Caffeine Crash: The Connection to Adrenal Fatigue Crashes

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

Caffeine Drinks & Adrenal Fatigue

Research how a caffeine crash and an adrenal crash are connected.Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound, but its prevalence in today’s society is so widespread that its consumption in mass quantities has become commonplace. In fact, it can be considered “antisocial” if a cup of coffee is not in one’s hand as the day begins. Through coffee, tea, or energy drinks, high dose caffeine consumption has become the source of a much needed “boost” when our bodies get low on energy. It is a socially acceptable form of addiction. While it may work as a short-term fix, all of this caffeine can do even more to harm a fatigued adrenal system which could in turn lead to more tiredness or a caffeine crash along with other complications. As common as these caffeine sources are and as much as they proliferate our home and work environments, it’s essential to consume them with care. Too much caffeine over too long of a period of time can cause a dangerous caffeine crash.

Rest When You’re Tired

For some of us, it’s hard to imagine functioning at all without caffeine. Common coffees and teas have up to 15% caffeine, while energy drinks can pack double the caffeine as coffee in the same volume. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can range from 70-200 mg. Energy drinks are even worse. Many depend on these caffeine sources to get through the day. No matter when or how you consume it, caffeine has the same stimulant effect on the heart and the adrenal glands.

When it is fatigued, the body is at its weakest point. This is when the body should be nurtured and rested. Just as you wouldn’t continue to work a horse that has become fatigued in the hope that it will rebound, the body must also be rested in order to return to full function once again. Caffeine can stimulate the body, but it does nothing to deal with what’s actually causing the tiredness.

The most significant issue with this common and persistent stimulation is the threat of a debilitating and counter-productive caffeine crash. It is important to remember that our bodies are vulnerable to major weaknesses if we continually overwork them. It is best to rest when the body is tired, and stimulate with caffeine only when necessary.

Bodies Are Flexible But Not Invincible

The body’s adrenal glands are the major anti-stress control center. Think of your body’s adrenal system as a rubber band. Stimulating the body with caffeine is like stretching out the rubber band and then releasing so it snaps back into its original shape when the caffeine effect wears out. The rubber band can be torqued and stretched. It will keep returning to its original shape until it starts to stretch and wear down. People will start with one energy drink, then they’ll need two, and then three to achieve the same desired “wired” effect.

Soon dependency issues arise and the body struggles to rest at all. Headaches can occur if people don’t have the caffeine to get them back to that “wired” state. When the body does not rest and the adrenal glands are stimulated too much over time, the rubber band snaps and the body crashes. This crash comes when the body takes control and forces its systems to slow down in order to conserve what little energy is left. It’s the body’s way of returning to a vegetative state without further energy expense.

Caffeine crash will drain and harm your body.One could continue to drink coffee at this point, but the body will overrule the caffeine and it will remain slowed down. Such crashes usually happen after years of abuse. It is often accompanied by adrenal fatigue, a condition where the adrenal glands are worn out and unable to deal with overwhelming stress. During an adrenal crash, often times precipitated by excessive caffeine intake, one can become bedridden, couch-bound, or unable to get up and out of the house. Some feel this caffeine crash coming on and try to handle it with more caffeine. This is not a wise choice. More caffeine during a crash like this will only cause rapid heart rate, dizziness, or dehydration (which in turn can cause more dizziness and fatigue). It is critical to understand this connection between caffeine and adrenal crashes.

Dangers of a Caffeine Crash

Though sources of caffeine are everywhere (and they are even encouraged in today’s society) energy drinks, tea, and coffee should be consumed with awareness and care for one’s body. If you’re otherwise healthy and well-rested, the occasional cup of tea of coffee in the morning can provide a nice temporary boost. If you’re having a particularly trying day an energy drink may help you get through.

When a body is already in Adrenal Fatigue, caffeine should be avoided. It can exacerbate the effects of this fatigue. If your body has already become dependent on these, consider decreasing your consumption to a point where it is no longer needed. Stopping consumption too quickly after an extended period of use can cause the body to overreact to the withdrawal of caffeine. The more you know about the effects of caffeine overuse, the less innocuous and certainly less helpful these beverages appear to be.

Always remember that the short-term effect is not the only one caffeine has on the body. Long term many people will see collateral damage from continued overuse of caffeine. Some of this damage is done to the adrenal glands, but because most people don’t see it happening it’s hard to truly understand. It’s quite easy to take our adrenal glands for granted and think the boost is the end of the effect caffeine has on us. Obviously our bodies are not that simple.

Caffeine, Aging, and Adrenal Fatigue

As people get older, they may become more and more sensitive to the effects of caffeine. An aging body can more easily become overstimulated because it lacks the ability to rebound. The internal nutritional reserve lowers as aging progresses. This is a normal physiological response. If you notice you are having caffeine drinks and thereafter having the caffeine crash more often, you are noticing a symptom of Adrenal Fatigue. This sort of adrenal crash can be extremely significant and detrimental to a body that’s already overstimulated.

