Caffeine And Depression: Is There A Connection Between Caffeine And Depression?

By: Michael Puskar

Updated September 09, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Dawn Brown

Have you noticed that you sometimes feel down after consuming caffeine? Whether we’re talking about a chocolate bar, an energy drink, or your morning cup of coffee, some experts say there is no apparent connection between caffeine and depression. However, people who are especially sensitive to caffeine or who ingest too much of it may, in fact, experience depression more frequently than others. This article will discuss the possible correlation between caffeine and depression by explaining how caffeine effects our bodies and our state of mind.

Is My Depression Caused By Caffeine?

How Exactly Does Caffeine Affect My Mental Health?
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Most experts believe that depression is caused by a host of lifestyle and dietary choices. These could include the

Most experts believe that depression is partially influenced by a host of lifestyle and dietary choices. These could include the amount of exercise a person gets each week, the amount of alcohol they drink, whether or not they smoke, and how much tea or coffee they drink. Next to drinking water, tea and coffee are the most popular beverages in the world, so it’s easy to see how they could have a significant impact on our moods and day-to-day lives.

Interestingly, some studies have shown that people who suffer from depression tend to consume more caffeine, presumably to boost their moods and give them the energy and motivation that they need to get through the day. But what if the caffeine they’re consuming is only making their condition worse? This could be a vicious cycle. Is coffee making us depressed? Or are drinking coffee because we’re depressed?

Furthermore, a diet high in both coffee and refined sugar can have more of a negative impact on a person’s depression than consuming either of these substances alone. Given the prevalence of these foods in our diets, it’s worth considering their impact, especially if you’re struggling with your mental health.

If you’re concerned about the impact of caffeine consumption on your depression, you’re not alone, but both issues are treatable with lifestyle changes and therapy. Many people have seen significant results simply by reducing the amount of caffeine that they consume on a daily basis. In addition, therapy can help you develop skills to keep your caffeine dependence and depression under control.

Ways Caffeine Can Worsen Depression

Caffeine is known to keep us awake. In fact, most of us drink coffee because it keeps us awake! It can be helpful when it does its job throughout the morning and into the afternoon, but when caffeine keeps us up all night, it becomes a problem. Any disruption to a person’s sleep can affect their mood. To be more specific, too little sleep can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Caffeine doesn’t only affect our ability to fall asleep; it can also affect our ability to stay asleep. If you drink a lot of coffee and wake up several times throughout the night, this might be happening because your body is still trying to process the caffeine that you drink throughout the day.

Furthermore, heavy consumption of caffeine over time can result in side effects that make a person feel worse, such as an increase in headaches and blood pressure, nausea, heart palpitations, and a general feeling of restlessness. These symptoms are all programmed to trigger the body’s fight-or-flight response. If triggered often enough, this can cause inflammation and disease.

People suffering from mood disorders may notice that their depression gets worse after consuming caffeine. For instance, people who are prone to panic attacks have found they experience these attacks more frequently after consuming caffeine. Similarly, because caffeine only boosts the nervous system temporarily, people who suffer from depression may notice their moods drop significantly when caffeine wears off. As a result, these people are advised to avoid consuming copious amounts of caffeine.

Ways Caffeine May Help With Your Sadness

Instead of causing depression, some experts believe caffeine may reduce its effects. While caffeine generally provides a short-term boost of positive energy, some studies show that it may also have a positive effect on chronic depression as well. This is important because this condition affects about 15 percent of the population in nations with higher incomes.

The Qingdao University Medical College, which is located in China, analyzed 15 studies that investigated the potential link between depression and the amount of coffee consumed. Their analysis deduced that each cup of coffee consumed daily might reduce the ability to develop depression by eight percent. (It should be noted that this refers to an average-sized cup of coffee.)

How Caffeine Affects Your Body

It was previously believed that low levels of serotonin cause depression. After all, serotonin is the chemical responsible for making us feel happy and at peace, and it’s found in various areas throughout the body, including the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. However, another hypothesis suggests that depression may be the result of a bad immune system reaction that causes brain inflammation.

In response to the latter hypothesis, Qingdao’s research suggests that the antioxidants in coffee may reduce this inflammation, thereby treating a person’s depression. Failing that, the caffeine itself may be the trigger that reduces symptoms of depression, especially when you consider the fact that its psychostimulant properties cause a person to feel more awake and motivated to take on the day.

To further complicate things, there is also a chemical called “adenosine” in our bodies. Adenosine is practically nonexistent when we wake up from a good night’s sleep, feeling awake, alert, and refreshed. However, the longer we go without sleep, the more adenosine builds up in the body. As this happens, we begin to feel increased drowsiness and reduced energy and motivation.

