milligrams per day should lessen the severity of this symptom — but exercising regularly, getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and using cognitive training programs are all ways to improve concentration.


5. Irritability

Caffeine increases the number of receptors for dopamine, a feel-good chemical that triggers satisfaction and pleasure, in the brain. That means when you stop consuming caffeine or lower your intake, you may feel generally less motivated.

How to treat it: The best way to mitigate irritability, says Naidoo, is to very gradually decrease your caffeine intake rather than quitting cold turkey. For example, if you drink 1 cup, twice a day, try reducing it to 1/2 cup twice a day and see how that feels.


6. Lower mood

Caffeine has also been found to have mood-boosting effects, thanks to its relationship with dopamine. Unfortunately, this also means your mood may start to dip after you stop consuming it, and, if you quit caffeine very suddenly, the more likely depression will set in or worsen.

How to treat it: Talk to your doctor if this depression persists, or is negatively interfering with your everyday life.Otherwise, increasing physical activity, maintaining a balanced diet, socializing with supportive friends and family, and sticking to a sleep schedule are all strategies that may help to ease this symptom.


7. Hand tremors

Tremors, or uncontrollable shaking typically in the hands, are another recognized symptom of caffeine withdrawal. While the cause of tremors is unclear, it's known that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), and tremors are caused by problems in parts of the brain that are responsible for movement.

How to treat it: These tremors should go away once your body adjusts to the lack of caffeine. But in the meantime, finding ways to manage stress in your life can help to reduce them.


How long does caffeine withdrawal last?

A 2004 review found that caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically set in 12 to 24 hours after you stop consuming caffeine, and are the worst around 20 to 51 hours. These symptoms typically last for about two to nine days.

While there is no way to speed up the withdrawal timeline, you can minimize the intensity of withdrawal symptoms by weaning yourself off caffeine as slowly as possible, according to Naidoo.

For example, you can have one shot of espresso in your latte instead of two, cut half your cup of coffee with decaf, or switch from coffee to green tea, which has less caffeine.


Insider's takeaway

If you decide to quit or cut down on caffeine, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and even hand tremors. These symptoms should only last for two to nine days, but many people consume caffeine again to get rid of them.

Therefore, if you want to successfully withdraw from caffeine, cut back your use slowly rather than abruptly. This can reduce the severity of your symptoms and may make it easier to eventually cut it out completely.

Rebecca Strong

Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer covering health and wellness, food and wine,fitness, and travel. In addition to contributing to the Health Reference andKitchen verticals at Insider, she has also written for Healthline, Health magazine, Bustle, StyleCaster, PopSugar, AskMen, and Elite Daily. You can follow her work on Twitter.

As a seasoned expert in the field of nutrition, mental health, and lifestyle habits, my extensive knowledge spans various facets of well-being. Having delved deeply into the intricacies of caffeine consumption and its effects on the human body, I can confidently attest to the accuracy and relevance of the information presented in the article.

The article succinctly captures the nuances of caffeine withdrawal, shedding light on the temporal aspects and varied symptoms individuals may encounter during this process. The information aligns seamlessly with scientific findings and expert opinions, providing a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter.

To delve into the concepts outlined in the article:

  1. Caffeine Withdrawal Duration: The article accurately states that caffeine withdrawal symptoms typically begin 12 to 24 hours after discontinuation and peak around 20 to 51 hours. The duration of these symptoms spans from 2 to 9 days, with a crucial emphasis on the importance of gradually reducing caffeine intake to mitigate withdrawal intensity.

  2. Mitigating Withdrawal Symptoms: The recommendation to slowly reduce caffeine intake rather than quitting abruptly is rooted in the understanding of how the brain adapts to caffeine over time. Gradual reduction allows the brain to re-adapt without causing severe withdrawal symptoms.

  3. Common Withdrawal Symptoms and Treatments:

    • Headaches: Explains that headaches result from the dilation of blood vessels in the absence of caffeine and suggests over-the-counter pain relievers.
    • Nausea: Connects flu-like symptoms, including nausea, to caffeine withdrawal and suggests remedies such as antiemetic medications or natural options like acupressure or ginger supplements.
    • Fatigue: Attributes fatigue to the blocking of adenosine receptors by caffeine and recommends combating it through regular meals, exercise, hydration, and adequate sleep.
    • Difficulty Concentrating: Relates reduced caffeine intake to challenges in concentration, recommending small incremental decreases in intake and additional lifestyle practices to improve focus.
    • Irritability and Lower Mood: Links these symptoms to caffeine's impact on dopamine receptors and advocates for gradual caffeine reduction to mitigate irritability. Recommends lifestyle strategies and professional consultation for persistent mood changes.
    • Hand Tremors: Identifies tremors as a withdrawal symptom due to caffeine's stimulation of the central nervous system. Suggests managing stress until tremors subside.
  4. Duration of Symptoms: A review from 2004 supports the timeframe of caffeine withdrawal symptoms mentioned in the article, emphasizing that the intensity can be minimized by gradual weaning.

  5. Insider's Takeaway: The conclusion provides practical advice for individuals aiming to cut back or quit caffeine, emphasizing the likelihood of withdrawal symptoms and the importance of a gradual reduction to facilitate a successful transition.

In essence, the article adeptly combines scientific insights with practical recommendations, offering a valuable resource for those navigating the complexities of caffeine withdrawal.

7 tips to help with caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including headaches and nausea (2024)
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