Why Do We Get Headaches When We Haven’t Had Coffee?


Caffeine is our favourite drug, but if we miss out on our fix, it can be a real headache – in more ways than one.

Caffeine is a stimulant. It quickly enters our brain and blocks the (adenosine) receptors that are responsible for dulling brain activity. By blocking the dulling of our brain, we feel a sense of invigoration, focus and subtle euphoria. These feelings can also enhance our performance of certain focused tasks, like driving or staying awake through the whole lecture.

This is the upside of caffeine. The downside is how we feel when we are not getting our usual dose. Because of the anticipated highs of brain activity after our cup, the lows without it seem longer and deeper.

The other problem is that caffeine is addictive. When we aren’t getting what we’re used to, we can feel tired, inattentive, irritable and moody. This is known as withdrawal. Many people regularly drink caffeinated beverages just to avoid feeling this way.

By far the most common symptom of caffeine withdrawal is headaches. These are typically mild and short-lived, usually only lasting for a day or two, although they can sometimes last for up to week. They usually feel a bit like a tense band wrapped across your head and are sometimes called tension-type headaches as a result. However, caffeine withdrawal can also trigger a full-on migraine in some sufferers.


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