If you are one of the 80% to 90% of adults who start your day with a cup of coffee, it’s likely you will encounter caffeine withdrawal at one time or another. Caffeine withdrawal usually occurs when you quit caffeine “cold turkey” and can cause unpleasant symptoms—one of the most common being a caffeine withdrawal headache. Some people with caffeine dependence get headaches if they miss their daily Starbucks latte by even an hour.
If you’ve recently quit caffeine, you are probably wondering how to get rid of your caffeine headache. This is totally understandable because caffeine withdrawal headaches can be painful, uncomfortable, and even debilitating. Let’s take a look at what causes caffeine headaches, what symptoms to watch for, how to treat them—and most importantly, how to prevent them from happening in the first place.
What is a caffeine headache?
The word headache is used to describe any type of head pain. There are several different types of headaches, including tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches. Headaches range from mild to severe and have many different causes: changes in sleep patterns, a reaction to food you’ve eaten, increased stress, dehydration, and hormonal changes.
One potential cause of headaches is caffeine withdrawal. When you regularly consume caffeine your body becomes dependent on it, and when your body no longer gets its caffeine fix, withdrawal symptoms can result. Caffeine withdrawal headaches are one of several symptoms that can occur during caffeine withdrawal. These headaches are normal and common. Research has found that headaches occur about 50% of the time in people who are experiencing caffeine withdrawal.
You might be wondering: How long does a caffeine headache last? Igor Smelyansky, MD, a neurologist and pain management specialist at Omega Pain Management in Knoxville, Tennessee, says that caffeine headaches can recur for up to 8 or 9 days, in some cases. Of course, some people are luckier and only get a caffeine headache for two days or so.
Symptoms of caffeine headache
There is a range for when caffeine headaches start. Caffeine headache symptoms can begin as quickly as 12 hours after you last consumed caffeine. People who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine may start to experience signs as soon as they veer a little off their caffeine schedule. For example, if you regularly have your cup of Joe at 7 each morning, you may feel withdrawal effects by 7:30 a.m. if you don’t have your daily dose on time.
“Any regular coffee drinker who ‘misses’ their routine dose of that stimulant can start to go into basically a withdrawal migraine,” Dr. Smelyansky says. For many people, though, caffeine headache symptoms don’t start until it’s been a bit more than 24 hours after the last time they’ve consumed caffeine. Research has found that caffeine withdrawal symptoms tend to peak about 20 to 51 hours after you’ve stopped consuming caffeine.
Symptoms of caffeine headaches can be intense. Dr. Smelyansky describes caffeine headaches as “a pulsating, pounding, migraine-like deep headache.” Dung Trinh, MD, internal medicine specialist and owner of Healthy Brain Clinic, says that symptoms of withdrawal headaches will vary from one person to another but typically include a throbbing-type headache.
Caffeine withdrawal affects not just your head, but other parts of your body as well. Here are other signs and symptoms of caffeine withdrawal that may accompany your headache pain:
- Brain fog
- Lowered energy
- Depressed feelings
- Trouble concentrating
- Changes in blood pressure (decrease or increase)
- An increase in your heart rate
- Flushed skin
- Feeling like you’re coming down with the flu
- Stiff muscles and joint pain
- Stomach aches
The severity of your symptoms may depend on the dose of caffeine you typically consume, or how many milligrams of caffeine you typically have daily.
Why do you get caffeine headaches?
Again, caffeine headaches are one of several side effects of caffeine withdrawal. Research has found that caffeine stimulates your central nervous system, and daily users develop a dependence. This dependence is physiological and psychological. When you don’t get your daily caffeine fix, withdrawal symptoms can develop.
How does caffeine withdrawal cause a headache? When you consume caffeine, it quickly enters your bloodstream. Within about 30 minutes of consuming caffeine, it causes blood vessels to narrow.
“Within 12 hours from the last caffeine intake, blood vessels enter a refractory dilatation phase that is perceived as the deep brain headache,” Dr. Smelyansky says.
In other words, caffeine withdrawal causes the blood vessels in your brain to narrow, due to a decrease in caffeine intake. “This constriction can lead to decreased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, causing the headache,” Dr. Trinh says. “These headaches usually start at the front or sides of the head.”
Although anyone can get a caffeine headache when they suddenly remove caffeine from their diet, some people may be more susceptible to them, according to Dr. Trinh. These may include people who regularly consume large amounts of caffeine and people who are naturally more sensitive to changes in their caffeine intake.
How to get rid of a caffeine headache
If you are in the throes of dealing with a caffeine headache, you want to know how to ease your symptoms—and fast. Here are the top caffeine headache cures, based on studies and expert advice:
1. Drink plenty of water
Dehydration is acommon trigger of headaches in general, so rehydrating helps soothe many types of headaches. Caffeine is a diuretic, so drinking caffeinated drinks may also contribute to dehydration. Dr. Smelyansky says that drinking plenty of fluids is an important component of decreasing the intensity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms overall.
