Caffeine is one of the most popular psychoactive substances in the world, next to alcohol and nicotine. It’s a minor stimulant that’s found in coffee, tea, and a variety of medications. Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that can increase energy levels, wakefulness, and suppresses appetite. It can also cause some side effects like increased blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety. Because caffeine is so prevalent, it’s important to know how it will affect medications, disorders, and conditions that you’re dealing with.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a disorder that’s thought to be caused by a lack of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It’s often treated with stimulants. So how does caffeine affect ADHD? Does it make it better or worse? Learn more about how this common substance affects people that have ADHD.
How Does Caffeine Work In The Brain?
Like many psychoactive drugs, caffeine works by influencing naturally occurring chemicals and receptors in the brain. Specifically, it binds to receptors that are designed to interact with a chemical called adenosine. When adenosine binds to its receptors, it activates them to slow down nervous system activity and promote sleep. When someone introduces caffeine into their system, it can bind to adenosine receptors as an antagonist. That means it binds to receptors and keeps them inactive, blocking adenosine from binding and activating it. For that reason, caffeine can stave off sleep and increase wakefulness. It also triggers the release of adrenaline, which is the fight-or-flight hormone. That can create feelings of elevated energy and increased focus.
Caffeine And ADHD
People with ADHD may notice they feel very tired during the day after they drink caffeine. Everyone talks about caffeine crashes, but if you have ADHD, you may feel your peers don’t crash as hard as you do. Does caffeine make people with ADHD sleepy? Shouldn’t it work like other stimulants that treat ADHD? ADHD and energy drinks may seem like they should go together, but caffeine may not be as helpful as you think.
Even though caffeine is a stimulant and ADHD is often treated with stimulants, caffeine doesn’t work in the same way as medications like amphetamines. While it may increase wakefulness, it doesn’t cause the same effects on dopamine that makes ADHD medications helpful in treating the disorder. However, caffeine does raise dopamine levels, but drinking a cup of coffee may not be as effective as a carefully prescribed dose of ADHD medication.
Caffeine also constricts blood vessels in the brain in a similar way that ADHD medications do. It’s thought that decreased blood flow can help calm down overactive regions of the brain. For the same reason, caffeine is also found in some headache medications.
Still, some of the effects of caffeine may worsen some symptoms of ADHD. For instance, ADHD can cause insomnia and anxiety, which are both side effects of caffeine consumption. Sleep deprivation can also lead to cognitive issues that someone with ADHD may already struggle with, like forgetfulness and focus.
Does Caffeine Make People With ADHD Tired?
The relationship between ADHD, caffeine, and wakefulness is complicated. ADHD is a disorder frequently associated with a lack of focus and attention issues. However, sleep problems can also be associated with ADHD. People with ADHD often experience daytime sleepiness because of sleep problems at night. Insomnia is a common symptom of more severe ADHD symptoms. In some cases ADHD and overstimulation are related, making it hard to get to sleep if there are too many distractions. When you try to go to sleep at night, your mind may be restless, causing you to stay up longer. You may also experience poor sleep quality.
For that reason, many people with ADHD gravitate toward coffee or energy drinks to wake them up throughout the day. Coffee is a go-to for most Americans when it comes to increasing wakefulness, especially in the morning. However, people who need an extra boost may use caffeine pills, energy drinks, and other products very high in caffeine. However, caffeine can cause a crash a few hours after you consume it, and the crash may be more intense for people who drink heavy doses.
Caffeine can make anyone tired when it starts to wear off, but people with ADHD may have more trouble concentrating when they are tired in the afternoon during a coffee crash. Most coffee drinkers experience the mid-afternoon drag when they are full of lunch and low on caffeine. However, if you already have concentration challenges, your focus levels may tank after drinking coffee or other caffeine sources in the morning.
However, many ADHD medications can also help with daytime sleepiness. Not only can they address ADHD symptoms that contribute to insomnia and sleep problems, but they can also increase alertness and wakefulness during the day. If you still have sleep problems after receiving ADHD treatment, talk to your doctor about sleep hygiene and other sleep disorder treatments.
ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin are usually central nervous system stimulants, just like caffeine. In general, it’s best to avoid mixing two active substances in the same category or work similarly in the brain. While drinking a cup of tea or coffee while on ADHD medications may not do any harm, overdoing it can be dangerous.
Taking a stimulant medication and then drinking several cups of coffee can lead to overstimulation, heart palpitations, insomnia, and other potentially serious side effects. It’s important to ask your doctor or pharmacist if coffee is safe when you are taking the medication and how you should moderate caffeine intake. If you start to experience symptoms like headaches, tremors, heart palpitations, anxiety, hallucinations, or jitteriness, stop taking caffeine and speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
If you are a coffee or tea enthusiast and the thought of giving them up sounds like it would remove some enjoyment from your life, ask your doctor about alternative ADHD medications. While the most effective ADHD drugs are stimulants, there are other options that are not stimulants and may not react with caffeine.