The truth about ADHD and caffeine is different for everyone. Many people with ADHD respond very well to caffeine. Some people with ADHD actually feel sleepy after downing a coffee. And, just about everyone with ADHD has used caffeine as a coping mechanism for ADHD at one point or another.
So, this article explores the following 6 topics regarding ADHD and caffeine consumption…
- Why caffeine “works” for most people with ADHD
- Why caffeine makes some people with ADHD feel tired
- The downsides of using caffeine to treat ADHD symptoms
- Using caffeine with ADHD medication
- ADHD children and caffeine consumption
- My favorite sources of natural caffeine that I personally use
Just keep reading to get the full scoop on using caffeine to fight through your ADHD symptoms.
And, make sure to read this article through to the very end to see my personal recommendations for natural caffeine sources…
Why most people with ADHD love caffeine
Most people with ADHD love caffeine. This is tough to deny, because many of us have spent years of our lives using coffee and energy drinks as a coping mechanism for dealing with ADHD.
I personally spent many years chugging coffee, guzzling Red Bulls, and shooting 5-Hour Energy shots.
This is probably because I went a long time undiagnosed. So, caffeine was the sole motivator that kept me going for quite some time.
Most people with ADHD ultimately enjoy caffeine because caffeine mimics the effects of stimulant-based ADHD drugs (although at a somewhat milder level).
One study indicates that tea consumption may be an effective treatment for ADHD. I strongly agree with this study, because I find tea to provide the “cleanest” source of natural caffeine.
Another study shows that drinking coffee reduces suicide risk by 50%, and serves as a natural antidepressant.
Unlike previous investigations, we were able to assess association of consumption of caffeinated and non-caffeinated beverages, and we identify caffeine as the most likely candidate of any putative protective effect of coffee.
– Michel Lucas, Researcher at the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health
It should be pretty clear that there’s something extremely beneficial about using caffeine to temporarily reduce ADHD symptoms, and live a more enjoyable lifestyle in general.
Now that I no longer take ADHD medication (at least for the time being), I primarily use tea and coffee as a natural substitute for tackling ADHD symptoms.
When people with ADHD use caffeine, most will feel…
- More focused
- “Normal” (I hear this one a lot – caffeine makes people with ADHD feel like an ordinary human being)
So, if you’re a healthy adult with ADHD, and you feel the need to take down some coffee or tea in order to get a grip on your ADHD symptoms, go right ahead.
I think you’ll be just fine to do so.
Why caffeine makes some people with ADHD feel sleepy
Believe it or not, some people with ADHD may actually feel tired after drinking a cup of coffee or tea.
I initially found this hard to imagine, because I feel so awake and upbeat after ingesting caffeine.
But, many people with ADHD claim to experience a paradoxical reaction to caffeine.
John Billings, who is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, explains this paradoxical reaction on the Untapped Brilliance blog:
I have treated Adult ADHD since 2004, as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. I have found that about a third of my clients will actually fall asleep if they drink a caffeinated soda, or a cup of coffee. In fact, I have a son-in-law and three grandchildren that drinking a Dr. Pepper at bedtime will put them to sleep. Without the caffeine they may stay awake for hours.
Theoretically, if a person has ADHD they don’t produce enough nor-epinephrine (nor-adrenaline). Nor-epinephrine is needed to be able to release serotonin. You need serotonin to be able to sleep, possibly because you need serotonin to make melatonin. Therefore, by consuming caffeine, nor-epinephrine is released, then serotonin is released, then melatonin is made, and the person goes to sleep.
I have not found research articles that explore this phenomena, and therefore there is little evidence to base the theory, or treatment of insomnia caused by ADHD with stimulant medication. However, a third of my clientele have benefited by being able to fall asleep when the ADHD is properly treated.
After researching the paradoxical “sleepy” reaction that some people with ADHD experience after consuming caffeine, I could only find anecdotal evidence.
But, many people with ADHD are adamant about feeling tired after consuming caffeine. So, I do believe that the relationship exists.
The downsides of using caffeine to treat ADHD symptoms
In my experience, the biggest downside of using caffeine to treat ADHD symptoms depends on how you consume your caffeine.
For example, if you’re drinking soft drinks like Mountain Dew, then you’re taking in a lot of sugar with your caffeine. And as you probably know, sugar is one of the most harmful ingredients that people with ADHD can consume, since sugar tends to worsen ADHD symptoms.
Unfortunately, diet soda doesn’t always cut it either. Many diet soft drinks like Diet Coke contain aspartame, which is considered by some to be the most dangerous substance on the market.
Even coffee isn’t always a safe option. Starbucks coffee drinks can contain 70+ grams of sugar in a single beverage.
So, the greatest dangers of consuming caffeine involves how you consume caffeine. Those of us with ADHD need every cognitive advantage that we can get. We don’t need to be ingesting loads of sugar, synthetic ingredients, and similarly harmful ingredients that can slow us down mentally and physically. This is why I ultimately recommend sweetening coffee or yerba mate with xylitol sourced from birch trees. Using xylitol will help you reduce your sugar intake, while actually enjoying the taste of your caffeinated beverages.
