Will drinking coffee daily help my headaches, or just make them worse?
January 30, 2009 3:51 AM   Subscribe

Will drinking coffee daily help my headaches, or just make them worse?

Dear MeFites, I seem to be super sensitive to caffiene withdrawal and think I need to take an all-or-nothing approach to avoid constant headaches. This for me means:

All - Drinking one small cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and one again in the afternoon.

Nothing - Avoiding ANY form of caffiene - coffee, black tea, coke, chocolate, all out.

I don't *love* the taste of coffee like I know many people do, but it does seem to help reduce the severity and occurence of my frequent headaches. Also when I feel a migraine coming on drinking a good strong cup of coffee nearly always hits it on the head.

I know that medically-speaking I should avoid caffiene as it's not meant to be good for people who get a lot of headaches, but I don't want to be in the awful position of falling asleep at my desk on a Monday afternoon and having no real way to wake myself up that won't give me a withdrawal headache the next day.

- Has anyone else been in this situation?

- Do you get constant headaches and find that two cups of coffee a day is more helpful overall than harmful?

- Or do you find your headaches much better when you avoid caffiene altogether (and in which case how do you stay alert without it)?

I would welcome any advice you have to give me, thank you!!
posted by katala to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The headaches might not be caused only by caffeine withdrawal. If you're falling asleep in the middle of the afternoon, your blood sugar could be falling too low. Keeping some nuts/dried fruit to snack on might help. Doing that might help you stay awake, and it definitely won't give you caffeine-induced headaches.

Also, make sure you're getting enough sleep. Your body will eventually force you to sleep if you don't get enough. If this is only happening on a Monday afternoon, make sure you get to bed early on a Sunday night, for example.

If you're able, try getting a 10 minute break in the fresh air when you feel yourself getting tired, or sniffing some peppermint essential oil.

If you're in the habit of using caffeine as a pick-me-up, try weaning yourself off it slowly. For example, cut out the small cup in the morning (if you need something like coffee to get you going in the morning, you might not be getting enough sleep), and just have the one in the afternoon. Once your body adapts to that, try cutting out the afternoon one too. Eventually, you'll be able to get through the day without needing stimulants.
posted by Solomon at 4:17 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My drug of choice for my chronic headaches, when it's not a full-on migraine and I use Axert, is Excedrin - which has about as much caffeine in it as cup of instant coffee. Mine are stress headaches and I'm a regular caffeine drinker anyway. I don't think two cups a day is really a balls out coffee addiction, so if it helps the headaches I wouldn't worry about it. It's a kick ass antioxidant too. You didn't mention the cause of your headaches (if you know), but since you have migraines I assume it's not all caffeine induced, so again, I'd keep on keepin' on.
posted by Roman Graves at 4:36 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I'd recommend consulting a doctor for the headaches/migraines. IANAD, but caffeine does dilate blood vessels, which can help alleviate headaches, but it also causes them when you get caffeine dependant, so I'm not sure you want to be fighting on two fronts there. I dont really think consuming caffeine (in whatever form) is really detrimental (although getting over a caffeine addiction is a drag) but it really is just a temporary treatment of whatever is causing you to have so many headaches. Talk to doctor. They'll give you better info than we could here.
posted by elendil71 at 4:42 AM on January 30, 2009

First off. A lot of Migraine headache pills have caffiene in them.

Also try drinking more water. That might keep you awake and a lot of headaches are actually caused b ydehydration. I thought it was a crock till i started drinking more water.

Also if you need the caffiene to stay awake then I suggest sleeping better.

Headaches are usually caused by something else (trust me i know)
posted by majortom1981 at 5:08 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Caffeine sensitive migraine sufferer here. IANAD.

- Like others, I use caffeine with pain medication as my own (doctor suggested and approved for my particular case) version of stop.the.madness.now therapy. I've found that moderate doses of Advil, which do nothing on their own, work pretty well with the caffeine booster.

- Since I get migraines at least twice a month, its a tossup as to whether it makes sense for me to keep up the caffeine in between. Usually I keep it at a low roar, but daily and at around the same time - a cup of strong tea, a little dark chocolate, a cola, or 1 shot of espresso (see caffeine content of pretty much everything here).

- Consistency and dose moderation are what helps with the headaches and (of course) other withdrawal symptoms.

- If I stop ingesting any form of caffeine, when I start again it feels much more powerful.
posted by charmcityblues at 5:22 AM on January 30, 2009

I find that caffeine generally helps when I have a headache, but that I generally have fewer headaches when I don't drink coffee on a daily basis. You might want to see if giving up coffee entirely helps in your case.

I was sick recently and avoided coffee. After two days I didn't need it to get up in the morning any more. My suggestion would be to skip coffee Saturday and Sunday so that by Monday you're past the withdrawal stage. You can go to work clearheaded and after a few days you'll know whether your headaches are better for it.
posted by abirae at 6:24 AM on January 30, 2009

I think I've said this in like a billion AskMe threads before, but I've read that some very high proportion of headaches are due to dehydration (like upwards of 90 or 95%) so before you attribute your headaches to caffeine, might it be worth it to increase your water intake and see if there is any difference in the headaches you get? Also, if you're a chronic migraine or headache sufferer, the chances that it's just due to caffeine are, I think, sort of slim. From what I know, headaches/migraines are a result of a combo of factors that can include hunger, dehydration, food/drink sensitivities, hormones, stress, blood sugar, sleep deprivation, etc.

