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POV: You’re halfway through your morning stumbling through without coffee after realizing you’re just out of K-cups, and you’re already ready to crawl right back into bed with your pounding headache . Alternate POV: You threw away one too many espressos to prepare for an email meeting that should have been an email meeting, and now the caffeine boost gives you a raging headache. Welcome to life with a morning headache, friends! An association really nobody want to be there!
Even if you have frequent migraines, that regular Starbucks run can hurt more than just your bank account. Too much or too little caffeine can make your migraines worse — and it’s a fact. But why even caffeine headaches exist? And is there anything you can eat/drink/meditate on to prevent them? Don’t worry, we’ll answer all of these questions and more with advice from two experts: neurologist and migraine specialist Sara Crystal, MD, Cove’s medical director; and Chrissy Williams, MS, RD, LDN, a functional nutritionist.
Read on to learn why caffeine headaches occur and how to treat them effectively (without giving up that cup of coffee forever, I promise). Calm down, pounding headache!
What Is a Caffeine Headache Anyway and Why Do I Have One?
Ever wonder WTF is Yes, really what’s going on inside your skull when a headache hits? (You know, aside from searing pain and wanting to stay in the fetal position for days.) According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes here: Basically, a headache occurs when there’s an increase in blood flow to the brain. This increased blood flow puts pressure on your nerves, leading to *that* dreaded feeling of pain.
Well, it might sound counterintuitive, but that’s exactly what it is To the right The amount of caffeine can sometimes help stave off headaches because caffeine naturally constricts your blood vessels for a short time. This allows the blood vessels in your little cute noggin to relieve some of that blood flow and pressure. For this reason, caffeine is usually an active ingredient in some migraine medications, such as Excedrin. “Caffeine may relieve headaches through its own analgesic or relieving effects and by enhancing the analgesic effects of aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen,” explains Dr. Crystal. (FWIW, migraine is defined as a moderate to severe pounding headache with throbbing, photosensitivity, and nausea that comes on repeatedly and significantly interferes with your day.)
At other times, however, consuming to a lot of caffeine can ultimately fool you. “Caffeine withdrawal is a known trigger for migraines and other headaches, and caffeine itself can trigger attacks,” says Dr. Crystal. Essentially, your body becomes so used to ingesting a certain amount of caffeine that when you stop ingesting that much caffeine, blood flow rushes straight back to the brain and can cause that dreaded pressure and pain. According to the Mayo Clinic, these withdrawal headaches can last for weeks (yikes).
It is also possible to get a so-called “rebound”. Medication overuse headaches when your headache medication contains caffeine, says Dr. Crystal. “Caffeine tends to be addictive, and rebound headaches happen when you consume too much caffeine and then experience withdrawal,” she explains. Keep scrolling to learn how to control your coffee/tea/energy drink consumption to ensure you avoid those dreaded rebound headaches.
How to get rid of caffeine headaches
The first thing to do to deal with a terrible caffeine headache? Drink *tons* of water. Dehydration, especially from caffeinated beverages, can make headaches worse, so your daily goal should be to drink half your body weight in ounces of water, Williams suggests. Another possible remedy is peppermint (a nice cup of peppermint tea is an option), which has been shown to reduce tension-type headaches, Williams says. Also, don’t skip meals, even if you get a little nauseous from the pounding in your head, as it will make your dehydration and headache worse. “Eating throughout the day supports your adrenal glands and your natural circadian rhythm,” Williams adds, noting that an imbalance in your blood sugar can make headaches worse.
Now we know what you’re probably wondering: is it safe to drink your regular cup of coffee when you have a headache or migraine? While it may seem like you’ll never drink coffee again after one of those killer headaches, it’s not the best choice. Williams suggests reducing your caffeine intake slowly and gradually reducing it over time to allow your body to adjust to less and less caffeine. The magic number to ultimately aim for, according to Dr. Crystal at 200 milligrams of caffeine per day or less (FYI, that’s less than a Starbucks venti).
It’s smart to reduce your caffeine intake over time so you can reduce your overall dependency on it, especially if you have frequent migraines, notes Dr. Crystal. That way, a little caffeine can go a lot further and boost your painkillers more effectively. Pro Tip: No matter how severe your headache, don’t overdo your pain reliever doses, especially if they contain caffeine because your headache will just keep going, GoodHeadache.
Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again, k?
The best way to ensure your body isn’t running on caffeine alone is to conserve your ~natural energy~ as much as possible. According to Williams, the following habits certainly help:
- Stop some high quality zzz’s. As you prepare to unwind, reduce exposure to blue light and stop TikTok scrolling at least half an hour before bed. Keeping the device’s light to a minimum can help you achieve your goal of a solid seven to nine hours of sleep.
- Start your day with a shot of sunlight. There’s nothing like honest sunlight (a sunlamp is wonderful too <3) to help you wake up on the right side of the bed. You can also get your energy going by drinking 8 ounces of water and planning a short walk in the morning before turning on your laptop. Get these steps!
- Give your brain a real break. Stress is a major trigger for headaches and migraines, so adopt a yoga/meditation/breathwork routine as soon as possible to manage your stress throughout the day. Who needs an expensive latte when you can load up on a free meditation, amirite?