It’s also worth noting that consuming too much caffeine can increase your level of anxiety, make it difficult to sleep, increase your heart rate, and raise your blood pressure. Make sure to chat with a medical professional if you have any concerns about using caffeine to treat your ADHD symptoms.
Should you take caffeine with ADHD medication?
When I used Vyvanse for a period of one year, I would almost always drink a little bit of coffee after taking Vyvanse.
In my experience, Vyvanse and caffeine are synergistic to a point. The combination worked pretty well for me.
But, I did notice that I would feel pretty anxious if I drank too much coffee after taking Vyvanse.
So, I recommend being extremely conservative with caffeine after using ADHD medication. One cup of coffee is more than enough for a healthy adult. One cup of coffee might even contain too much caffeine if you’re sensitive to stimulants. If this sounds like you, try drinking half a cup of joe.
The other thing to be cautious of while combining caffeine and ADHD medication is how much water you consume.
Caffeine isn’t dehydrating, contrary to popular belief. But, it’s still a good idea to drink plenty of water if you’re ingesting ADHD medication and caffeine.
I know that I always feel better and think more clearly whenever I drink plenty of filtered water throughout the day.
Should kids with ADHD drink coffee or use caffeine?
Most medical professionals advise against giving kids coffee or caffeine, because there’s a chance that caffeine can increase children’s blood pressure, heart rate, and level of anxiety.
On the flip side, there are some parents who give their kids coffee as a substitute for ADHD medication. Christie Haskell, who is the author of the article, claims to give her child a 4 oz cup of coffee twice per day. A separate article suggests that Ritalin gave Haskell’s child unwanted side effects – unlike coffee.
The reality is that more kids are drinking caffeine. And, while caffeine might not be the all-time healthiest ingredient for children to use – treating children’s ADHD symptoms with caffeine may be better than leaving them untreated.
It’s ultimately going to be up to you and a trusted medical professional to decide how you’re going to treat your child’s ADHD symptoms. You might choose to give your child a light dose of caffeine, ADHD medication, or even a natural stimulant for ADHD.
The best sources of natural caffeine for people with ADHD
I’m not a huge fan of chugging Red Bull or similar synthetic products to get a quick caffeine buzz.
When I use caffeine, I prefer to consume high-quality and natural sources of caffeine. I find this to drastically reduce the amount of side effects that I experience.
So, I primarily use 3 different sources of natural caffeine to treat my ADHD symptoms…
ADHD caffeine source #1. Yerba mate
Yerba mate is my favorite source of natural caffeine. I love yerba mate because it contains the perfect amount of caffeine, reduces your anxiety, and makes you feel highly alert.
Yerba mate feels extremely smooth, calming and uplifting. It temporarily “quiets” your mind (almost as if you’re meditating), and puts your ADHD symptoms at ease for roughly 2 to 3 hours.
If you’re willing to give yerba mate a try, I bet that you’ll absolutely love it.
ADHD caffeine source #2. Coffee
Coffee is the world’s most popular source of natural caffeine.
Yes, coffee is even more popular than tobacco and alcohol. It keeps the people of world energized, and mentally sharp.
Good coffee is available practically anywhere in the world. Yes, you should obviously swing by your local health food store, look for a batch of coffee that’s almost sold out (popular coffee is good coffee), and purchase a few pounds.
Alternatively, I’ve linked to some high-quality coffee on iHerb that you can try if you like. It’s great stuff!
Pro tip: If you need to sweeten any of your beverages that contain caffeine (like coffee, yerba mate or green tea), I recommend using xylitol sourced from birch trees. Xylitol is the healthiest sweetener available to people with ADHD.
ADHD caffeine source #3. Natural supplements
Genius Caffeine (Amazon) is my favorite source of natural caffeine in pill form.
I take Genius Caffeine whenever I’ve already drank plenty of fluids, and don’t feel like drinking coffee or tea.
For example, sometimes I’ll blend a big 16 oz smoothie in my Vitamix blender, drink my smoothie, and then I’ll still crave caffeine afterwards.
Popping a capsule of Genius Caffeine is the perfect solution for this type of situation – where I just want the stimulation that caffeine provides, without having to drink any more liquids.
Each capsule of Genius Caffeine contains 167 mg of extended-release natural caffeine. I find this to be the perfect amount of caffeine for temporarily reducing ADHD symptoms, and avoiding negative side effects (like increased anxiety).
Overall, caffeine is one of the most classic, reliable, and effective tools in the fight against ADHD symptoms.
And luckily, as long as you manage to keep healthy, caffeine shouldn’t cause you any problems in the long run.
Just remember to stay hydrated, eat a good diet, exercise and get plenty of sleep.
If you can manage to accomplish the basics of living a healthy lifestyle with ADHD, then consuming caffeine will most likely help you get a whole lot extra out of life.