I agree with majortom1981 that if you absolutely need caffeine to make it through the day, you might need to get more sleep or find a way to get more restful sleep and it couldn't hurt to explore all the other things that might be contributing to energy dips throughout the day (diet, exercise, etc.). I mean, since you don't love coffee, maybe finding other ways to pick up your energy is overall a better option anyway? You could try to find a different mid-afternoon pickmeup--like cold water, a healthy snack, a brisk walk and some gum or whatever.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: After concluding that caffeine causes migraines and giving it up for several years, I'm back drinking caffeine--in the form of green tea.

Green tea is said to release caffeine slowly, so perhaps the jolt from coffee was at the bottom of the migraine-caffeine connection for me. I definitely get migraines if I drink coffee in excess.

Green tea seems to have either a neutral or migraine-negating effect--I'm not sure which--but I only use a teaspoonful per day, and only in the AM.

Give it a try.
posted by Gordion Knott at 6:39 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: My advice would be to take Excedrin for the withdrawal headaches - it contains both acetominophen (good for the headache) and caffeine (the substance causing the problem in the first place).

I don't know how I could ever live life without Excedrin, honestly. It's really the best thing for headaches. I find that it helps to take it while eating chocolate, but that could just be me finding a "medicinal" reason to eat chocolate. YMMV.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:51 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I've had constant headaches (both migraines and tension) since I was seven years old. I've managed to successfully diminish them from every couple weeks to only a few times a year with this approach:

1) Drinking one small cup of coffee first thing in the morning, and one again in the afternoon. This was actually recommended by a neurologist years ago, when I was trying to quit caffeine altogether. As pointed out by others, many headache remedies contain caffeine - personally I like the taste of coffee, so I'd rather have a cup than take a pill. I have one when I get up - if I miss it, I get a headache - and one around 2pm.

2) Diet. When I was diagnosed as prediabetic some 5 years ago, I had to switch to a low-carb (no sugar, no grains, no processed foods) eating plan. An added benefit was that my headaches almost entirely disappeared. There are those who believe that the blood sugar fluctuations caused by the the typical American (high carb, high processed foods) can trigger migraines - I've found for me this was true. Googling returns some crackpot theories on this idea, as well as some solid info.

In addition to reducing the frequency of my headaches, following these two steps has allowed me to get to the point where I no longer rely on codeine (which I took as a child!) or Imitrex when I do get headaches - now, basic over-the-counter painkillers work.
posted by chez shoes at 7:05 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i get bad headaches when i skip coffee. for a while i tried to fight it, but now i just make sure to get a daily coffee fix. i mean, is it really so bad? it's got antioxidants.
posted by lblair at 7:37 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: It's pretty apparent caffeine, and it's headache side effects, is different for everybody. I get daily headaches, for other reasons. I went cold turkey on the caffeine for a while. The headaches were marginally improved when caffeine was out of my diet, but not much. And the withdrawal headaches were much, much worse. Plus, I was sleepy. To me, the slight improvement in my headaches wasn't worth the grief of getting there, or the drowsiness factor. So, i've made the conscious decision that caffeine will be a part of my diet, in the form of splenda-sweetened diet cola products.

I've promoted this book so much here on askmefi I should get a cut of sales, but here it is anyway: Heal Your Headache, by David Buchholz. It's worth a read, even if you don't follow his plan.
posted by cgg at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2009

I've realized that caffeine was my master headache trigger, although other factors play a part in contributing to them (dehydration, stress, delaying meal times and changing my sleep schedule). I quit completely, and after the a week or two of feeling foggy, I really never get headaches anymore. The only exception to that is certain times the night before I fully come down with a cold.

I've experimented with small amounts of tea or chocolate, but even that, little by little, drags me back into the caffeine withdrawal spiral. It appears that some people are just more intolerant to caffeine than others. My father discovered the exact same thing about himself (that caffeine was his trigger that triggered the other triggers) in his late 20s as well, so I wonder if its just part of my constitution.
posted by umbĂș at 9:22 AM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: Thanks heaps for your replies! I'm just adding my results and a resolved tag to this post.

After this post I started drinking coffee twice a day (9am and 2pm) and I've definately found it has helped with my headaches and it means I'm not falling asleep at my desk in the afternoon which is something I always struggled with.

I find I must have my caffiene hit twice a day or I do get a bad persistant headache, but it's part of my routine now so that's not a problem. The only time it can be is if I sleep in and don't have my first coffee till like 10am, so usually when that happens I make sure I just have a small coffee by 3pm and I'm all good and can still sleep well at night.

Adding coffee to my daily diet has not changed my sleep patterns at all, and in fact apart from the extra sugar I'm getting seems to have only had a positive effect on my life.

So thank you again very much MeFites!! :)

- Katala
posted by katala at 3:55 PM on May 12, 2009

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