A Coffee Headache? Caffeine and Headaches

For a headache sufferer, caffeine can be like fire.  It can be useful, but if you play with it too much, you could be in trouble.

As with anything popular, there’s a lot of controversy when it comes to coffee headache.  It seems to be fairly rare that caffeine directly triggers a headache, but it does seem to happen.  There are also some headaches that commonly are stopped by caffeine, such as hypnic headaches.  A hypnic headache (or “alarm clock headache”), occuring typically in people over the age of 50, wakes you up at the same time each night.  A little coffee before bed can prevent hypnic headache in some people, but other medications are commonly used.

Caffeine as a Treatment

Some people find that a little coffee or another beverage with caffeine can keep them from getting a full-blown headache.  Caffeine is also commonly included in headache medication.  Why?  Because it can help your body absorb the drug and make it more effective.

A Coffee Headache?

Unfortunatly, coffee can have the opposite effect.  In fact, “playing with” caffeine can lead to long term chronic problems.

And it’s not just because your body is getting caffeine, but also because the levels vary.  If you drink coffee one day, take a caffeine-containing medication another day, and nothing another day, your caffeine levels will be all over the place.

Caffeine withdrawal may be one of the reasons for “weekend headache”.  You drink coffee throughout the week, then don’t drink it on the weekend – or you drink it later because you slept in.


So what’s the general recommendation?  Probably the most common recommendation is – stop ingesting caffeine!  There’s just too much danger of rebound headaches and caffeine withdrawal headaches from caffeine.

However, you might not want to go to ZERO caffeine, at least not right away.  If not, try to lower the amount you take each day, and try to keep the amount steady.  That means cutting back on medications that contain caffeine, and keeping the amount of caffeine low (remember, even “decaffeinated” beverages may contain caffeine).

Check out some of the examples* below, and think about how much caffeine you use each day.  And remember, other ingredients, such as sugar or artificial sweeteners, can also be like “playing with fire”…

Typical Caffeine Content

Further reading:

*Note:  The amounts of caffeine in beverages can vary a lot.  I used this table from the Mayo Clinic to find typical caffeine amounts in various types of beverages.  Then I averaged them all to 16oz or about 480ml.  Of course, you may drink much more or less than that amount, but it’s a way to compare.

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6 comments… add one
  • Sarah Davies Lee Nov 13, 2013

    I drink a strong coffee when i feel a head ache coming on. It does help ease the pain sometimes. However think it helps that im generally a tea drinker.

  • Barb Moos Nov 13, 2013

    Don’t drink or eat anything with caffiene.

  • Angel Clark Nov 13, 2013

    its funny i dont drink caffeine on a daily basis. but i am luck i dont really get h/a from caffeine anyway, but it also doesnt stop them either. I am also one of those people who can drink coffee right til lbed time and still go to bed easily.

  • poncho Nov 15, 2013

    I can’t have caffeine, I’ve stayed away from it for a few years and I am much better. I didn’t think I could even have decaffeinated coffee because does have a small amount of caffeine but luckily I’ve been experimenting lately and I’ve been ok. If I had a regular cup of coffee one day, I would have a headache at the exact same time the next day. My body works like a clock, the next day at the same time. I was taking Excedrin for migraine with caffeine, and I had rebound after rebound headache because of the caffeine.

  • Michael Miles Sep 6, 2016

    I can’t avoid, the only meds that work for me have it included (except strong opiates which I can’t get anymore).
    So basically I’m stuck until they come up with something new or I can find a doctor who will prescribe something stronger.

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