2. Sleep and rest
Another simple way to combat caffeine withdrawal headaches is to sleep them off. “A long, restful sleep in a dark room helps tremendously,” Dr. Smelyansky says. Try a nap and rest assured that at least you should be feeling better by tomorrow morning.
3. Consider drinking decaf
Experts aren’t sure if it’s a placebo effect or something else, but it turns out that drinking decaf coffee while you are weaning off of caffeinated coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages can offset the effects of withdrawal symptoms. A 2023 study found that even when participants knew they were drinking decaf, they still had fewer withdrawal symptoms than expected.
4. Apply peppermint oil
A 2016 study found that using peppermint oil topically (on the skin) has been found to be an effective treatment for headaches. The study suggested that solutions that are about 10% peppermint oil in ethanol work best. Some caveats, though: you should never ingest peppermint oil, and it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider before using it.
5. Apply cold packs
Cold therapy can be a wonderful way to relieve headache symptoms. A 2013 study looked at the effects of using freezer ice packs around the neck to soothe symptoms. They found that this treatment, applied as soon as symptoms start, significantly reduced headache symptoms in study participants.
6. Take over-the-counter pain relievers
So, what meds can you take to make a caffeine headache go away? The good news is that many of the medications you already have in your medicine cabinet are safe and effective to take as you manage your caffeine withdrawal headache. “NSAID medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen should minimize the severity of caffeine withdrawals,” Dr. Smelyansky says. You can also try OTC painkillers like Excedrin, Tylenol, or aspirin to decrease symptoms.
Preventing caffeine headaches
Abruptly cutting out caffeine produces the most challenging headache withdrawal symptoms. That’s why experts recommend taking a more measured approach if you decide that you want to part ways with your daily caffeine habit. “It is best to gradually diminish the amount of caffeine intake by about 10% per day over the course of one to two weeks,” Dr. Smelyansky recommends. Even just cutting back over the course of a few days can lessen symptoms, says Dr. Trinh. Try substituting beverages with a lower caffeine content, like green tea, as you reduce how much you consume.
If you are someone who is extra sensitive to the effects of caffeine withdrawal and get headaches simply when you miss your daily fix by an hour or two, it might be helpful to decrease how much caffeine you consume each day, so that your body isn’t so dependent on it. A 2019 study found that limiting your caffeine intake to one or two servings a day can help people who seem to get daily headaches.
Dr. Trinh says that for people who are prone to headaches and to the effects of caffeine, their timing of caffeine consumption can have an impact. “It may be helpful to avoid consuming caffeine in the late afternoon or evening to prevent disruptions to sleep patterns, which can also contribute to headaches,” he explains.
Although caffeine headaches are common, and usually go away on their own, seek emergency medical care if you experience a sudden, severe headache, slurred speech, vision changes, fever along with a stiff neck and vomiting, or any unusual or worsening symptoms for you.
Typically, the onset of symptoms starts 12 to 24 hours after caffeine cessation, peaks at 20–51 hours, and may last up to two to nine days.How long do caffeine withdrawal symptoms last? ›
Typically, the onset of symptoms starts 12 to 24 hours after caffeine cessation, peaks at 20–51 hours, and may last up to two to nine days.Is it safe to quit caffeine cold turkey? ›
Try the following tips to reduce or completely avoid symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Cut back slowly: Quitting cold turkey can shock the body and make withdrawal symptoms worse. Gradually weaning off caffeine can reduce the chances of experiencing unpleasant side effects.Why is caffeine withdrawal so painful? ›
Reducing or quitting caffeine suddenly will allow the blood vessels to suddenly grow, increasing blood flow. This dramatic increase in blood flow can cause painful, throbbing headaches similar to those of migraine. Headaches due to caffeine withdrawal can vary in length and severity.What can caffeine withdrawal feel like? ›
The researchers identified five clusters of common withdrawal symptoms: headache; fatigue or drowsiness; dysphoric mood including depression and irritability; difficulty concentrating; and flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness.What does caffeine withdrawal headache feel like? ›
A caffeine withdrawal headache can present as a feeling of pain and pressure that pushes outwards from the brain. Starting behind the eyes, it can move up to the front of the head. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can also present with migraine-like symptoms and as a widespread feeling of throbbing pain.Does ibuprofen help with caffeine withdrawal? ›
Painkillers. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce a few of the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Because it does a good job eliminating muscle pain, ibuprofen might be the best.How debilitating is caffeine withdrawal? ›
Decreased alertness, brain fogginess, inability to concentrate and feelings of decreased well-being including irritability and depression are frequently experienced during caffeine withdrawal.How do you detox from coffee without a headache? ›
Drink more water
Another key to beating caffeine withdrawal symptoms is water, water, water. And staying hydrated will energize your body, which may negate the need for caffeine in the first place.
- Chicory root "coffee"
- B vitamins.
- Peppermint tea.
- Jump-Start With a Snack. Look for foods that have a low sugar index. ...
