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December 31, 2008 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Can a couple of cups of tea make me totally anxious, and totally unable to sleep? Even two days later?

I love, love, love black tea with milk and sugar.

I've pretty much stopped drinking it because I suspect it might make me really anxious and also mess up my sleeping, but I'm not sure.

I tend towards anxiety in the first place. Sleeping isn't usually a problem, although I've had a bit of a rough year emotionally and have had issues. Usually I go to sleep around midnight, exhausted, and then I'm wide awake at 4am. My new thing is that I get music going through my head, over and over, really loud. Usually it's music that I'm working on (I'm a fiddle player). I like fiddle music plenty, but at 2AM having the same tune going over and over in my head is no fun.

So to be clear, this definitely happens when I'm not drinking black tea.

I'm not sure if this is confirmation bias or whatever you call it. For instance, I'm housesitting at a friends house right now. We hung out till late, I had a couple cups of tea. That night I slept poorly on his futon. I didn't have any yesterday but I slept miserably.

I have a similar suspicion that it pushes my anxiety past comfortable limits, but it's hard to see a direct causation because I'm pretty anxious in general. And have been particularly anxious this fall, and have had maybe 4 cups of black tea.

Really the issue is that I'd like to drink black tea all the time, because I love it so much. But I'm afraid my head might explode. But don't want to deny myself the pleasure if I'm just a normal head case and it's not really doing much.

Any way I can figure this out?

Oh and btw I never ever drink coffee and never have. No caffeinated soft drinks (well, the occasional gourmet root beer).
posted by sully75 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
Drink some water or Gatorade. Do some jumping jacks. Take a hot shower.
posted by orthogonality at 7:03 AM on December 31, 2008

Yes, its possible. I cant drink any caffeine after 1pm or I wont sleep well. 4 cups of black tea could be as much as 300mg of caffeine. That's a serious amount of caffeine for someone with a sensitivity towards it.

You body will remove the caffeine in 12-18 hours. The caffeine will be gone by the next night but you may have messed up your sleep schedule by being up late. Also, its possible that you may have experienced caffeine intoxication.

I'm not sure if this is confirmation bias or whatever you call it.

Its probably not. Caffeine sensitivity is as real as anything.

Really the issue is that I'd like to drink black tea all the time, because I love it so much.

Cut out all caffeine or limit your self to 30mg or less per day and only in the morning. If you like tea so much you should be buying the non-caffeinated variety.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:03 AM on December 31, 2008

As far as your larger issues with anxiety and insomnia, you can try a little melatonin and valerian root at night. You should learn some relaxation techniques and practice them before bedtime. There are a lot of questions here about insomnia and sleep with a lot of good answers. Im guessing the tea is just making a bad situation worse.

If it gets worse then its probably time to talk to a doctor about this. Its not normal to get up after 4hrs sleep.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:06 AM on December 31, 2008

I have had similar problems with caffeine and/or anxiety, so I do sympathise. Up until recently I used to drink a lot of coffee but avoided the tea completely as one cup could make me far more 'shaky' then several cups of coffee, which seemed quite strange at the time. Now I can drink tea again without it affecting me any worse than coffee. Again, I have no explanation for that. Something changed , I'm not sure what.

I think one reason this is affecting you quite heavily is that you don't seem to drink a lot of tea, which means that your tolerance levels to the caffeine are very low (hence the strong reaction). Another thing I would say is that my own anxiety levels definitely rise if I don't get enough sleep, so if you can get a coupe of early nights that would probably help, it certainly sounds as if you're not really getting enough rest at the moment in general.

I know it's a Mefi cliche, but a simple breath meditation routine can be a big help in this kind of situation too - have you tried that? The other possibilty is of course decaffeinated tea - Twinings do a decaf Earl Grey which is reasonably widely available in the UK, I'm sure there are ither altrnatives elsewhere.

