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Caffeine and You: How caffeine can be a pick me up for Anxiety, Insomnia, and Discomfort

by Pranav Bolla, M.A.

We all have one friend or coworker in their life that embodies the statement “don’t talk to me until I have my coffee”. Or the one person who has their crisp and ice cold cans of various energy drinks taking up space in the fridge. Caffeine is a popular supplement, utilized for work efficiency, wakefulness, and even for physical exercise. It’s popularity and use are quite ubiquitous within the United States. However, while many would point towards benefits towards caffeine consumption in their daily lives, caffeine can have interactions with emotional and cognitive aspects that stand to lead to more pitfalls than benefits for some individuals.


Caffeine is known to produce a number of effects such as increased mood and alertness (Farre, 2008), improved processing speed and reaction time, and increased awareness (Smit & Rodgers, 2002). However, coupled with this comes a number of physiological effects such as increases in blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, and increased fatigue (de Souza et al, 2022). Moreover, a common side effect seen from caffeine consumption is found in increase anxiety. Anxiousness and worry are emotional states that we truly “feel “and are often accompanied by a number of somatic sensations such as muscle tension, increased heart rate, and fidgeting (Larson, 2001). The overlap of physical effects of both anxiety sensations and the physiological effects of caffeine have been proposed to interact with each other. Lee, Cameron, and Greden (1984) found that those with high traits associated with anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxeity Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety tended to report heightened anxiousness compared to healthy controls despite their caffeine consumption being similar. Likewise, caffeine has been determined to interfere with a number of neurochemical processes that are associated with natural sedative effects such as adenosine, which is commonly identified with prevention of irregular heart rhythms. The interaction between perception of physiological sensations and anxiousness is found to be a common marker of anxiety concerns and caffeine stands to effect these aspects (Houghton et al, 2002).


Alongside anxiousness, anger is another emotional state that is commonly “felt”. Indeed, many of the physiological sensations of anger overlap with feelings of anxiety given they are both forms of our “fight or flight” response. It is not surprising that interactions between caffeine consumption and feelings of anger/irritation are present. Indeed, a link between tendencies to consume caffeine (via coffee) and heightened sensitivity to feelings of frustration, particularly amongst female individuals. Likewise, caffeine has been found to affect our neurological response to facial expressions commonly associated with interpersonal conflicts (angry/fearful faces) compared to positive expressions (happy faces); activation of our brain’s emotional centers such as the amygdala medial prefrontal cortex were observed (Smith et al, 2011). Interactions with adenosine again was also identified.


As we have discussed in our previous blog entries (Insomnia:; Sleep:, our sleep habits and sleep quality have a profound effect on our emotional wellness and our daily functioning and is associated with a number of neurological and psychological disorder. Given the effects of increased wakefulness and alertness, it’s not surprising that caffeine consumption can affect our sleep. Indeed, caffeine consumption has a profound effect on sleep quality, particularly with our ability to remain asleep and instances where sleep does not provide the restful effects we seek from having a good night’s rest (Chaudhary, Gandner, Jackson, & Chakravorty, 2016). For example, college students are often busy with their many school assignments and daily life demands will often utilize caffeine to deal with the stresses of student life. However, caffeine often has profound effects on sleep quality for students, particularly those that consume caffeine in the evening (Kerpershoek, Antypa, & Van den Berg, 2018). Given the stresses of life, caffeine is used to edge out some of the effects our busy lives. Indeed, caffeine does stand against performance dips due to sleep loss for example, leading to improvements in cognitive, physical, and occupational performance (Irwin, Khalsei, Desbrow, & Cartney, 2020). However, it is important to be mindful of our caffeine consumption and the effect it has on our sleep and other areas of life.


Caffeine at the end of the day is a drug that leads to neurobiological and emotional changes and awareness of the effects of consumption is important. A reliance of caffeine to get through the day or patterns of emotions such as anger or anxiety can be indicative of underlying concerns related to sleep disturbances, psychological disorders, and concerns with daily life stress. At Interaction Dynamics, a goal that all clinicians and providers have is to examine the complaints that our clients bring to sessions from a wide lens to determine where clients can make improvements in their daily lives and work together to implement changes. If you’re noticing certain patterns related to your emotions, sleep patterns, or need those extra cups of joe to get through the day, it may be time to schedule an appointment and explore where improvements can be made.



Chaudhary, N. S., Grandner, M. A., Jackson, N. J., & Chakravorty, S. (2016). Caffeine consumption, insomnia, and sleep duration: Results from a nationally representative sample. Nutrition32(11-12), 1193-1199.


Ferré, S. (2008). An update on the mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine. Journal of neurochemistry105(4), 1067-1079.


Houghton, L. A., Calvert, E. L., Jackson, N. A., Cooper, P., & Whorwell, P. J. (2002). Visceral sensation and emotion: a study using hypnosis. Gut51(5), 701-704.


Irwin, C., Khalesi, S., Desbrow, B., & McCartney, D. (2020). Effects of acute caffeine consumption following sleep loss on cognitive, physical, occupational and driving performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews108, 877-888.


Kerpershoek, M. L., Antypa, N., & Van den Berg, J. F. (2018). Evening use of caffeine moderates the relationship between caffeine consumption and subjective sleep quality in students. Journal of sleep research27(5), e12670.


Larson, G. E., Booth-Kewley, S., Merrill, L. L., & Stander, V. A. (2001). Physical symptoms as indicators of depression and anxiety. Military medicine166(9), 796-799.


Smith, J. E., Lawrence, A. D., Diukova, A., Wise, R. G., & Rogers, P. J. (2012). Storm in a coffee cup: caffeine modifies brain activation to social signals of threat. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience7(7), 831-840.


Smit, H. J., & Rogers, P. J. (2002). Effects of ‘energy’drinks on mood and mental performance: critical methodology. Food quality and preference13(5), 317-326.


de Souza, J. G., Del Coso, J., Fonseca, F. D. S., Silva, B. V. C., de Souza, D. B., da Silva Gianoni, R. L., ... & Claudino, J. G. (2022). Risk or benefit? Side effects of caffeine supplementation in sport: a systematic review. European journal of nutrition61(8), 3823-3834.


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