On days when you're tired or need that extra boost, coffee can be a gift sent from heaven. But on days when you're feeling exhausted, you may load up on too much cups, experiencing unpleasant side effects that could be signs you're drinking too much coffee.
Caffeine can keep you alert, improve your memory, and even boost your workouts, but too much of the stuff can cause both physiological and psychological problems.
"How much coffee is too much really depends on you," Lindsay Langford, MS, RD, CSSD and Sigornie Pfefferle, MS, RD of St. Vincent's Sports Performance, tell Bustle "Our typical daily intake can dictate how much you can handle, but there does seem to be an upper limit, and if you overshoot that amount you’re likely going to experience some unpleasant side effects."
Excess caffeine consumption can also result in overstimulation of the nervous system and electrical activity of the heart, although there are some more common, everyday side effects from lesser amounts of the stimulant. Experts recommend consuming no more than four cups of brewed coffee a day, though every person is different.
If you suspect you may be loading up on too much coffee, watch out for these seven signs you may be having a caffeine overload.
1. Heart Palpitations
If you've ever gone to the coffee machine, brewed yourself a cup of morning Joe, and drank it quickly like your life depended on it, you often know what comes next — you get jittery, and your heart starts racing. Yes, coffee is the perfect little pick-me-up to get your energy levels started, but be careful of what it can do to your heart. It may not be dangerous, but too many cups can kick your heart into gear in a not-so-great-way. And that's all thanks to that bit of caffeine you may be craving.
"Caffeine is a stimulant that acts upon the central nervous system and can increase one's heart rate," Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., M.S, tells Bustle. "Those that drink too much caffeine may start to experience palpitations."
But no need to worry — if this becomes a problem for you, talk to your doctor about it.
2. Tremors or Jitters
Similar to your heart racing, your early morning cappuccino or late-afternoon espresso has a way of making your leg start to dance under your desk. Or maybe you start to notice that you can now type at the speed of light. Whatever it may be, you can thank the caffeine in your cup of cold brew for that new spike of energy that feels like it's coursing through your fingers and toes.
"Caffeine may trigger the release of certain hormones like adrenaline, which may make one feel restless and even have tremors," Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says. The result? Jitteriness, tremors, and a general sense like you can run a mile and not break a sweat.
3. Increased Bathroom Trips
Coffee is a diuretic, which means it can make you have to race to the bathroom the moment you finish your cup. But according to the Mayo Clinic, that does not mean coffee is dehydrating. Although it has a tendency to fill your bladder quickly, it doesn't take away from the amount of water you're diligently trying to chug as well. Which is good news.
But, if you find your bladder constantly needs emptying, you mean have overdone the java. "Caffeine may act as a mild diuretic and stimulate frequent urination in some individuals," Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says. If it's becoming an issue, cut back on the Joe a tad.
4. An Upset Stomach
It's no secret that coffee has some particularly interesting, and oftentimes immediate impacts on your bowels. It is known to stimulate your GI system, which can have you running to the bathroom for other reasons than the above. For people who are experiencing constipation, this can be a good thing. But for those who find that their third cup of Joe is actually causing discomfort, it may not be.
"Caffeine may stimulate the gastrointestinal tract leading to stomach upset, nausea, and even diarrhea," Dr. Okeke-Igbokwe says. Coffee is acidic, which can cause abdominal cramping and irritate the lining of the stomach, so try to drink it sparingly if you are having issues.
Coffee may be necessary to help you get through your mornings (and sometimes your afternoons) but if you're prone to anxiety, the energy-boosting effects of this amazing beverage can have its downsides. Since coffee is a stimulant, it can cause people with anxiety to start to feel more symptoms once they've drank it. This can include the aforementioned jitteriness, or an increased sense of nervousness.
If you find that your mind is racing, it may be a result of too much coffee. Coffee can increase existing anxiety for some people, but you don't have to go completely coffee free. If this is an issue for you, speak with a mental health professional to see what the best solution is to help with your anxiety.
If you've ever drank a cup of coffee, only to feel discomfort and heartburn for the rest of the day, you're not alone. There are a few components within the brew that can lead to this type of reaction.
Since coffee is highly acidic, it can cause heartburn in many people, likely from the caffeine as well as other compounds present in the drink. Experts recommend only having one three-to-four ounce cup of coffee to cut down on heartburn symptoms. Or try drinking your coffee with non-fat, or plant-based milks to see if this helps to mitigate the effects of the acidity.
You may think that your mid-afternoon latte is a great idea for helping you finish off your day, but it may have consequences for you later. If you have difficulties sleeping at night, this may have to do with the amount of coffee you drink during the day.
Trouble sleeping at night is a common sign of too much coffee intake, even if you drink your coffee in the morning, as caffeine can stay in the body for many hours. Drinking your coffee earlier in the day and cutting down on the number of cups can help you sleep better at night. And, be sure not to drink coffee right before bed, and stick to water instead.
It's completely OK if coffee is what keeps you running during the day. You don't have to give it up completely to feel less of its effects, though — try having one less cup a day and going from there. And if you continue to feel the side effects, it may be a good idea to speak with your doctor.
This post was originally published on May 7, 2017. It was updated on June 5, 2019.