- Eat Well and Regularly. ...
- Exercise. ...
- Try the Stimulating Breath Technique. ...
- Stay Hydrated. ...
- Take a Power Nap. ...
- Connect With Nature.
Many people who quit caffeine find that the boost they experience in their sleep quality results in them feeling happier and more energized. In individuals who are prone to experiencing depression, anxiety, or irritability, regular caffeine consumption can make these feelings worse.Is decaf 100% no caffeine? ›
How much caffeine is in decaf coffee? Decaffeination removes about 97% or more of the caffeine in coffee beans. A typical cup of decaf coffee has about 2 mg of caffeine, compared to a typical cup of regular coffee, which has about 95 mg of caffeine.How do you fix a caffeine headache? ›
- Drinking water. Hydration is a common cure for headaches.
- Resting. Sleep can be an effective way to find relief from headaches.
- Taking an OTC pain reliever. ...
- Using a cold compress.
In fact, when you quit coffee, after a few days your body's response will be overwhelmingly positive. One of the most widely reported side effects of quitting coffee is weight loss.Will quitting caffeine reduce anxiety? ›
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can significantly contribute to anxiety. There's evidence that quitting caffeine can be even more beneficial for anxiety than taking prescription anti-anxiety drugs!What is the best OTC for caffeine withdrawal headache? ›
However, people trying to cut back on caffeine can use several other remedies or tricks to reduce caffeine withdrawal headaches. Medicines that are available over the counter, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and acetaminophen, contain compounds that block pain signals and ease most headaches.What supplement helps with caffeine withdrawal? ›
Supplements for Caffeine Withdrawal
vitamin C and B complex. minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. amino acids tyrosine or phenylalanine.
As your caffeine withdrawal symptoms diminish, you might find it helpful to substitute a non-caffeinated drink, such as herbal tea, water, or decaffeinated coffee or tea, for each drink you remove, so you gradually develop a taste for drinks that do not contain caffeine.Is it hard to break a caffeine addiction? ›
Caffeine's addictive qualities make it difficult to quit. When we use caffeine every day, our bodies become accustomed to it and need more to achieve the same feeling of alertness. This can lead to a physical dependence on caffeine.
Excedrin, a combination of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine, can be helpful for headaches caused by caffeine withdrawal. However, this type of medication can also contribute to rebound headaches—especially if they're used for a long time.How do I wean myself off caffeine without a headache? ›
One way to avoid caffeine withdrawal headaches is to reduce your dependence on caffeine. However, you could end up with even more headaches if you go cold turkey. The best way is to cut back slowly. You should aim to reduce your intake by about 25 percent each week.What is the healthiest drink with caffeine? ›
Healthiest Energy Drink Choices
Tea: Black and green teas provide safe doses of caffeine along with some health benefits from the antioxidants flavonoids they contain. Although caffeine contents vary, the average cup of black tea provides about 40 milligrams (compared to 100 to 120 milligrams in a cup of coffee).
Caffeine and Addiction
As the amount of caffeine goes up so does the risk of side effects. You can become mildly dependent on caffeine from regularly drinking 350 mg (about 2 to 4 cups of coffee) a day.
The International Headache Society defines a caffeine withdrawal headache as a headache that: develops within 24 hours after last consuming caffeine in people who consume at least 200 milligrams (mg) per day of caffeine for more than 2 weeks. goes away after 7 consecutive days of not consuming caffeine.How long does it take for 200 mg of caffeine to wear off? ›
How long does 200mg of caffeine last? The half-life of caffeine can be anywhere from three to seven hours. So, if you drink 200 mg of caffeine, you'd still have 100 mg in your system about five hours later, and a quarter of it about 10 hours later. It can take up to 12 hours for caffeine to fully leave your system.How long does it take to detox from coffee? ›
A good way to taper your caffeine intake is by reducing it by about 10% every two weeks. That way, you will reduce your caffeine intake enough that eventually you will be caffeine-free, but it will take several months to get there.How do you survive a caffeine withdrawal headache? ›
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever. Several OTC pain relievers can help relieve headache pain, including: ...
- Apply topical peppermint oil. ...
- Stay hydrated. ...
- Apply an ice pack. ...
- Stimulate your pressure points. ...
- Get some rest. ...
- Satisfy your caffeine craving.
By quitting or limiting your caffeine consumption you can enjoy improved quality of life related to: Breaking the Addition: Many people grow dependent on caffeine to stay awake. By quitting, you can return to a normal state of alertness and improve energy levels.How many cups of coffee is a 200 mg caffeine pill? ›
As a result, many turn to caffeine pills, which contain 200 mg of caffeine per pill and are equivalent to 2 cups of coffee, on average. Caffeine pills and caffeine-containing products like 5-Hour Energy are often found in local convenience stores with very little oversight.
These include headache, tiredness, sleepiness, down moods, trouble concentrating, and crankiness. You'll start to feel symptoms a day or two after you stop. They can last anywhere from 2 to 9 days.