On preview, seconding damn dirty ape...
posted by Chairboy at 7:13 AM on December 31, 2008

I often get very anxious from a single cup of tea. don't underestimate the power of caffeine! especially if you drink it on an empty stomach.
posted by beccyjoe at 7:16 AM on December 31, 2008

Caffeine half-life is on average 3-4 hours. This is the time it takes your body to clear half the caffeine you consumed.

I see from your profile that you are a male. Females can take longer to clear caffeine if they are pregnant or taking birth control pills. Poor liver function in anyone can make it take longer.

In the absence of liver problems, some people are significantly more sensitive to caffeine than others. This sensitivity can present as anxiety and sleep disorders, among other psychological manifestations. Actually, quite a few people are sensitive to caffeine to this degree. If you are otherwise healthy, this may be your problem too.
posted by subatomiczoo at 7:18 AM on December 31, 2008

A cup or two of tea can make you shakey, but not three days later.

I'd point to the anxiety as a more likely culprit -- stress and anxiety definitely has that affect on me (I've not had a single uninterrupted night of sleep in two weeks, and it was all due to a very hectic holiday prep time). The annoying thing was that my mood started out generally positive, and the anxiety was eating at me on an unconscious level -- if you'd talked to me when all this began and asked me how I was doing, I'd respond with a chipper, "Oh, pretty good -- got a lot to do to get ready for Christmas, but who doesn't, and I can handle it, tra la." But unconsciously it was a lot of stress and it was indeed affecting my sleep. You say you have issues with anxiety; I'd say that that's a more likely cause.

It certainly won't hurt you to cut tea out, if you really really want to be certain, and it is possible that a cup of tea on Tuesday afternoon could have kept you up Tuesday night. But I think it's highly unlikely that a cup of tea on Tuesday afternoon would still be keeping you up FRIDAY night, is all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:19 AM on December 31, 2008

Switch to decaf tea, you could definitely be sensitive to caffeine, and caffeine could definitely be making you more anxious. Personal anecdote - I haven't had any caffeine in about three months, and I had a Diet Coke this week and I was high as a kite all day and barely slept that night. It sounds like you're not a heave caffeine drinker, so it wouldn't surprise me if it's affecting you strongly.
posted by robinpME at 7:20 AM on December 31, 2008

I love black tea as well, but can't drink it for pretty much the same reason. If I drink as much as I want, it makes me pee all day and then I can't sleep. (Coffee does pretty much the same thing, but since it doesn't taste as good as the tea I don't have the problem of drinking way too much.) And if I drink it after 3pm, then I know I won't be sleeping that night.

So I buy the decaffeinated black tea -- it's not nearly as good as the real stuff, but with milk and sugar it isn't too bad.

It's a pretty easy experiment to make. Just cut out all the caffeine (all of it, no cheating!) for a week or two, and see if it makes a difference. The worst part is a few days of caffeine-deprivation headaches, if you get those. Don't just cut it for a day or two -- give it long enough for your body to readjust.
posted by Forktine at 7:29 AM on December 31, 2008

The correlation between caffeine and anxiety is not just in your head. Anxiety can be induced by caffeine alone (see here) and if you are already prone to anxiety, caffeine will do you NO good.

As for the tea affecting your sleep the next day, I would say it is more the effect of the disruption of your sleep cycle and your general anxiety, and now you are worried about it and oh no what if its...? etc

Really the issue is that I'd like to drink black tea all the time, because I love it so much. But I'm afraid my head might explode. But don't want to deny myself the pleasure if I'm just a normal head case and it's not really doing much.

I'd like to drink coffee or tea all day, too, but I just can't. It is not worth it for me, it totally disrupts my sleep and mental well being.

Personally, I save coffee and tea as a treat for when I know that I don't need lots of sleep and don't have to be on top of my game for the next few days. Also, don't be ashamed of decaf.
posted by bobobox at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2008

Caffeine and related compounds can certainly worsen anxiety in people who are already having it. That's pretty much an expected finding.

