Last Updated on October 22, 2021
You love coffee, but you’re not convinced that it loves you as much anymore. It’s still enjoyable, but you just can’t rely on that cup of coffee for a morning pick-me-up like you used to.
So what’s happened? You’re thinking, “This coffee doesn’t wake me up. How can that be?”
In short, there’s a reaction that takes place between the caffeine we ingest and adenosine, a compound that acts to make you drowsy.
We’ll take a closer look at how our body reacts to adenosine, as well as some of the other reasons why drinking coffee isn’t giving you the jolt you’re expecting. And, we’ll consider some alternatives (gasp!) to caffeine.
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- How Does Coffee Provide Energy?
- Is Caffeine Tolerance Bad for Me?
- Other Reasons That Caffeine Doesn't Wake You Up
- Caffeine Alternatives
How Does Coffee Provide Energy?
When we’re awake, a chemical called adenosine is accumulating naturally in our brain. As the day goes on, the adenosine is making us feel tired and ready to sleep. And, when we first wake up, that leftover adenosine is what causes us to feel a bit groggy and foggy.
So, we brew ourselves a hot, fresh, tasty cup of coffee, which of course contains caffeine. And caffeine is able to block adenosine from binding, or telling our body to be sleepy. That is what gives us that feeling of waking up, the jolt of energy that we’re looking for.
The adenosine that is now floating around will trigger the release of adrenaline, so we feel even more awake and ready to tackle the day, or the next project, or the workout. See how this works?
This added energy and the feeling of wakefulness usually occurs within 30 to 60 minutes of caffeine consumption, and can last for an average of 3 to 5 hours.
That’s all well and good, so then why doesn’t that cup of coffee wake you up? What has changed?
Well, there are a number of things that could be happening, but the first has to do with your body’s tolerance level.
Over the course of a day, you get sleepy as adenosine binds to A1 receptors in your brain. Caffeine blocks adenosine from binding, thus making you feel alert and also helping you feel better.https://examine.com/nutrition/how-caffeine-works-in-your-brain/
Is Caffeine Tolerance Bad for Me?
Caffeine tolerance is actually fairly common, and occurs when the effects of caffeine decrease over time with regular, ongoing consumption.
It’s different for everyone, but there’s been research done on the subject, which found that those who drink large amounts of coffee over time may have to increase their intake in order to notice the same effects as they did previously.
That doesn’t mean that caffeine is bad for you. It just means that your body has begun to produce enough adenosine receptors and it won’t absorb any more caffeine at its normal rate.
If you’re willing to make some changes to your caffeine intake for a period of time, it’s possible to adjust your body’s tolerance level. It’s important to remember that coffee isn’t the only beverage that contains caffeine, so be aware of the tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks that are adding to your consumption. And don’t forget the chocolate! Just sayin’.
Reduce your daily intake, or even reduce your intake to 2 or 3 days per week instead of every day. It may take a week or two to bring your system’s caffeine tolerance back down, but once that happens, you can start to increase your consumption again if desired.
Other Reasons That Caffeine Doesn’t Wake You Up
There are other factors that can affect how your body reacts to caffeine. Let’s take a look at some of them. You might be surprised to learn about them, and understand more about why coffee doesn’t wake me up anymore!
Your body is a fast caffeine metabolizer.
If you metabolize caffeine quickly, the effects won’t last as long, and thus it won’t be as effective at keeping you awake, for example.
Depending on your age and health, your body may produce extra adenosine receptors to compensate for the effects of caffeine. The older you get, the more likely that is to happen.
Although it is a different issue, it’s interesting to note some people are slow metabolizers of caffeine. In this instance your genetic makeup results in your body processing caffeine at a slower rate, and it has longer lasting stimulating effects.
You drink coffee with milk
Studies have shown that drinking coffee with milk may result in different effects from caffeine than compared to those who drink their coffee black. That’s because there are substances in milk that block the absorption of caffeine, so if you want the biggest kick from your cup of joe, drink it black.
You put sugar in your coffee
If you drink a cup of coffee and add some sugar or other sweeteners to it, the sugar that you consume can cause your glucose levels to soar, and coupled with caffeine, you experience a sugar crash shortly after. Again…consider drinking your coffee black and see if it becomes a better pick-me-up.
You drink the same amount of coffee on a daily basis.
If you have the same number of cups per day, it’s easy for your body to get used to that level and adjust accordingly. That means that if you have your morning coffee before going to work, but don’t consume any more caffeine during the rest of your day, you’re likely to build up a tolerance to caffeine because of it.
If you drink coffee throughout the day, though, you may not notice any difference in how it affects you unless you consume an extremely large amount at once. That is not necessarily what you want to do, so is not recommended.
You are overtired
If you find that coffee doesn’t work to give you energy, you might be extremely fatigued or worn out, and even caffeine isn’t going to do the job. Your best action might be to try to get some uninterrupted sleep.
You might be dehydrated
If you drink coffee without any water or other drinks in your system, and if you’re dehydrated while doing so, then the caffeine may get absorbed into your body more quickly than normal. That means that it will start wearing off faster as well. And, remaining properly hydrated is always essential, my friend.
You changed brewing method or brand of coffee
If you’re used to your standard brew, but decide to try a new method of brewing, or if you buy an entirely new coffee brand, then it’s possible that the effects will be different.
Why does this happen? Well, when you use a different kind of coffee beans or change how you brew a cup of coffee, there are always going to be some differences in the final product.
If you’ve been accustomed to a morning cup of coffee that is made with a drip coffee maker and a medium roast, you might get a jolt if your brewing method changes to French Press coffee with a dark roast. The caffeine content may not be substantially different, but the depth of flavor and richness, the strength of the brew, combined together will taste stronger and your body will react accordingly.
If caffeine isn’t waking you up the way that it used to, there are some alternatives to consider.
L-theanine is an amino acid found in fungi, plants, and green tea. It can be taken as a supplement if desired, and is thought to increase serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and glycine levels in the brain.
And, L-theanine could be taken in addition to caffeine for enhanced results. Might be worth considering.
Matcha Tea is a type of green tea that is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, ground into a fine powder. Matcha tea provides a number of beneficial antioxidants, and depending upon how it’s prepared, could have more (or less) caffeine than coffee.
Lemon Water is so simple, my friend, and it might be the switch from morning coffee that you need. You’ll get a good dose of vitamin C, and’s refreshing, and it will provide needed hydration with a boost of antioxidants. You might not even miss the caffeine.
Chai Tea contains less caffeine that coffee, but may still give your mental alertness a boost. It contains Camellia sinensis like Matcha tea, but the fermentation process changes the chemical makeup. You’ll enjoy a comforting aroma and a robust flavor.
Honey is a natural stimulant with no caffeine that gives you a little bit of energy when you need it in the short term. The glucose is absorbed by your body quickly to give a quick energy boost, and the fructose in honey provides some sustained energy.
So, should you drink coffee or not? If coffee doesn’t wake you up anymore it can be frustrating. We trust that the information we’ve provided will spark new conversations about your caffeine habits.
If you really love drinking coffee (I sure do!) and don’t want to consider any substitutes, maybe it’s time to adjust your caffeine intake temporarily and allow your system to adjust it’s caffeine tolerance.
If any of these thoughts have given you pause, it might be a good time to reassess your morning ritual and find an alternative way to get energized for the day!
Candi Randolph is a coffee lover, blogger, and content creator who loves to share her knowledge with the coffee-drinking world. You’ll often find her tending to her coffee bar at home, deciding which method to use to brew her next cup of java. Life is full of important decisions. ☕