Coffee, All-Nighter? Nope.
January 10, 2012 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Why does caffeine seem to have the opposite effect on me?

For some reason, whenever I drink coffee, instead of feeling all perked up and alert like you're supposed to, I get extremely tired instead. I can tolerate a cup or two without the effects being too adverse (which is good, because I love the taste of coffee), and copious amounts of tea seems to have a similar effect on me too.

Oddly enough, despite being exhausted enough to just drop dead, I'm unable to sleep under the effects of coffee either.

Can someone explain to me why this student staple doesn't seem to work for me?
posted by Conspire to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you happen to have ADHD? "Many people with ADHD have next to no reaction or react paradoxically to caffeine (coffee/black tea/cola) and other stimulants (nicotine, “Red Bull,” amphetamines)." Correspondence (letter to the editor): Paradoxical Reaction in ADHD, Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.

Here's a 1975 paper discussing caffeine and paradoxical drowsiness. The authors found a paradoxical effect in some men but not women.
posted by jedicus at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

My experience meshes with what jedicus describes. My husband and son both have ADD/ADHD and caffeine just doesn't work on them like it works on me. It seems to even them out in some respects but it certainly doesn't give them the jolt that I get from it.

Also, are you using lots of sugar and/or cream with your tea and coffee? You might be experiencing a sugar crash if you are, which would negate the effects of the caffeine.
posted by cooker girl at 8:48 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe because it is warm that is relaxing you and making you sleepy.
Or maybe you are using it to deal with stress (get things done) and the stress is making you want to retreat back to bed.
Or maybe you have taken so much caffeine that your tolerance to it is very high.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:02 AM on January 10, 2012

I felt like this more when I drank coffee less often, actually. (Maybe now I'm just in withdrawal without it?)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:14 AM on January 10, 2012

Do you think you may have cortisol problems (adrenal fatigue, constant low cortisol, constant high cortisol)?

If so, caffeine stresses your body even more, making your body shut down.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 9:15 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

How often do you drink it? I learned in one of my classes that if you drink coffee too often your body will overcompensate by eliminating more of whatever it is that makes you energetic (I forgot the chemical's name), and you'll end up feeling tired because of that.
posted by Autumn at 9:18 AM on January 10, 2012

jedicus, the letter (not "paper") on ADHD patients and paradoxical drowsiness is anecdotal. It doesn't consider controls without "ADHD," is limited to a small sample already affiliated with this clinic and doesn't review any literature to the effect that this paradoxical effect might be just as common in persons not diagnosed with "ADHD." It's moreover written by authors with financial interests in promoting the notion that ADHD exists and adheres to the disease model, both of which claims are disputable.

OP- maybe your coffee is weak. Drink it when you're getting tired, not enough caffeine, attribute logginess to the coffee?
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:48 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

the letter (not "paper") on ADHD patients and paradoxical drowsiness is anecdotal.

I didn't call the ADHD letter a paper but rather a "letter to the editor." It is not strong evidence, but appears to be the professional opinion of a group of doctors who study ADHD. The asker can take it for what it's worth. Perhaps he or she happens to believe that "ADHD exists and adheres to the disease model," perhaps not. Since none of us are in a position to diagnose the cause of the asker's apparent paradoxical reaction, what we can do is offer hypotheses that he or she could take to his or her doctor. The possibility of a link between a paradoxical reaction and ADHD is one of them.

The second link, which I did call a paper, is essentially a description of some interesting results obtained in the course of performing a placebo-controlled study. It's short and it's also from 1975 (these facts are probably related), so its value is also somewhat suspect, but it offers some evidence that the effect the asker reports is not illusory and that it may be sex-linked.
posted by jedicus at 10:25 AM on January 10, 2012

A co-worker told me one time that caffeine won't work if you're dehydrated. Maybe you're not drinking enough water beforehand? I have absolutely no evidence supporting it but it seems to work for me.
posted by ad4pt at 11:23 AM on January 10, 2012

Seconding Jason and Laszio. I have had this happen to me sometimes (and for the record, I am female and do not have adhd) and I have always attributed it to being so tired that the warmth of the coffee soothes my body and puts me back into sleepy mode before the caffeine can kick in. The fact that you say you cannot actually fall asleep (though not feeling a jolt from the caffeine) does imply that it is working, but it's just not enough to wake you up completely.
posted by Eicats at 11:41 AM on January 10, 2012

I'm pretty ADD and found that if I drank just one cup of coffee in the morning, only loud noises, physical shaking and electric shock would distract me from what I was doing because what I was doing was falling asleep. By cup 4 or 5 I'd start to wake up a bit. After I went on Concerta, my half-gallon of coffee a day habit pretty much went away.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:29 PM on January 10, 2012

I've never gotten anything from coffee except an occasional bit of the sleepies, and the one time I took "5 Hour Energy" I fell asleep immediately thereafter (and I was not sleep deprived prior) - I think some of it is the warmth, and that perhaps caffeine simply does not affect me as it does others.

I do know that in homeopathy, caffeine in very small doses is used to help aid in sleep but this never worked for me either.
posted by sm1tten at 5:17 PM on January 10, 2012

I can't answer *why* it happens, but I have the same experience: Usually (but not always), a cup of coffee will make me drowsy. Like ad4pt, if I have a glass of water along with it, the drowsiness usually is abated. In my opinion, the water is the key.

I've recently discovered that if I just drink half a cup of coffee in the morning, I feel super awesome, even if I cut back on the water.
posted by puritycontrol at 5:34 PM on January 10, 2012

Response by poster: Hmm. While I do have a clinical diagnosis of ADHD, as others have pointed out, that article seems to be highly unreliable; are there any more papers on that?

Also, a few more details:
- I only drink coffee very occasionally as a treat, so withdrawal probably isn't the answer.
- While I take coffee with cream and sugar, I take tea plain, and both have a similar effect (although I have to take tea in a larger dose to notice it), so I'm not sure if I buy the sugar crash hypothesis. Also, the drowsiness is immediate, so I would notice at least a high first before I actually crash, right?
- Iced Coffees/Coffee-based Smoothies also have the same effect, so I'm not sure if it's the warmth either.

I'm figuring it's actually the caffeine that's causing it?
posted by Conspire at 10:51 PM on January 10, 2012

Well, again, adrenal fatigue / cortisol problems? Did you look into it? (I"m not talking about ADHD)

Stimulants like caffeine pretty much shut down your body if you have cortisol problems, and yes, it IS the caffeine.
posted by midnightmoonlight at 5:21 PM on January 11, 2012

It's common for a physician to recommend coffee to help calm a hyperactive child. I don't know about how "published" the idea is - don't care - but I do know that in certain cases it can make a world of difference.
posted by aryma at 7:28 PM on January 12, 2012

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