Adenosine works by attaching to what are called the “adenosine receptors” in the central nervous system. It activates those receptors, which leads to our feelings of fatigue. Caffeine also binds to these receptors, but unlike adenosine, it doesn’t enable them. Instead, it blocks them, which stops them from activating the feelings that lead to a lack of energy and motivation.

This explains why coffee makes us feel better in the short term, but not necessarily how it works over the long term. Its long-term effects are caused by its ability to enhance the effects of dopamine in our brains. Dopamine is the chemical that allows us to feel pleasure. When caffeine binds to adenosine receptors, it also increases the amount of dopamine that can connect to the dopamine receptors in the part of the brain known as the “striatum.” The striatum is the part of the brain responsible for making decisions and motivating us.

When we’re depressed, we feel less motivated to do, well, anything. We may also suffer from a condition called “anhedonia,” which is an inability to feel pleasure. It’s believed that, in binding to the adenosine receptors, caffeine may increase both our motivation and our ability to feel pleasure. Both of these things can lead to caffeine having a lasting, positive effect on chronic depression.

Tea vs Coffee

While both tea and coffee share similar ingredients, including caffeine and tannic acid, coffee appears to be better than tea at combating depression. This is because coffee has certain properties, such as ferulic acid and caffeic acid, that make coffee an anti-inflammatory, and, as such, can reduce the inflammation of brain cells that are commonly seen in people suffering from chronic depression.

While coffee may be more effective at preventing or lessening depression than most teas, green tea in particular can be just as effective as coffee in this regard. This is because green tea is high in antioxidants and other chemicals that may combat depression. Folate, for example, is believed to be effective at boosting one’s mood, while theanine has been shown to increase the levels of both dopamine and serotonin in the brain. A study conducted in Japan deduced that a diet rich in consumption of green tea, coffee, and caffeine in general could help protect against depression.

Ways to Combat Caffeine-Related Sadness

No matter what, it’s important to reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume if you notice it’s affecting your sleep and your mood. You can still enjoy your morning coffee and maybe even your early afternoon coffee, but once that clock hits 3:00pm or 4:00pm, switch to decaf. Some people even have to limit their morning coffee intake to ensure a good night’s sleep, and others may have to remove caffeine entirely from their diet. If you find that a reduction isn’t working, you may need to switch to decaf entirely.

Also, anxiety feeds off of nervous energy, and caffeine provides a lot of it. Anxiety and depression often occur together, so to prevent suffering from anxiety, you may find it helpful to reduce your energy level and heart rate, which can be done by limiting your intake of caffeine.

However, you may want to avoid going cold turkey at first. If you’re a habitual consumer of coffee or energy drinks, it may come as too much of a shock to the body to stop drinking these beverages altogether. This can make your depression worse, as well as provoking other side effects like headaches, mood changes, and fatigue. If you’ve decided to stop consuming caffeine, you’ll want to gradually reduce the amount that you consume to avoid triggering these side effects.

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of depression (such as not being able to get out of bed or no longer enjoying activities that you previously loved), it’s important to seek help. Both research and personal stories show how therapy can be a powerful tool in reducing depression symptoms, with online therapy being just as effecting as in-person therapy.

How Exactly Does Caffeine Affect My Mental Health?

Ask an Expert. Schedule a Session With a Board-Certified Counselor Online.

You may read the full study here: Depression: Effectiveness of a Multimodal Digital Psychotherapy Platform for Adult Depression: A Naturalistic Feasibility Study

How BetterHelp Can Help

If you find it’s becoming increasingly difficult to manage your depression, please consider speaking to one of the licensed counselors at BetterHelp. Online therapy is a convenient and affordable way to get the support that you need. All you need is a few minutes and an internet connection. Read the reviews below to learn how people have used BetterHelp’s services to fight depression and improve their quality of life.

Counselor Reviews

“Tamera is straightforward and supportive. She’s not afraid of pointing out what to work on and give you the right tools immediately. It is highly personalized just for your unique symptoms and situation! Tamera helped me manage my depression and anxiety and I became more empowered to have more control in my life. I feel a lot happier.”

“Heidi has been a great help. I’m so very thankful. I was having a hard time getting my thoughts in order, and was at an all time low with my depression because I didn’t know where to go or what to do. Heidi’s guidance helped me tremendously and I am ever so grateful.”

Ask An Expert. Schedule A Session With A Board-Certified Counselor Online.

Conclusion - The Link Between Caffeine And Depression / What Can Be Your Next Steps?

If you believe that your depression or anxiety might be connected to your caffeine consumption, it’s best to reduce your caffeine intake. You might feel moody and irritable at first, but this feeling is temporary. When you become less dependent on the chemical, you’ll regain your energy and motivation. If you need more support with your depression or anxiety, know that help is available. Start living a healthier and happier life today.

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