01/29/2016 03:27 pm ET

Your Esophagus Will Thank You, And Other Reasons To Skip Coffee

Can science change the way you feel about your coffee?

Like 264 million of our fellow Americans, we enjoy a good cup of coffee on occasion. These occasions include: when we wake up, when we get to work, noon, afternoon, before our big presentation, and basically all day Monday.

But there are some very good reasons -- from increased anxiety to possible withdrawal -- to think twice before pouring that last extra cup of joe. We found out what they are and how you might brew up ways to defeat that 3:00 PM caffeine craving.


Your afternoon coffee might be ruining your sleep (and sleep is very good for you.)

If you find yourself staring up at the ceiling at night -- wondering where it all went wrong -- the answer may well be your 3:00 PM coffee break. A 2013 study concluded that even a mid-afternoon coffee break can disrupt your sleep by an average time of one hour. What's worse: Participants couldn’t recognize that coffee was disrupting their sleep, even though sleep monitoring devices did.

Sleep is something you really shouldn’t ditch. Lack of sleep increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease and obesity. It makes you less creative, more forgetful, and more prone to depression. And even one to two hours of lost sleep spread over a few days is the same as missing an entire night.

At the very least, experts suggest consuming your higher-caffeinated drinks earlier in the day. You might also switch to green tea, which not only packs less caffeine, but also has sleep-inducing chemicals.


If you feel panicky: Step. Away. From. The. Coffee.

Here’s a surprising thing you might not know about caffeine: The American Psychiatric Association has at least three (three!) official diagnoses related to caffeine. Perhaps that’s not as surprising when you consider that caffeine is the world’s most popular mind-altering drug.

The feeling of alertness enjoyed by many coffee drinkers comes from caffeine's ability to block the brain’s reception of the chemicals that cause drowsiness. But there’s a dark side to your black coffee. When taken in high-doses, or when consumed by those prone to panic, caffeine prompts a storm of jitters, sweaty palms, pounding hearts -- and eventually full-blown anxiety attacks.

(Interestingly, hardcore caffeine-istas -- those who drink an average of seven cups a day -- were three times more likely to experience hallucinations.)

If you feel prone to stress -- and if you’re in danger of falling asleep without that coffee -- try listening to music. Not only is music proven to increase an individual’s response to stressors, it also keeps you awake.


Keep up the coffee drinking and you risk eventual withdrawal.

We weren’t kidding when we called it a drug; caffeine is an addictive substance. And like any addictive substance, it comes with all the headaches (pun intended) of withdrawal.

The brain doesn’t just sit back while caffeine blocks drowsiness-chemicals. Instead, it spawns larger and larger receptors to catch all the increasingly scarce “drowsy” molecules. More coffee is required to block those new receptors, which in turn triggers growth of more receptors -- which explains why your once-mighty cup of coffee can’t seem to keep you awake.

When you suddenly remove coffee, the elaborate structure collapses, leaving an aftershock of fogginess, fatigue, headaches and even flu-like symptoms. This is withdrawal.

Instead of extending the cycle, keep yourself going with something a little different: eating. Chewing ice or gum can stimulate your brain without fueling your addiction.


Your coffee could be making you fat -- depending on where you get it.

Let’s not unfairly target the regular, everyday, no-frills cup of coffee -- it only contains 2 calories per 8 ounce cup. But in a world with 24 ounce frappucinos, there’s a good chance you’re getting significantly more than that.

Indeed, in 2011, one popular chain made $2 billion, or 20 percent of their coffee sales revenue, from the admittedly delicious frappucino. The calories might make you wish you had abstained, though. One frappuccino can contain up to 500 calories, which can be burned off in a leisurely 42 minute run at a 6 mile per hour pace.

No problem for the runners out there, but everyone else might want to try exercise in lieu of that extra afternoon coffee. Just 20 minutes of walking has been proven to wake you up.


Wait, back up -- WHAT does coffee do to your esophagus?

We’re glad that you remembered our headline: Indeed, moderate caffeine consumption boosts cognitive function and memory. Unfortunately, coffee also appears to have a weakening effect on your esophagus, the valiant muscle that guards against acidic uprisings from your stomach.

In a widely cited study, scientists tested the response of the lower esophagus of volunteers who drank selected amounts of caffeine. In caffeine drinkers, it relaxed significantly, making it easier for stomach acid to escape northward. While studies are mixed on whether coffee leads to chronic reflux disease, the experts at Johns Hopkins recommend that individuals with other esophagus-related problems stay away from than 1-2 cups of coffee per day.

If you can stomach it (no pun intended), decaf doesn’t seem to have the same effect. And standing while digesting can also relieve reflux caused by coffee. So, go ahead: pour out the afternoon coffee, and you and your esophagus may feel a little better. (We'd never advise against your morning coffee, though.)