It doesn't really answer your question to say so, but I think that caffeine may not be the primary problem here. The level of anxiety you describe, plus insomnia and racing/recurrent/intrusive thoughts, are not normal phenomena. They can be reflective of mental illness. This particular kind is often so easily and completely treatable with medications that it seems almost inconceivable not to go get it checked out by a doc.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:46 AM on December 31, 2008

Try rooibos or honeybush teas for an alternative to black tea without the caffeine.
posted by kcm at 9:35 AM on December 31, 2008

Seconding what ikkyu2 said.

To answer strictly to the tea part of the question, you probably don't need the caffeine, or may be sensitive to it, so only drink caffeinated tea in the early morning, or switch entirely to decaf tea. There are some good decaf teas available. To get you started try Harney or Simpson and Vail or Adagio .
posted by gudrun at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2008

Can you clarify your question a little? Most people are answering as if you drink a lot of caffeine and want to cut back, but am I understanding correctly that you've had 4 cups of tea during the fall, total, and you're actually asking will drinking more tea make the problems you're experiencing with anxiety worse?

If that's the case, I don't think there's any way to know for certain if regular caffeine intake will increase your anxiety/sleep troubles, but it seems likely, and there's no reason to risk it. Drink decaf black tea, you can get nice, very drinkable varieties from Adagio and other good tea vendors.
posted by donnagirl at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers!

To clarify things a bit, I've talked the anxiety thing over in the past with doctors. For various reasons I'm not generally interested in medication although I've thought about it and may try it at some times.

I think I may overplay the anxiety thing in writing about it. The sleep thing comes and goes. But I do appreciate the advice...I'll take it all into consideration.

I guess I'll start searching for a not-too-bad decaf variety.

Thanks again!
posted by sully75 at 10:23 AM on December 31, 2008

Response by poster: PS I'd take some more good Earl Grey or Irish Black tea decaf sources.
posted by sully75 at 10:31 AM on December 31, 2008

sully75, there are tons of links to tea vendors here , and a number have decaf. I would also recommend joining teamail, as the people on the list are super nice and will come up with some great recommendations for you, if you ask about decaf Earl Grey or Irish black tea.
posted by gudrun at 10:40 AM on December 31, 2008

That night I slept poorly on his futon. I didn't have any yesterday but I slept miserably.

I'd blame sleeping on someone else's futon. Few things are less conducive to relaxation!
posted by Carol Anne at 11:11 AM on December 31, 2008

Try steeping the tea for 1 minute, then dumping it steeping again. Most of the caffeine should be absorbed in the first steeping.
posted by rq at 11:43 AM on December 31, 2008 [1 favorite]


I fell deeply in love last year with the Republic of Tea brand Decaf Earl Greyer -- it's a wonderful black tea with a hint of bergamot (my personal favourite!) I bought a canister of 50 teabags and that's plenty to last any human for a while.
posted by fantine at 1:21 PM on December 31, 2008

Two Answers for you.

1. For the "caffeine buzz," (shaky, nervous, can't sleep, anxiety) I take a Melatonin. The ones I buy are from Trader Joe's, and are 500mcg (not mg) per tablet, and one tablet is good enough to reverse the caffeine effects within 10 minutes. You can get them at a drugstore too.

2. Good Earth Tea, decaf, is awesome.
posted by Andrea2880 at 3:56 PM on December 31, 2008

I don't know if anyone addressed this directly, but the music you say you're working on--are you learning it or composing it? I'm a dancer and when we're working really hard on a new choreography, I will find it difficult to sleep because the music and moves are running over and over and over again in my mind, or if I do fall asleep, I dance in my dreams and then when I wake up I don't feel rested.

I haven't really found a solution for this. Sometimes it helps if I stop trying to sleep and go over the dance and music ONCE in minute detail in my mind (or even physically, if possible) and tell myself very sternly that's enough until tomorrow. That doesn't always work, but sometimes it helps.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2009

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