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Why Doesn’t Coffee Wake Me Up?

sleep alarm

Millions around the world reach for their coffee in the morning, turning to the effects of caffeine to start their day on a quick note. Coffee contains caffeine, a popular stimulant in coffee, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. Many people rely on caffeine to wake them up, so it can be frustrating when your coffee isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do. If you’re in that boat, read on to see why your coffee isn’t waking you up:

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How Does Caffeine Work?

Before we get into why coffee doesn’t wake you up, let’s discuss how caffeine works in the body:

Caffeine works by disguising itself as an adenosine receptor, which is what causes sleepiness and drowsiness. When adenosine attaches to the receptor, the brain’s activity slows down, and the body becomes tired and relaxed. By preventing adenosine from attaching to its receptors, caffeine prevents drowsiness and dials up the alertness. Caffeine can even increase your adrenaline and flight-or-fight response, which can also increase a person’s anxiety.

what is caffeine?

Why Doesn’t My Coffee Wake Me Up?

Even though understanding how caffeine works is fairly simple, the reason why it doesn’t work is usually not as clear. There are several reasons that can explain why coffee isn’t waking you up, so we found the most popular reasons. However, there could be less common and unknown reasons why it doesn’t work. Caffeine can stop working completely for some individuals even after “detoxing” from it, so sometimes there’s no defining answer.

Here are some of the top reasons why coffee isn’t working:

Exhaustion Levels are Too High

Even though caffeine can interrupt the adenosine receptors to prevent drowsiness, sometimes you’re simply too tired for caffeine to work. If you didn’t sleep well or you struggle with insomnia, caffeine may not help at all.

If you’re extremely tired and you drink coffee, it may only heighten certain caffeine effects like anxiety and adrenaline without actually waking you up. Instead of relying on coffee to wake you up, try to figure out what is causing you to have restless sleep or insomnia.

exhausted
Image Credit: Adrian Sampson, Flickr

Dehydration

Dehydration is a chronic problem in general, but coffee is a diuretic and won’t help you rehydrate. If you’re dehydrated to the point of exhaustion, coffee will not wake you up. Drink plenty of water before and after each cup of coffee since dehydration can make you feel drowsy and tired. Dehydration can lead to headaches and other health problems, so it’s important to drink enough water on a daily basis.

Metabolism

Metabolism is always something to consider if coffee isn’t working since some people metabolize coffee at a faster rate. Your metabolism can fluctuate, which will change the way coffee affects you. If your metabolism is naturally fast, you may not feel the effects of caffeine as much as others or not at all.

lots of coffee cups

Medication

Medication can easily reduce the effects of caffeine, depending on what it is and what it’s prescribed for. Some medications affect the way the liver metabolizes caffeine and other substances, which can explain why your coffee isn’t working. Talk to your doctor about caffeine consumption and if it’s safe to drink while on your medications.

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If you’re a regular coffee drinker…

There’s a difference between a regular coffee drinker and someone who drinks it occasionally, which can completely change the reason why your coffee isn’t waking you up.

If you’re a multiple-cup-a-day coffee drinker, there are a couple of reasons that your coffee isn’t working:

Caffeine Tolerance

Caffeine tolerance is by far the biggest reason why coffee may not be working for you anymore, especially if you drink more than five cups a day. This happens when you drink the same amount of coffee a day until your body gets used to it, which will make you want to drink more. If you think you’ve become tolerant to coffee, it’s time to consider cutting back.

woman drinking coffee

Coffee Roast or Brand Switch

If you’ve switched your coffee brand, that could also explain why your coffee isn’t waking you up. For instance, if you’ve been drinking a light roast coffee and you switched to dark roast, you won’t be getting as much since light roasts contain more caffeine than dark roasts. The quality of the coffee will also affect caffeine levels, especially if the coffee you switched to is low in quality. Try a lighter roast or a premium coffee brand if you no longer feel that wake-up in the morning.

Changed Brewing Method

Did you recently switch to a French Press or Keurig? Have you always been an espresso-brewer and switched to a drip-brew method? While brewing methods shouldn’t directly influence how caffeine works, it may cause a slight drop in the amount of caffeine per cup. Although this is probably not the reason, it could possibly explain why your coffee isn’t as strong as it normally is.


If You’re New to Coffee…

If you’re new to coffee and you’re waiting for that caffeine jolt to no avail, there are a couple of reasons why that could happen:

Caffeine Has the Opposite Effect

A small number of people actually feel more tired and sleepy with coffee and caffeine, which is the opposite of what you’d want if you’re looking for a wake-me-up. If you’re new to coffee and you suddenly feel exhausted after drinking it, you might be part of that group where caffeine has the opposite effect. If that’s the case, you may have to figure out if it’s caffeine in general or caffeine from coffee.

coffee in an orange mug
Image Credit: schuetz-mediendesign, Pixabay

Metabolism

If you’ve never had coffee and you’re not feeling the caffeine, your body might metabolize it at a fast rate. A very fast metabolism will reduce the effects of caffeine, so you might have to drink more or drink it slower. For new coffee drinkers with quick metabolisms, it’s possible that you may not fully feel the effects of caffeine.

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What To Do If Coffee Isn’t Waking You Up:

1. Lower Your Caffeine Intake

The first step to take if your coffee isn’t waking you up is to lower your caffeine intake. Cut sodas and energy drinks out completely, which are loaded with sugar and chemicals in addition to extremely high amounts of caffeine. Without the extra caffeine sources, your coffee should wake you up. If your only source of caffeine is through coffee, reduce the amount you drink on a daily basis. For instance, if you find yourself drinking about 4 to 5 cups a day, slowly reduce the amount to 2 to 3 cups. This might help you feel that caffeine jolt you need in the morning before your day.

Red Eye Coffee
Image Credit: Pxhere, CC0 Public Domain

2. Drink More Water

Water is the most important thing for our bodies, so it’s important to plenty of it on a daily basis. Your coffee might not be waking you up because it will speed up dehydration, so the best way to combat it is with water. If you’re moderately active and exercise often, you might not be drinking enough water to support your daily activity levels. Some medications might also be the cause of your dehydration, so you might have to check to see if caffeine is safe for you to have.

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3. Get More Sleep

Possibly the most overlooked tip, getting more sleep is extremely important for a laundry list of reasons. It’s crucial for brain function and overall health, but it can also be the reason why your coffee wasn’t working previously. People with sleep disorders and sleeping issues often get into a cycle of caffeine and sleep-aids, which is dangerous to do long-term. If your sleep quality has decreased lately, try to find the cause before pouring that extra cup of coffee.

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Featured Image: Akshay Gupta, Pixahive

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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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