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6 Caffeine Sensitivity Symptoms to Watch For & Expert Tips

a woman at work massaging her head

Bad news for coffee fiends: what’s in your cup could actually be hurting your productivity instead of boosting it.

Caffeine is a powerful substance, after all. It can enhance your alertness, give you more energy, and promise you something to look forward to in the morning (or throughout your day). But it’s true that you can have too much of a good thing. No one knows this better than coffee lovers with a sensitivity to caffeine.

How do you know if you’re one of them? The signs of caffeine sensitivity often fly under the radar. Here are a few symptoms to keep an eye out for if you are wondering if your daily cup of joe is doing more harm than good.

Note: If you are sensitive to caffeine but still want to enjoy great coffee, you’re in luck! There are quite a few great decaf coffee brands currently on the market. Take a look at our 10 favorite decaf coffee brands!

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Top 6 Caffeine Sensitivity Symptoms

1. Racing Heartbeat

Have you ever experienced what it’s like to max out on caffeine and feel it rush straight to the heart? You might hear your heart pounding in your eardrums or feel it pulsing in your temple. It can be an energizing flood of adrenaline or a distracting sense of stress.

Either way, it’s not abnormal to have this happen when you drink too much coffee. The difference for people with caffeine sensitivity is that this will happen at a much lower dose. If it’s happening as soon as you start your first cup, for instance, it may be a sign that you’re sensitive to caffeine.

outdoor portrait of a man with heart attack in the park
Image Credit: Mykola Samoilenko, Shutterstock

2. Headaches

If you’re one of the many people who turns to caffeine for headache relief, this one may seem counterintuitive. But for those with a sensitivity, it’s frequently the opposite.

It’s important to make sure that it is caffeine causing your headaches, though. Keep track of your headaches and note any patterns that might recur regarding them. If your headaches start while you’re drinking coffee or another caffeinated beverage, or soon after, it may be related to a sensitivity.

3. Anxiety or Nervousness

Anxiety is influenced by so many different factors, which can often make it difficult to understand the cause. It’s important to recognize if anything is going on in your life that could be responsible for an anxiety spike.

If not, and you’re noticing an increase in your levels of anxiousness or nervousness, especially when you’re drinking coffee, it might be time to re-examine your caffeine intake.

a man holding his head and looking at the laptop near a cup of coffee
Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels

4. Restlessness or Jitters

Everyone gets the jitters after drinking coffee on occasion—knee bouncing up and down, fingernails tapping on the table, can’t sit still, etc.

Whether you’ve had more coffee than usual or drank your first cup on an empty stomach, it’s common to feel jittery as a result of caffeine. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of eating a snack or opting out of that last cup for the day.

Other times, it can point to a sensitivity. When the jitters get to the point of true discomfort, or if they’re interfering with your daily life, your body could be trying to tell you something.

5. Insomnia

It comes as no surprise that caffeine can keep you up at night. Maybe you want a treat after a hard day, so you hit Starbucks on your way home from work—but you forget to order decaf. You might have trouble sleeping later that night.

Caffeine can interfere with your body’s natural production of adenosine, which helps you get sleepy at bedtime. That’s why it’s not a good idea toconsume any caffeine within six hours of going to sleep, whether you’re sensitive or not.

If you are sensitive, you may notice a more dramatic impact on your ability to fall asleep on the days when you’ve had caffeine. A good way to test this is to see if cutting out caffeine for a day (or a few days) helps you drift off to sleep more easily at night.

young caucasian man awake at night not able to sleep
Image Credit: SB Arts Media, Shutterstock

6. Stomach Issues

Coffee can be hard on the stomach, especially if you haven’t eaten breakfast first. And thanks to its laxative qualities, it’s not unusual to pay a visit to the bathroom after a cup or two.

But caffeine can have a unique effect on the stomachs of the caffeine-sensitive. It triggers your body to produce more acid than normal, so when you’ve consumed too much caffeine, the high amounts of acid can hurt your stomach.

A caffeine sensitivity lowers your tolerance for caffeine, meaning that reaching that limit happens faster. This could lead to discomfort.

Cutting Back on Caffeine

So, maybe you read this list and you saw yourself reflected in it. You’re curious about whether you really do have a sensitivity and if cutting out coffee (or your caffeinated beverage of choice) could help alleviate your symptoms.

It might! But it’s important to note that everyone’s sensitivity level is unique. You may have a threshold that’s completely different from someone else’s, and that’s okay. All you have to do is figure out where that threshold is, and make sure you stay underneath it!

Maybe you don’t have to cut out coffee completely. Your symptoms may resolve if you simply lower your caffeine intake for the day. A few tips and tricks will help you get your intake to where you need it to be.

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If you’ve discovered that you do have a caffeine sensitivity through this article, don’t be discouraged. Knowledge is power, and knowing your limits is the first step to finding a balance that will allow you to enjoy a warm beverage in the morning and stay productive—all while symptom-free. And if nothing else, there’s always decaf.

Featured Image Credit: Olya Kobruseva, Pexels


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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