Caffeine cycling for chronic users brings back that old black magic. If you’re a regular or chronic caffeine user, you may have noticed the stimulating effects of the substance aren’t as strong as when you first started to take caffeine. If you want to experience that near-bliss you used to get from that first cup of java, you can do caffeine cycling where you stop taking it for a while and then start again.
Researchers call the need people have for caffeine tolerance or dependence (both psychological and physical) rather than addiction. Some people who are dependent on caffeine suffer headaches, sleepiness and a bad mood if they don’t get their dose. But don’t confuse these symptoms with addictions to substances like alcohol and narcotics, where heavy users suffer intensely when they try to stop.
The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, in a 2002 article, said caffeine is a known “psychostimulant” with positive effects on memory, reaction time and “in addition caffeine consumption has been associated with positive effects on mood.” The article says:
Increases in positive feelings are the usual feature of studies involving acute caffeine ingestion in naïve subjects, although no dose–response relationship has been demonstrated. Older people show increased positive effects of caffeine on mood compared to younger subjects with younger people expressing more anger with caffeine consumption. With respect to mood, tolerance has been largely overlooked by investigators in this field, although Zwyghuizen-Doorenbos et al. suggested that instead of tolerance developing Pavlovian conditioning to the alerting effects of caffeine may also occur.
Caffeine Informer has an excellent article on caffeine tolerance.It says a first-time user or someone who has been off of caffeine for a long time has zero tolerance. These people get the maximum effects of euphoria, alertness, good mood and increased energy and motivation.
“Consuming the same amount of caffeine the next day will result in a lesser degree of those effects,” the article says. “As a person continues to consume the same dose habitually, those effects can reduce pretty rapidly. Soon that same amount of caffeine produces only a sense of ‘normal’ rather than all of the effects initially experienced.”
One study found that tolerance happens with one to four days, the article says. To reset the tolerance to zero, the article says a person should do a caffeine cleanse by not ingesting it for between two weeks to two months. Then, don’t let caffeine dependence develop again by not consuming it too regularly.
On Reddit in 2014, in a thread titled Caffeine cycling: is it worth it?commenter PartySunday says:
I stopped taking caffeine on a regular basis and I feel much better.
Now I take it irregularly and it is amazing.
Another Redditor, leemobile, said:
This! If I drink coffee on a regular basis, it quickly loses it’s stimulating effects. At least for me anyways.
Now I just drink it once or twice a week, and it really helps me focus.
Another scholarly article, in the journal Current Neuropharmacology, states that “the use of caffeine to stay awake and alert is a long-standing habit. Coffee is the most popular beverage after water and is consumed worldwide in daily amounts of approximately 1.6 billion cups, which is quite an impressive figure.” And that doesn’t include tea, medications, supplements, candy and energy drinks.
— carlie (@CarlieMadden) July 13, 2016
The article gives a history of coffee use with historical anecdotes and is well worth reading. It states “in epidemiological reports, a link between chronic caffeine consumption and a significantly lower risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, has been described. … [M]oderate-to-high consumers develop tolerance to caffeine and only low or nonconsumers can eventually benefit from an acute administration.”
The paper says researchers are still investigating the effects of caffeine dependence. A problem researchers encounter is that different products contain different concentrations of the chemical, so it has been hard to verify amounts taken. Plus, many caffeine users used other substances, including alcohol and nicotine, simultaneously. These substances may interact with caffeine and have overlapping effects.
The article states:
Caffeine’s psychological effects are also responsible for its widespread use, as they can provide energy and improve cognitive skills; they are a direct result of the caffeine-induced chemical activation of different neuronal pathways through alterations in neurotransmitters’ release. These effects can cause both psychological and physical dependence. It has been demonstrated that caffeine is able to induce an abstinence syndrome during withdrawal after prolonged use and can lead to addiction and tolerance mechanisms …
An article on Examine.com titled Do I need to cycle caffeine states that if you take it to reduce the risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes or to reduce headache bouts, cycling is not required.
“Actually, it is probably recommended to keep chronic coffee or tea (not just caffeine) intake for diabetes risk reduction, as the negative effects on glucose metabolism by caffeine are reduced with tolerance,” the article states.
My own experience with caffeine is that if I maintain the amount I take at a certain level every day, I still get some of the stimulating effects, though not as much as before tolerance developed. And I avoid the headaches, sleepiness and bad moods that come with withdrawal. When I start to take more than usual (two mugs), I can’t sleep at night, and I just don’t enjoy it as much. Plus, if I start to have three or four cups a day, coffee is just another beverage and not a treat that I look forward to.
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Caffeine is NOT addictive, but it sure is habit-forming. You don’t hear about coffee addicts robbing stores and hijacking motorists to get money for a fix. That’s because while caffeine does cause dependence, it isn’t in the same category as opiates or alcohol.
You have it every day. You know exactly what to tell the barista the moment you step into the café.
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