If you don't understand the connection between an adrenal and caffeine crash, you may find your favorite energy drink actually causes your fatigue!Caffeine can help us when we feel most vulnerable to the effects of fatigue, but it can also be the cause of that same fatigue. Excessive stress beyond the body’s capability to handle can lead to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome. Symptoms include tiredness, insomnia, anxiety, low blood pressure, low energy, and a host of other symptoms. Caffeine makes this worse. When we force our bodies into Adrenal Fatigue with repeated caffeine overuse, we force our bodies to slow themselves down as a compensatory mechanism in order to be able to regulate the systems that have done too much work too fast for too long. This is the body’s self healing process.

Energy comes to us naturally when our bodies are well-rested and well-fed. Proper rest, exercise, and adequate nutrition will decrease our need for caffeine. Energy will be natural and not “hyped”. The consumption of caffeine is not inherently unhealthy in small amounts, but its overuse can cause ever increasing complications. Consume caffeine in moderation and don’t depend on it to maintain your energy if you want to avoid increased Adrenal Fatigue and its many debilitating symptoms such as a caffeine crash.

If you are already dependent on caffeine, do not stop abruptly, as that can cause withdrawals. If you concurrently have many of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue mentioned above, make the effect to heal the adrenals first and foremost. As the adrenal glands are optimized, reliance on caffeine automatically reduces for most as the body will spontaneously reject it in favor of more natural sources of energy – wholesome and nutritious food.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Questions

It is better to take nutrients such as liponano C and liponano glutathione to boost energy and rebuild the body than taking energy drinks or steroids.

Whenever you wean off caffeine, it is best to titrate. Caffeine stimulates your body to work hard, causing fight and flight scenarios. It doesn’t work like prescription drug needing detoxification.

A coffee enema is used to help remove toxins during a period of juicing of detoxification. It is strong because of the coffee if you have advanced AFS, the coffee maybe too stimulating and cause more fight and flight symptoms.

Epi-pen is a prescription medication that is to be used for emergency anaphylactic shock. It should not be used to stimulate the body for energy.

Caffeine crash
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I've been through the blood and saliva testing - yes, I have adrenal fatigue. I've been using Dr. Wilson's supplements for severe fatigue for the last 6 months, and am somewhat better, although not as much as I'd hoped I'd be at this point. I purchased your book and, holy cow, it's like the light has been turned on. You wrote your book for me. I think (just a guess) that I'm around a 3A to a 3B, and am willing to try just about anything to feel like my old self. I'm hoping that by following your suggestions with the supplements, doing your adrenal yoga, and learning to listen to my body' that I will eventually pull out of this. I'm off most sugar and caffeine, and trying to eat as healthy as possible. Thanks for the information in the book. I love that it's written in such a relate-able way.


  • Brian says:

    Hi Dr. Lam,

    Four months ago, I started experience insomnia, waking up about 3am every night. I have good nights and bad nights, but I am not out of the woods yet. I am also trying to reduce coffee intake. I also eliminated soy, gluten, eggs, and dairy from my diet. When I eat meat, which is twice a week, its organic grass-fed meat with no use of antibiotics or added hormones. This does not seem to help. It’s been months of doing this. I took the adrenal stress test for all my hormones. My cortisol is normal in the morning and then is below normal at noon, 4pm, and 10pm. I thought cortisol was the culprit for waking me up in the middle of the night (often wired and unable to fall back asleep). Besides low afternoon and evening cortisol, my progesterone was off the charts at 242 (average is 5-100 for men). My free testosterone was also high, but just a few points above normal. My blood test also showed my TSH was in the normal but very borderline high range (close to hypothyroidism range). I am retesting this month. I am at a loss and so is my MD and Naturopath. Do you have any suggestions/thoughts or what I should be testing for? I fall asleep just fine, but always wake up alert between the 2-3am hour and am restless the rest of the night. If I doze off, its for a few minutes off an on. Thank you for your help!

    • Dr.Lam says:

      Your clinical presentation is not unusual. Sleep maintenance insomnia represents a type of biological rhythm disruption with multiple root cause often hidden deep down and lab are very helpful, and in fact can be misleading because the current laboratory sensitivity is very early in specificity. Many have gone thru your path of relying on lab but ultimately fail. The key lies in a detailed history, and if you go deep enough, the answer is usually there. Aside from cortisol disruptions, it could be metabolically or autonomically driven as well. The body does behave logically. I cannot tell you in detail what the deep seated issues are at this time because I dont know your body, but do not give up. Continue your search for answers. Lean that lab is not helpful and you should not spend too much time on it. We deal with cases like yours every day so we have a very systematic approach to find out the root cause. It can be done by phone if you are at the end of the road.

      Dr Lam